PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon's 2020 legislative session begins Monday, February 3.
The leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties sat down together on KGW's current affairs show, Straight Talk, to discuss what's ahead.
They have different priorities and are at odds over what is expected to be the session's biggest issue, cap and trade.
Senate Majority Leader (D) Senator Ginny Burdick of Portland told moderator, Laural Porter, she expects the short 35 day session to be intense.
"We always have the challenge of meeting expectations with time limitations," said Senator Burdick.
Republican Senate Minority Leader, Herman Baertschiger, of Grants Pass said his priority is to take care of budget issues.
"I think that's why the short session was originally created," he said.
However, he did say he'd like to see lawmakers tackle issues of foster care, homelessness and mental health.
But the issue expected to dominate the session is "cap and trade," Senate Bill 1530, something Oregon Republicans oppose.
The bill sets an overall cap on greenhouse gas emissions in the state, reducing levels to 45 percent of 1990 levels by 2035, and 80-percent below 1990 levels by 2050, something Republicans have said is unrealistic.
"I've asked the question at what point in Oregon's history did we ever have emissions that low? Was it back in the 1850s, 1800s? No one seems to be able to answer that question. The expectations of meeting that standard are really, really big," Baertschiger said.
But Senator Burdick said she thinks Oregon can meet that goal.
Burdick said, "Not only does Senate Bill 1530 require emissions reduction, it requires a clean economy. Between the two, it's a very realistic goal. And more importantly, scientists say if we don't do it, we are in deep, deep trouble on this planet."
A version of the cap and trade bill last legislative session was so contentious Republicans walked out denying Democrats the quorum needed to do business.
In the end, Democrats didn't have the needed votes of their own party and the bill died.
Democrats and Governor Brown have said special considerations were made in the new version of the bill to reduce any negative impact on rural Oregon.
However, Baertschiger said the bill still represents a significant hardship on rural Oregon that relies on fossil fuels for things like farm equipment.
"We are going to see really, really significant fuel price increases," he said.
When Porter asked how much, Baerschiger said it could be five dollars a gallon.
Senator Burdick said that wasn't true and called the number a scare tactic.
"These kinds of tactics were used when we adopted the clean fuels legislation. They did not materialize.
These same scare tactics were used in California and California's economy improved with this legislation," she said.
Porter asked Baertschiger if there were any changes Oregon Democrats could make to Senate Bill 1530 that would win his support. He said his position is based on the political landscape.
"Both Senator Burdick and myself have our bases, and our bases on this particular legislation are pulling us very, very hard in opposite directions like we've never seen before. And that's something neither her nor I can do a lot about," he said.
Baerschiger said that's why he thinks it should go to a vote of the people.
"I've always said if things go to the citizens to vote, it takes me out of the equation. Whatever happens, happens," he said.
Senator Burdick disagreed the issue should go to the voters. She said there's already been a vote of the people.
"We all campaigned on this. The voters sent us to deal with this very complex issue. There are very complicated provisions in this bill to make sure it works in a fair way for all Oregonians. And you can't reduce that to a thirty second soundbite," she said.
Burdick said big polluters will put big money into a campaign to defeat any ballot measure.
Baertschiger said Republicans haven't ruled out walking out to stop cap and trade from passing.
Porter asked what the odds are they'll boycott the session.
Baertschiger said, "This session is going to be so dynamic that there is no way I can predict what's going to happen. It's going to be a day to day, hour to hour call."
Opponents of the bill plan what Baertschiger called, a huge protest in Salem, on Thursday, February 6.
He said he's heard it could be ten to twenty thousand people made up of truckers, loggers, farmers, construction workers, and commercial fishermen.
"Our constituents are telling us a 'no' vote is not enough, you must stop "cap and trade."
Burdick said Democrats are equally determined to pass the bill.
"The danger we face is to do nothing. Basically what the opponents are saying is do nothing. That is not an alternative. We are in a climate emergency both internationally and here in Oregon. We don't have the option to do nothing," she said.
Straight Talk airs Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:00 a.m.
It's also available now as a podcast so listeners can tune in when it's convenient for them.