Kruse enters session in awkward position

A short legislative session begins next week, and Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, and Rep. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, say they hope Democratic legislators stick to business and avoid trying to rush through major legislation on complex issues such as carbon cap and trade and a constitutional right to health care.

The Legislature holds full sessions in odd-numbered years and five-week short sessions in even-numbered years. Kruse, whose District 1 covers southwestern Oregon, including a corner of northwestern Jackson County, said the purpose of the short sessions was to be a focus on technical fixes and budget adjustments. Whether the Legislature will stick to that this year should be clearer on Monday, when the session begins, he said.

Senators were limited to introducing one bill this session, and House members two bills. Kruse is putting forward right-to-work legislation that would allow workers to take jobs without joining a union. He said he doesn't expect it to go anywhere, but he hopes to start a discussion. Heard is putting forward legislation to get health insurance reimbursements for alternative, non-opioid pain treatments. He also has proposed legislation for nonpartisan redistricting.

Kruse finds himself in an awkward position this session, after having been pulled from all committee assignments last year. Senate President Peter Courtney pulled Kruse from the committees after Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, alleged Kruse had hugged and groped her. Kruse denied the allegations. An investigation is underway, but Kruse said he doesn't expect it will be completed before this session ends.

"I have nothing to say about that, and I won't have anything to say about it until it's time to say something about it. That is not now," he said Tuesday.

Kruse said he'll still be able to watch committee meetings on a television screen in his office, and he's free to talk to other legislators about the bills being worked on in those committees, and also to caucus with the Republicans and vote on bills as they come to the Senate floor.

"You've got to deal with the reality you have," Kruse said.

Part of that reality this year is Kruse works in an office with no door. Courtney had the door removed after Kruse admitted to smoking in his office, in violation of state law.

"It's strange," Kruse said. "I think the president overstepped his bounds there, and it's kind of a third grade sort of thing."

Kruse said he has stopped smoking in his office, though.

Despite the controversy, and the restrictions, Kruse has no plans to step down.

"I have too much work I would still like to see accomplished," he said.

This session, however, he doesn't want to see major legislation pushed through. Doing that during a short session means not enough time to seriously consider the ramifications of the legislation, and also gives the public very little opportunity to comment, he said.

Both Kruse and Heard are concerned about rumors House Speaker Tina Kotek plans to push for either legislation or a ballot measure referral for making health care a state constitutional right.

Heard said health care shouldn't be a constitutional right. If it were, he said, the government would have to force one citizen to pay for another citizen's health care right.

"I reject that something like that can be a right. There's no way the founding fathers of this country would have embraced that as a right," he said.

Kruse said he's also concerned that the House may push forward legislation on net neutrality.

"I'm not sure how that would work, quite honestly, and I definitely don't know how Oregon could do anything individually to have an impact on anything. I think this is political posturing," he said.

Kruse was positive, however, about news that Gov. Kate Brown proposes requiring all providers to report into a registry that tracks opioid prescriptions. Kruse said it was his legislation that created the registry.

"Requiring all providers to report into the system is a good idea," he said.

Heard said he hopes the Senate president will temper what he sees as extremism coming out of the House.

"The House is pretty hard core right now. The House Democrats don't really seem to have a filter or brake system for their agenda, whereas the Senate Democrats seem to be a little more reasonable," he said.

Both Kruse and Heard were glad that legislators proposing a carbon cap and trade appear willing to delay until the 2019 session. Heard said he was in California over the Thanksgiving holiday, and gas was 70 cents a gallon more expensive, which he attributes to its passing a low carbon fuel standard 10 years ago, like the one Oregon passed in 2015. He feels cap and trade would only add to the costs for Oregonians at the pump, and said he'd rather see a focus on stopping forest fires "so we're not just dumping carbon into the air through forest fires."

"Everybody wants to breathe clean air, and last time I checked, this last summer here, no one was breathing clean air, and it had nothing to do with whether you were driving a 4X4 from the '80s or my Chevy Volt," he said.

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