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The Observer Paper 10/29/14

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By James Sinks

The Bulletin

SALEM — The Oregon House devoted an entire floor session last week to a spirited debate about the United States' effort to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and adopted a memorial supporting the war.

A Senate committee adopted a resolution Tuesday that congratulates the University of Portland women's soccer team for winning the national championship.

House Majority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, wants to honor his political idol, former President Ronald Reagan, every February. And Senate Republican Leader Bev Clarno, R-Redmond, wants to recognize an official state tartan.

Interesting? Sure.

But a wise investment of tax dollars in these lean times?

"For every one of these memorials, I could find a different use for that money and it might keep somebody alive," said Jacqueline Zimmer Jones, who lobbies for the elderly and people with disabilities.

Legislators say they know Oregon is in a financial bind, yet they continue to draft and devote valuable committee time to ceremonial memorials and resolutions that have no power of law and serve little practical purpose, except perhaps as political grandstanding.

So far this session, lawmakers have sponsored more than four dozen separate bills that recognize people or urge Congress to do something, even though the state has no authority over federal issues being considered or not considered.

"These have no force of law, and I sometimes wish we would find ways to be more effective using less costly means of sending a message," said Rep. Randy Miller, R-West Linn, the House budget chief.

He said it would be just as effective for lawmakers jointly to sign a letter to members of the state's congressional delegation — at a cost of 37 cents for a stamp — rather than spending thousands of dollars to draft and debate issues that don't change the lawbooks or that the state lacks authority over.

"We need to be acting in a way that is consistent with our economic situation," Miller said as the House voted Tuesday on a memorial that congratulates participants in an Intel Corp.- sponsored science fair. "These may not be the best use of our time."

It costs an average of $1,000 to draft and publish copies of a single piece of legislation, and more for those amended and reprinted, said Legislative Administrator Dave Henderson. And it costs about $40.50 per hour in staff time when bills are debated in committees.

House Majority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, who has been a prolific author of ceremonial bills during his three-term legislative career, said he sees value in giving lawmakers an opportunity to go on the record in favor of, or against, particular ideas.

In the past, he has sponsored memorials that said sex between adults and children is a bad thing and criticized federal fees for hikers.

This session, his proposals would voice support for a national missile defense system and for repeal of federal inheritance taxes.

Those memorials to Congress that pass are fired off to Washington D.C., where policymakers get stacks of copies of memorials, often along with memorials passed by other state legislatures.

But although they may offer some light reading material and help show the political leanings at a statehouse, they aren't going to alter what's happening in Washington D.C., said Dallas Boyd, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

"Their greatest utility lies in informing Congressmen Walden on the positions of state legislators, and also gives legislators a chance to say how they stand on federal issues," he said.

Kristie Greco, spokeswoman for Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said they are noted and kept on file, but she can't recall any time a state memorial has altered how her boss voted on a particular issue.

Rep. Ben Westlund, R-Tumalo, said it's very important to some legislators to vote on subjects like the federal inheritance tax or recognizing Dutch freedom fighters in World War II, even though they make no changes in state law.

"It's part of the process down here, but I'm not going to quibble with the argument that there may be better uses for the money."

But that's little solace to lobbyist Zimmer Jones. She said $1,000 not spent on legislation would ensure in-home care for three people for a month, and that's just one example.

Sen. Clarno said lawmakers ought to be asking Congress for help with issues and funding and that memorials are an appropriate way to do that. In addition, she said, it wouldn't be fair to Oregon citizens if lawmakers were somehow limited from acting on ceremonial bills.

"A lot of these things come up as a courtesy to members," she said. "Do we shut off the ability of constituents to have a voice, even during times like this? I don't think so."


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