Beware of The Ides of March
Shakespeare said it, Julius Caesar suffered it, and the Oregon Legislature is about to reenact it.
In the ancient Roman calendar — a mix of math and politics all its own — the Ides represent the middle of the month. It marked the day that all debts must bepaid. At the Oregon Capitol, the Ides falls on March 17 this year. On this day, hundreds of bills filled with the hopes and dreams of legislators and lobbyists alike will be interned together in the legislative boneyard if they haven’t been scheduled for a committee vote.
It is a day of sorrow and reflection. A day for wondering, “what could I have done differently to save them?”
It rains on the just and unjust alike. Good bills, bad bills, and bills orphaned since birth. It is a sign that the Legislature is accelerating its pace and narrowing the focus on the issues legislators believe their constituents care about most.
Experienced legislators can prolong the life of some bills by prescribing hospice care. That is where they have a bill posted for a hearing and work session before the deadline, even if the hearing takes place after March 17. By adding “work session” to the posting, the bill can survive on life support for up to three weeks longer. In many cases, this assignment gives false hope to bill advocates.
Shrewd legislators use the practice to “mine” related clauses. That is the practice of removing the contents of a bill and stuffing it with an entirely different issue.
“The second mouse gets the cheese.”
—Sir. Terry Pratchett
Former Senator John Minnis once provided a little education on this practice to a freshman legislator. When the legislator saw his bill had been posted for a hearing and work session, he sprinted to the committee room to testify, only to see the bill was being amended to something beyond his recognition. When he asked Minnis what he was doing to his bill, Sen. Minnis replied, “It was your bill, but it’s my bill now.”
Some bills will be placed in cold storage, perhaps to be retrieved and thawed in the waning days of the session. These are the bills mysteriously moved from one committee to another before the midnight hour strikes. Some are controversial bills, potential trading pieces for end-of-session negotiation. Others are reserve stock to serve as last-minute replacements for important bills that somehow fall off the tracks. These can end up on the storage shelves of the Rules, Ways & Means, or Finance & Revenue committees, which will remain operational long after other policy committees have closed up shop. A bill’s resurrection can happen when the public and even legislators least expect it. In this case, the soothsayer may wish to warn us all to ‘Beware the Ides of June.’
There is an adage that nobody in the state is safe until the legislature adjourns. Vigilance is mandatory. The impending death of hundreds of bills does not mean the end of the excitement. It simply narrows the playing field and gives greater clarity to the remaining battles.
And to those who mourn the loss of their legislation, take comfort.
Irish Blessing Poem
May ye cause be pure and ye bills be great.
Ye pint raised high as you await their fate.
Shall the cruel March winds refuse to pass.
Then tip ye hat — cuz they’re dead at last.
Deadline day is also St. Patrick’s Day. There shall be plenty of green beer to ease your pain and drown your sorrows. It is not the end; it is just a new beginning.