ashland.news
February 22, 2024

Guide to the 2024 Oregon legislative session

Construction at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Oregon Capital Chronicle photo by Amanda Loman
February 5, 2024

How does a bill become law, anyway? Who’re my legislators and how do I contact them?

By Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon lawmakers headed to Salem early Monday morning, Feb. 5, for the start of a 35-day sprint to pass budget fixes and bills addressing some of the most pressing issues facing the state.

Along the way, they’ll want to hear from Oregonians about how they should vote and what issues they should prioritize. Here’s a guide on engaging with the Legislature: 

The basics

Oregon’s Legislature has 90 members, 60 in the House and 30 in the Senate. State representatives are up for election every two years, while senators serve four-year terms. 

Democrats control both the House and the Senate, with 35 Democrats in the House and 17 in the Senate. Gov. Tina Kotek is also a Democrat, and, in general, Democrats are able to pass most bills into law without needing Republican support though a three-fifths majority, or 60%,  is needed to pass revenue-raising bills. Still, most proposals are supported by both parties. The state constitution requires 40 House members and 20 senators be present to do any business. That unusual law allows Republicans to shut down the Legislature by walking out, as Senate Republicans did for six weeks last year. 

Some states have full-time legislatures, but Oregon’s is part-time. Most lawmakers have other jobs. 

In odd years, lawmakers meet for up to 160 days. They pass hundreds of laws and approve the state’s budget for the next two years. In even years, they meet for 35 days to tackle any pressing issues or fixes to the budget. 

How do bills become law? 

Every representative and senator can introduce two bills this year. Committees introduce other bills. Most are now posted online

Because of last year’s Senate walkout, bills now come with a short digest explaining in simple language what the bill would do. 

Each bill is assigned to a committee, and the committee’s chair schedules public hearings for bills they think should be considered. The committee holds hearings on bills, usually followed by a work session to decide whether the bill needs amendments and whether it should move forward.

Bills that carry a fiscal note, meaning they’ll cost the state money, go to the Ways and Means Committee. Others can go to the full House or Senate, and the speaker or Senate president decides whether they should be scheduled for a vote. A bill that passes one chamber starts the process over again in the other.

If both the House and the Senate pass a bill, it goes to Kotek, who can sign it into law or veto it. 

How can I weigh in?

You can always email or call your representative and senator. Contact information can be found here for the House and here for the Senate. If you don’t know who your representative or senator is, you can find out by searching with your address here

You can also speak to a committee about a bill during a public hearing or provide written testimony up to 48 hours after a public hearing concludes. Find instructions for submitting testimony online here

Visiting the Capitol

Most of the Capitol has been closed for nearly two years and will remain closed for another year because of an ongoing nearly $600 million construction project intended to prepare the historic building to weather seismic activity, upgrade dated electrical and plumbing systems and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The House and Senate chambers, one hallway with six hearing rooms and legislative offices remain open. Visitors can enter through an entrance on State Street across from Willamette University and will go through security. They’ll see elevators to the House chamber and offices down the hall on the left and to the Senate chamber and offices on the right. 

There are metered parking spaces near the Capitol and parkades and three-hour on-street free parking a few blocks away in downtown Salem.

Visitors can watch lawmakers debate bills in the House and Senate from galleries on the third floor. They can also sit in the audience for committee hearings, and overflow rooms may be available for widely-attended hearings. Hearings can also be watched online. Links are posted under the committee name and appropriate date. To find a meeting for this session, go to the calendar for the 2024 regular session, find the appropriate day  and click through to the appropriate hearing.

Related story: Drug addiction, housing and homelessness to dominate legislative session 

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix, Arizona.

Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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