By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Sen. Kim Thatcher and Rep. Bill Post planned to host a joint town hall on Thursday, July 27. It ended up being an intimate affair with just two members of the community and one newspaper reporter in attendance.
In lieu of the town hall, Keizertimes sat down with the state legislators to talk about the 2017 Oregon Legislature session. While Thatcher and Post – both part of the Republican minorities – notched a few wins, the pair agreed that the process was bogged down from the get-go.
“On the House side, the Democrats would climb a massive hill, march their people up that hill – knowing full well that a bill would die in the Senate or get amended or gut-and-stuffed completely – and it happened at least four times,” Post said.
As an example, he offered up House Bill 2005, a bill addressing pay equity. Post said Republicans in the House opposed the bill because it left out veterans and imposed “massive” punitive damages. Republicans, Post said, submitted a minority report addressing those concerns that was voted down.
After passing the House on a party-line vote, the Senate took up the issue and included the changes requested in the House Republican’s minority report.
“Why march up that hill to begin with?” Post said. “It’s all about politics. It’s about them trying to prove that (Republicans) are racist, misogynist, homophobic kooks over there and making us vote on these things. Of course we think people should be paid equally, but they go on that hill and they die and, to me, that’s hilarious and that’s not partisanship.”
Thatcher added that Democrats might find more allies across the aisle with less focus on punishment.
“What I loved about that final bill was that it focused on compliance and there wasn’t any snares laid out for business owners. It got rid of (punitive damages) and got to compliance and making it work. If we had more of that, I think you would find a lot more enthusiasm among Republicans to say, “Yeah, let’s move forward with some of these lefty ideas.”
Thatcher was more enthusiastic about Senate Bill 1050, which imposes presumptive life sentences without parole for defendants in some sex crime cases if there are prior convictions for similar acts.
“Near the end of session, and I have to give props to Sen. Peter Courtney, he invited me to be co-chief sponsor. I absolutely love that bill and I’m glad that he asked me to be a part of it,” Thatcher said.
Post had several bills that didn’t make it beyond the level of committee hearings, but said a House Bill 2598 was one he considered a win. The bill makes it a felony to recklessly endanger a motorcyclist.
“For a pedestrian or bicyclist, it’s a Class A felony to recklessly endanger. For a motorcyclist it was a Class C misdemeanor. HB 2598 makes it an assault and that was a big one. I had to push pretty hard to get bipartisan support,” Post said.
Thatcher counted among the victories the killing of legislation that would have affected landlord-tenant agreements and the imposing of additional corporate taxes and passing a bill allowing breweries to have two off-site locations without an additional license.
“We go license-crazy in this state. We have more than most other states and I really think we should focus on reining that in,” Thatcher said.
In a similar vein, Post said he supported a bill allowing hard cider producers to have locations on farm properties.
“Let’s let the cider businesses proliferate like the wineries have. It’s one more thing that brings people to Oregon,” he said.
A decision that weighed heavily on both legislators was House Bill 3391, which requires the Oregon Health Authority to reimburse costs of services related to reproductive health, including abortion. A debate was convened on the last day of the session and a vote resulting in passage followed.
“I can’t explain to you how bad we felt coming down one floor from the house caucus room. It was as if we were going to a funeral – because we were. We were going to a funeral of babies. Grown men and women were sobbing (during the vote),” Post said.
Thatcher said the argument in favor of the bill was “a right that cannot be accessed is not a right.”
“So then when are you going to start paying for my guns?” she said. “I would never ask for that because there is responsibility with rights.”
She was equally troubled by the passage of Senate Bill 719, which allows judges to issue extreme risk protection orders prohibiting those found to be an imminent risk to themselves or others from possessing firearms. The law allows respondents in such cases to surrender their deadly weapons to law enforcement and for law enforcement officers to take possession of them, or for law enforcement to take them away.
The bill was drafted by Sen. Brian Boquist in part as a response to the death of his stepson by suicide that included a gun. Boquist’s stepson was a veteran and hopes to address veteran suicides through the law which is now waiting for the signature of Gov. Kate Brown.
“I don’t have the perspective on veterans, but I know that if they hadn’t had guns (to commit suicide), they would have chosen something else,” Thatcher said. “I’d hate to be that law enforcement officer.”
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, every study that has examined firearm access as a risk factor to suicide has found that such access increases suicide risk.