CEREMONIAL BILLS NOT WORTH COST

April 07, 2003 11:00 pm

The greatest achievement so far of the 2003 Oregon Legislature isn't a sweeping piece of legislation. Rather, the assembly's greatest feat appears to be its ability to spin its wheels while waiting for more bad news to arrive about the state's revenue crisis.

As legislators consider the ongoing process of making expenses match revenue, which equates to making cuts in services, the body is spending its time creating ceremonial bills to recognize causes or people or to voice an opinion on various issues being considered at the federal level. The concept of taking stands on issues or honoring people isn't bad, it's just that doing it in the form of writing bills is costing precious dollars.

About four dozen ceremonial bills have been introduced in the Legislature this year. It costs an average of $1,000 to draft and publish copies of a single piece of legislation. Too, there's an added $40.50 per hour for staff time when bills are debated in committee. A lot of service providers say the $48,000-plus these ceremonial bills have rung up so far could be better spent elsewhere. For example, $1,000 could provide some in-home care services for three people for a month.

So what are some of the ceremonial bills being produced? The Legislature has congratulated the University of Portland women's soccer team for its national championship. Senate Majority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, wants to honor his idol, former President Ronald Reagan, every February. Senate Republican Leader Bev Clarno, R-Bend, wants an official state tartan. One piece of legislation even congratulates participants in an Intel science fair. Other ceremonial offerings have the Legislature weighing in on federal issues such as repealing the federal inheritance tax or supporting a missile defense system.

Rep. Randy Miller, R-Lake Oswego, said a letter signed by members of the body and a 37-cent stamp would be more effective than creating bills that only find their way to stacks of similar ceremonial bills in congressional offices. A letter would be as effective in informing Congress of the state's opinion on issues.

"We need to be acting in a way that is consistent with our economic situation,'' Miller told Western Communications Capitol reporter James Sinks. "These may not be the best use of our dollars.''

The Legislature needs to reconsider what its role is. Tending to Oregon's needs and setting a budget are its priorities. So far, the 2003 assembly doesn't appear to be doing much of anything.

Considering what the Legislature has been up to, to think that some legislators believe annual sessions are necessary is a joke. The assembly needs to get down to business and stop wasting valuable dollars. This is a session where every dollar counts.