Controversial bills in Salem over issues like cap and trade and vaccinations were a clarion call to people who feel underrepresented, state Sen. Betsy Johnson said.
“I believe this session has caused an awakening in the sector of the electorate that heretofore has not paid a lot of attention to the activities of the Oregon Legislature,” the Scappoose Democrat told the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
State legislators tackled a host of hot-button issues, from reforming the Public Employees Retirement System to passing a plastic bag ban to a gross receipts tax on businesses expected to pump $1 billion a year into education.
Among the most contentious was the failed House Bill 2020, which would have created the second statewide cap-and-trade system in the U.S. after California. Large emitters of carbon dioxide would have been taxed for going over a cap on pollution and forced to buy offsets. The proceeds would have been invested in climate-friendly initiatives.
The bill died because of a lack of support in the state Senate. It drew the particular ire of the natural resources industry, including the #TimberUnity movement that protested in front of the Capitol.
“When all those log trucks came down to the Capitol, I believe that it was a clarion call to action on the part of a lot of loggers, timber workers, people in the woods who heretofore had taken the Legislature somewhat passively,” she said.
Johnson, a skeptic of the bill, was temporarily removed from her post on the Joint Committee on Ways and Means just before a key vote. The senator said she would have voted "no" had she been able.
While deferring to experts on the science of climate change, Johnson said her main issue was with how the money from the tax generated from carbon offsets would have been spent.
House Bill 3063 would have ended nonmedical exemptions for school vaccination requirements. Democrats killed the bill, along with another dealing with enhanced gun laws, to end the first walkout by Senate Republicans. A second walkout was triggered by cap and trade.
Opposition to the vaccination bill brought together a unique coalition, from members of the Russian Orthodox Church to liberal Democrats concerned with choice, Johnson said.
“Up to that point, I had never seen a group organize so organically, so quickly," she said. "And by organically, I mean they weren’t urged to action by some outside third-party actors. They contacted each other and came to the Capitol with passionate pleas to oppose that bill.”
Johnson forecasted a rise in voter registration among nonaffiliated voters, who already make up around 40 percent of the electorate statewide.
“My guess is that people at the national level, as well as at the state level, have had partisan politics up to here, and they are interested in seeing the state move forward with an Oregon agenda,” she said.