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Oregon lawmakers race against clock to pass over 100 bills

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Senate was able to conduct business Saturday for the first time since Republicans walked out over a sweeping climate proposal, leaving lawmakers less than 48 hours to vote on over 100 bills.

Lawmakers were initially on track to finish up the legislative session well before the June 30 constitutional deadline, but a nine-day impasse over climate legislation threw the statehouse into chaos, grinding all business in the Senate to a halt.

Republicans agreed to return after the Senate president conceded that the proposed cap on carbon didn’t have enough Democratic support. The Senate voted to send the plan back to committee, essentially killing its chances of passing this year.

With Republicans back, the Senate worked at a blistering pace to chip away at a huge backlog of bills, jamming through budget measures and big-ticket policy items with little to no discussion. The Senate took up 62 bills in less than three hours Saturday morning, according to the Senate president.

Here’s a look at some of the major priorities lawmakers were able to push through Saturday. The Senate and the House will vote on policies late into the night Saturday. They will meet again Sunday and have until midnight to pass all remaining policies.



DRIVER’S LICENSES FOR IMMIGRANTS IN THE COUNTRY ILLEGALLY

Oregon will become the 14th state to allow immigrants living in the country illegally to get driver’s licenses. Senators voted 17-10 to remove proof of legal status as a requirement for obtaining a driver’s license, expanding driving privileges to potentially tens of thousands of immigrants in the country illegally.

The measure now heads to Gov. Kate Brown, who is expected to sign. Applicants would still have to show they live in Oregon and pass the driver’s test.

Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, a Democrat from Woodburn, said that many immigrants in the country illegally who do not have licenses can’t find work and are barred from doing “everyday activities” out of fear that they would be deported over a traffic stop.

“In many communities, especially in rural Oregon, driving is part of everyday life,” said Alonso Leon, the lawmaker behind the bill in the House. “Oregonians need to be able to take their kids to school, commute to work, and take care of family and neighbors in need.”

Opponents said that the measure should be sent to the ballot considering voters shot down a similar proposal in 2016.

ANTI-SEXUAL HARASSMENT LEGISLATION

Lawmakers moved to overhaul the way it handles a complaint of sexual harassment and discrimination, more than a year after allegations of sexual misconduct rocked the statehouse.

The Senate sent two companion bills to the governor meant to ensure workplace training and more thorough investigations of complaints. The bills create a Legislative Equity Office, which will serve as an independent investigator to look into complaints of harassment. The office will also oversee annual training for lawmakers and lobbyists.

The measures extend the statute of limitations on when someone can make a complaint about misconduct from one year to five years.

The changes come more than a year after former Sen. Jeff Kruse faced allegations of sexual harassment from two interns and a female lawmaker. A scathing report from the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries revealed in January that top legislative leaders didn’t do enough to curb harassment and other bad behavior they knew was occurring within the Capitol.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE

Oregon is one of five states that have no limits on campaign contributions, though voters may be able to change that at the ballot box next year. The Senate approved a constitutional amendment to allow for the state’s first-ever limits on political donations.

The high-priced governor’s race last year rekindled the debate over spending limits and has prompted lawmakers to pursue a ballot measure amending the constitution that would explicitly give them the authority to enact campaign finance reform.

The measure, overwhelmingly approved by the Senate, now moves to the House which has until Sunday evening to approve.

NARROWING THE DEATH PENALTY

Senators voted to substantially curtail the use of the death penalty by limiting its use to terrorist-related killings or other major crimes.

The bill restricts the use of capital punishment to only apply to terrorist acts that kill two or more people, or to killings by imprisoned murderers. Killing police officers or children younger than 14 also qualifies.

The move is meant to reform Oregon’s use of capital punishment without changing the state’s constitution. An outright ban on the death penalty would ultimately need approval from the voters.

The measure now heads to the governor, who extended a 2011 moratorium on using the death penalty.

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