Senate closes door on open caucus law
Sen. Tony Corcoran tables the rule change to prevent action on it.
July 25, 2003
A potential window into state government activities was slammed shut Thursday when senators shelved a measure to open partisan gatherings without so much as a vote.
Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, proposed a rule change that would have required both Republican and Democratic caucus meetings to be open to the news media.
Since 1999, Senate Democrats have opened most of their meetings, while Senate Republicans' have remained closed.
Both caucuses in the House are closed.
"(The public) should not be excluded from the deliberations of the state where we make decision about schools, human services and corrections," Metsger said. "It's a window to the public that we are working hard on these issues."
Sen. Tony Corcoran, D-Cottage Grove, used a parliamentary procedure to table the proposal, taking away the opportunity for anyone to debate it on the floor and preventing an actual vote on the proposal.
Corcoran defended the move, saying he did not want to waste time on an issue that would not be supported.
"It's a window dressing on a building that's burning down," Corcoran said.
But his decision angered and disappointed lawmakers who were hoping to regain the public's trust and make state government more transparent.
"I am deeply discouraged the debate ... has been cut off," said Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland. "It's a violation of what we stand for."
Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, said while open caucuses have worked this session, she thinks lawmakers need to have a place to go to discuss sensitive issues.
One Republican voiced support for the rule change.
"Deals behind closed doors are not necessary," Sen. Gary George, R-Newberg, said. "Let's be honest about what we are going to do."
Metsger said he had counted 12 "yes" votes going into the discussion. The measure needed 15 to pass.
"I thought it had a shot," Metsger said, adding he did not expect the proposal to be tabled without a vote, especially by someone from his own caucus.
The Oregon Public Meetings Law requires public access to all meetings of government bodies, including city councils and school boards.
Legislative committee meetings and floor sessions are open to the public but party caucuses traditionally have been closed.
Only five states open their caucuses to the news media.
Kristy Hessman can be reached at (503) 399-6663.