top of page

Inside Salem: Legislator’s Letter: An Update from Rep. Jeff Helfrich

Inside Salem: Legislator’s Letter: An Update from Rep. Jeff Helfrich

We find ourselves about to enter a short legislative session. It is a term that has become synonymous with chaos as many sessions over the last few years have ended or stalled out, with little accomplished. It is a sad state of affairs when the conversations in the legislature have broken down to the point where they stall the hard work we must do for the people of our state.

In preparing myself to enter this short session, I wanted to reflect on how we got to this point. The cycle of short and long sessions is a relatively new occurrence in the history of our state, having been passed by the voters a little over a decade ago. So if short sessions are new, what did we have before? Why did we decide to move over to this yearly system? And most importantly, what did we decide to implement when we voted as a state?

Prior to the 2010 adoption of Measure 71 (the measure which instituted this yearly cycle) and its implementation in 2012, Oregon was on a true biannual cycle. The Legislature only met in odd numbered years. These sessions had no official time limits placed on them, with some of the longest lasting almost nine months (in 2002 and 2005). If the Legislature wanted to meet outside the constitutionally allotted times, leadership would have to agree to call a special session. Extra-long sessions and expensive/politically charged special sessions left voters and legislators alike looking for a solution. After a couple years of doing a “test run” of these short sessions in 2008 and 2010, the Legislature proposed SJR 41 which would become the ballot measure voted upon by our citizens.

As previously mentioned, one of the biggest complaints was how expensive it was to start up a special session from scratch every time a new issue popped up. The inefficacy found in that system was a cause for concern to our taxpayers. That similar rhetoric found its way into the voter pamphlet statements accompanying Measure 71.

Time and time again, advocates lobbied that this new direction would allow for a more “common-sense budgeting” approach, how it would save taxpayers money by holding our Legislature accountable to a set number of days, instead of these never-ending long sessions. It is important to remember voters did pass this measure as our country was coming out of the Great Recession. It is easy to see how funding of our vital state resources and services could be at the forefront of their minds.

It was also stressed this would give the Legislature the flexibility to tackle pressing emergencies facing our state in a timely manner. There were calls in the voter pamphlet to help stabilize the funding for public education as well as senior and disability rights programs in the wake of years of drastic cuts. The focus was clear in the statements: provide our state with a tool to tweak our budget and amend a few policies in obvious and pressing need of timely changes. It doesn’t seem to me the voters were being sold full budgetary and policy sessions that sought to completely change our government.

I go into this short session with the hope we can honor and uphold what I believe was the intent of the voters who instituted it, which was to focus on our budget and address any emergency facing our state. Anything that can wait, should wait, until we have more time.

The safety of our youth and our citizens, be it physical, mental, or financial will always be my top priority and my focus. But we have to be careful not to bite off more than we can chew and keep a disciplined eye on the pressing issues at hand. A 35-day short session is not enough time to vet new directions in every policy area. Tweaks should be the name of the game when it comes to the overwhelming majority of policy decisions during our time together in Salem, so we can focus on the changes that need to happen to help get this state back on track.

I will be in Salem for this year’s short session which runs from February 5 to March 10. After that, I will again be back home enjoying the beauty of House District 52.

bottom of page