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Oregon Legislature (copy) (copy)

It may turn out that the key division in the 2019 Oregon Legislature isn't the one between Democrats and Republicans.

It might end up being the split between the more urban areas of the state and its rural stretches.

You know all about the party divisions in Salem, and how Democrats have eked out the three-fifths "super-majorities" required to pass bills that raise revenue. In other words, Democrats will be able to pass those revenue bills without the benefit of a single Republican vote. 

But that assumes Democratic leaders are able to maintain party discipline. Since the super-majority edge is razor-thin, even the loss of one or two votes could cost Democrats that three-fifths edge.

And the most likely defectors probably won't be coming from the Portland area; no, the Democrats who might be tempted to stray from the party line likely will be coming from the state's more rural areas. By our unofficial count, that might include 10 or so Democrats — more than enough to poke substantial holes in any super-majority.

This helps to explain why the legislators pushing for a carbon cap-and-trade proposal worked hard to craft dozens of pages of amendments to the bill, House Bill 2020: Many of those amendments were designed to reduce the impacts of the bill to people who live in rural parts of the state.

House Bill 2020 would put a cap on certain emissions. Companies would have to reduce their emissions to under 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year or buy certificates allowing the excess pollution. Money from selling allowances would pay for state and local transportation and climate projects.

The recent amendments, totaling 129 pages, aim to reduce the impact of the bill on rural communities. Of particular concern were estimates that the bill could tack on an additional 15 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline. The amendments propose refunding $100 million a year to low-income households; that works out to about 33 cents a day, which is the estimated impact of the gas price increase on the eastern reaches of the state. The amendments also added rural areas to the definition of "impacted communities." Half of the money generated from certificate sales would go to projects in those communities.

Will these changes be enough to bring around wavering legislators from rural Oregon? That remains to be seen, but you can be sure that additional amendments are in the works for House Bill 2020.

But carbon cap and trade isn't the only issue that could drive a wedge between urban and rural Oregon: Last week's packed hearings on proposed gun-control legislation brought those differences into clear focus.

We have long argued that gun-control proposals need to pass this acid test: Do they do anything to make Oregonians safer? We believe many, if not most, of the proposals contained in the omnibus Senate Bill 978 fail that test, and, at the same time, turn law-abiding gun owners in Oregon into potential criminals.

Senate Bill 978 is the measure that, among other things, would make gun owners liable for harm caused by someone who obtains a gun that is not locked up. It also would allow Oregon gun dealers to refuse to sell weapons to people under 21.

The other major piece of gun control legislation, House Bill 2013, actually could pass that acid test of making people safer. The bill would require people convicted of domestic violence or stalking crimes to turn over their weapons. Those people already are barred from possessing firearms, but the bill would clarify that they have to turn weapons  over to a law enforcement agency. 

At last week's emotionally charged hearings about the gun bills, some opponents argued that the Legislature was targeting rural Oregon's way of life. You can see why they'd feel that way — and the Legislature keeps giving them new reasons to believe that. (mm)

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