Sometimes bills die for good reasons

One piece of legislation missed a key deadline this week, and Senate Democrats killed a second bill by refusing to bring it to a vote. That's not necessarily a bad thing in either case. Backers of a third bill that lacks wide support are trying to amend it to accomplish half of its purpose, leaving the other half to the 2019 Legislature. That measure, too, should be allowed to mercifully expire for now.

The short, even-year legislative sessions voters approved in 2010 were intended to allow lawmakers to make necessary adjustments to the two-year budget and enact other minor legislation that shouldn't wait for the longer session — not to push through sweeping policy changes and complex bills.

Majority Democrats were undeterred this year, however, pushing to refer a constitutional amendment to voters that would declare it the state's obligation to provide access to affordable health care for every Oregonian. While the intent is good, the state does not have the resources to guarantee universal health care on its own, and writing that commitment into the state Constitution could invite lawsuits from people who were denied care.

After passing the House, the resolution to refer the amendment to voters ran into opposition from Senate leaders. Universal coverage is a worthwhile goal, but passing "aspirational" measures is not the way to achieve it.

One bill that missed a Tuesday deadline for bills to get a committee work session was HB 4113, which would have made class size a mandatory subject of bargaining in contract talks between school districts and teachers' unions. Class size is an important factor in education, but it's not clear that smaller classes automatically lead to greater student success. And shrinking class sizes means hiring more teachers, which puts pressure on districts' budgets without providing a way to pay for the increased staffing.

The third measure facing an uncertain fate is the "cap-and-invest" plan dubbed the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, which would require polluting industries to pay for greenhouse emissions they produce in excess of a state-imposed cap. The cap would lower over time, requiring the state to reduce emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.

That's the kind of major policy initiative that is not appropriate for the short session — a sentiment shared by Senate President Peter Courtney, making the bill's prospects for final passage less than rosy. But House Speaker Tina Kotek has proposed an amendment cutting the bill in half: enacting the cap this year and hammering out the emissions-credit trading system in the 2019 session. The amendment also contains language saying that if the Legislature fails to finish the job in 2019, the state Environmental Quality Commission will do it.

That's intended to be the stick that ensures lawmakers will tackle the job, but it also comes across as a heavy-handed threat.

The session ends in less than two weeks. Lawmakers should focus on what they can realistically accomplish, finish that work and leave the heavy lifting for next year's longer session.

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