When I found this story from the Oregonian, it was accompanied by several comments about clowns. After reading it, I'm sure you'll understand why...
Legislature's silliest bills up for debate
by Michelle Cole, The Oregonian
SALEM --First, there is an idea. Lawyers draft it into a bill, and that comes before the Oregon House or Senate.
And then, the reaction:
Huh? They want to do what?
Sometimes, even a bill's sponsor will admit it's silly. This year's example: A proposed sales tax on personal submarines.
And sometimes what sounds wacky at first may make sense.
So let's review some silly and maybe-not-so-silly bills introduced in the 2009 Legislature:
Taxes that tickle
An informal survey of Republicans and Democrats in Salem finds agreement on at least one thing: The proposed bird seed tax may be the dumbest-sounding idea floated this year.
House Bill 3303 would levy a 10 percent excise tax on wholesalers of wild bird seed, including millet, milo, sunflower and thistle seeds.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Chris Garrett, D-Lake Oswego, says his critics shouldn't get their feathers in a ruffle.
"I knew when I introduced it that it was going to get some giggles," Garrett said. "If people would get over their hang-ups, it's good policy."
The estimated $4.8 million raised by the tax would pay for habitat protection, Garrett says.
What's more, Oregon could secure another $4.8 million in matching grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Then there's the submarine tax, which Rep. Chip Shields, D-Portland, isn't even trying to defend.
To be fair, House Bill 3146 slaps a "luxury tax" not only on personal submarines, but also on airplanes, cosmetic surgery, fur coats and other items.
"It's a stupid bill," Shields admits, adding that he signed onto the idea in 2005.
Still, Shields says he brought it back to make a point: People want the wealthy to pay their share.
Senate Bill 277 passed the Senate unanimously last week without even a snicker -- or potty joke.
You've seen the signs: "No public restrooms." Well, this bill would require places such as stores and businesses to allow customers with certain medical conditions to use employee toilets "without further delay."
Don't worry about cheaters. A doctor's letter or identification card would be required.
Stating the obvious
Every session, a few bills raise the question: Why does Oregon need to legislate this?
This year, at least two bills fit the description.
Senate Bill 200 establishes a state policy regarding homelessness. It passed the Senate on Monday on a unanimous vote.
The state is broke, so there's no money attached to the bill.
But there is strong language: "Homelessness is a detriment to individuals, families and communities." And the bill directs state and local agencies to work together on homeless issues.
Anna Richter Taylor, communications director for Gov. Ted Kulongoski, said the bill is really a commitment to tackle the problem.
"It brings together local, state and nonprofit organizations to have one coordinated effort," she says.
Senate Bill 193 directs the state Water Resources Department "to develop state water strategy."
Really? Isn't that what the department already does?
Nope. The department's Web site says Oregon is one of only two Western states without a water supply strategy.
Bye bye Fryers
House Bill 2630 would abolish the Oregon Fryer Commission. But don't worry, there will still be an Oregon Tall Fescue Commission, an Oregon Fine Fescue Commission and a list of others.
What's up with the fryers?
It's a sign of a changing Oregon, says Mike Dewey, Fryer Commission lobbyist.
The commission was written into law 50 years ago so growers could tax themselves to promote consumption of chicken, he says.
But now most Oregon growers raise chickens for one of two processors: Draper Valley Farms and Foster Farms. There's no need for marketing money when you have Foster Farms airing national -- and cute -- ad campaigns.
Plus, Dewey says, "chicken to a certain degree sells itself."
Dewey and his partners are serious about the bill but not lacking humor. As part of a food bank fundraiser, they've promised to testify before a Senate committee wearing chicken suits.
Just call it cluck for a buck.
Speaking of cluck
Some bills just sound silly. The title of Senate Bill 622, which passed the Senate on Thursday, describes the legislation as "relating to geese."
Actually, it relates to getting rid of them. It would create a nine-member task force charged with figuring out how to get rid of what Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, described as an "explosive rise in the goose population."
A few senators said Oregon doesn't need a task force.
"We already know what we need to do," said Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. "We need to kill a few of the critters."
The crab lobby
A bill to name the marionberry Oregon's official state berry was squashed by another berry lobby. So who would be brave enough to ask lawmakers to designate the Dungeness crab as the official state crustacean?
That would be Stephanie Buzbee's fourth-grade class at Sunset Primary School in West Linn.
The kids have heard about the berry brouhaha, Buzbee says. But they're pushing ahead with their class project: House Joint Resolution 37.
While studying the states, Buzbee says students learned other states have official crustaceans. Louisiana has the crawfish, Maryland the blue crab.
The class decided nothing says Oregon more than the Dungeness crab, and they persuaded Rep. Scott Bruun, R-West Linn, to introduce a bill.
Four students are coming to Salem next week to testify. Others are working on posters and supporting materials.
Bruun says he has the crabbers lined up and he is hopeful the bill will pass.
"Despite the fact that it's a fun bill and a school project, there is some economic value," he says.
The students are also preparing what they'll say if a competing crustacean surfaces.
"They're going into it with the knowledge that it's not a done deal," Buzbee says.