The 76th Oregon Legislature adjourned on June 30, 2011, the first legislative session in which the Oregon House had been split 30-30 between Democrats and Republicans. Co-speakers Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, appeared the next morning on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s "Think Out Loud" to talk about their accomplishments.
Host Dave Miller asked Hanna to address a concern raised by labor coalition Our Oregon: that the divided House let die a number of Senate approved bills because both committee co-chairs had to agree to move legislation forward. What, asked Miller, could be done to get more bills, especially noncontroversial bills, to the House floor for an up-or-down vote?
Hanna objected to the claim that the tie in the House meant more bills were blocked. Plenty of measures, he said, left the House never to be taken up by the Senate, controlled 16-14 by Democrats.
But Hanna also said this: "When you talk about the total number of bills that came through the House, we processed and dealt with and passed as many bills as any Legislature ever has."
True? Did the 2011 Legislature keep pace with its predecessors?
For this, PolitiFact Oregon turned to Legislative Counsel, the nonpartisan office of lawyers responsible for turning legislators’ ideas into bills that may become law. The office has tracked the number of bills introduced by legislators and enrolled, which means approved by both the Senate and the House, since 1997. Here is the summary:
|Percent||32 %||30 %||29 %||33 %||35 %||27 %|
You can see that the percentage of approved measures dropped this year to 27 percent, from 35 percent in 2009, when Democrats controlled both chambers. In fact, it’s the lowest clearance rate in the last decade, although not entirely out of line. The approval rate was 29 percent in 2005, when Democrats led the Senate and Republicans the House.
More significantly, the number of bills approved -- 807 -- is the lowest in a decade.
Maybe a lot of the legislation that cleared previously was nonsense. Maybe all 807 bills that passed this session were good and meaty. Still, Hanna is not correct. The House and the Legislature passed fewer bills this session than in previous sessions. There’s no quibbling with those figures.
Angela Wilhelms, Hanna’s chief of staff, said her boss was trying to make the point that "co-governance did not lead to inaction or gridlock as many predicted it would." She’s right about that, as she also is correct to say that the Senate and tied House moved fairly heavy-hitting bills on redistricting, education reform, a remake of the Oregon Health Plan and a state budget.
Nevertheless, we have to rule the Republican co-Speaker’s statement as Barely True. There’s an element of truth -- the number of bills isn’t that much different from 2005, and there was hefty legislation on important topics. But he states that the number of bills approved this year was on par with previous Legislatures, and that "ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.