Lawmakers act on major bills during fast-paced Saturday session
SALEM, Ore. (AP) The Oregon Legislature is working through the weekend in hopes of adjourning by early next week.
In a flurry of legislative action on Saturday, lawmakers forwarded several bills to the governor's desk, including ones that would legalize medical marijuana dispensaries and increase penalties for people who repeatedly neglect animals.
The medical marijuana dispensaries bill passed the state House 31-28. It would allow medicinal pot users to purchase the drug from state-licensed medicinal pot shops. Current law requires medical marijuana cardholders to grow the weed themselves or find someone to grow it for them.
Supporters say legalizing dispensaries will make it easier for the state's nearly 55,000 medical pot users to get their medicine and harder for the black market to get its hands on Oregon weed.
Some opponents argue the bill doesn't have enough teeth to go after people who abuse the state's medical marijuana program.
The bill targeting animal neglect, a priority of Senate President Peter Courtney, provoked dramatic debate in both chambers this week.
Supporters said the bill, which passed the House 38-21, will crack down on animal abuse and give law enforcement more tools to go after people who neglect animals. Opponents said the bill went too far and that the punishments might be too extreme in some cases.
Courtney, who gave a colorful speech in support of the bill on Tuesday, said he introduced the legislation in reaction to an incident in January when 149 neglected dogs were rescued from a warehouse in Brooks.
Lawmakers also gave the green light to legislation that would require direct-entry midwives to be licensed and allow the state's seven public universities to set up independent governing boards.
The latter bill, which passed the House 44-15, would allow the state's public universities to leave the Oregon University System and establish their own independent governing boards with the power to hire and fire a president and take on debt by selling revenue bonds.
The bill next goes to the Senate, which passed an earlier draft of the bill but must agree to the changes. The governor has said he will sign the bill if it comes to his desk.
Senators rejected a bill that would have extended Oregon's controversial clean fuels program, which will expire in 2015 without legislative intervention. The bill failed in a 15-15 deadlock, before a lawmaker switched her vote for a parliamentary reason.
The program was adopted by the 2009 Legislature and aims to lower the carbon content in car and truck fuels by 10 percent by 2025.
Supporters say the bill would reduce the impact of carbon pollution on the environment and support the state's growing alternative fuels industry. Opponents, however, have argued that the lower-carbon plan will ratchet up fuel prices.
The Legislature also approved budgets for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the state Department of Human Services. That means all agencies now have spending plans for the next two years.
The two-year budget cycle began on July 1. A government shutdown was not imminent, however, because lawmakers approved a continuing resolution to keep state agencies' without legislatively approved budgets running at current funding levels through Aug. 15.
Both the House and the Senate have scheduled Sunday floor sessions and there will be committee meetings held throughout the day tomorrow as lawmakers push toward adjournment.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.