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Oregon Lawmakers Open 35-Day Session

Chris Phan

Oregon lawmakers convened Monday for a whirlwind 35-day session. But the thorniest topics were largely absent from the opening day festivities.

The next five weeks could include high profile debates on gun control, marijuana legalization and the state's beleaguered health insurance exchange.

But most lawmakers were inclined to leave partisan differences aside on the opening day. Monday was more about patriotic choirs, a clerk forced to sound like an auctioneer while he reads off a long list of new legislation, and new lawmakers taking the oath of office.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward reminded colleagues that serving in the legislature is a privilege that few will hold.

"We are standing here today representing the men, women and children of Oregon -- those who were born here, and those who were fortunate enough to become Oregonians by choice," she said.

Still, there's an election just around the corner so the opening day niceties will soon fade away as Democrats and Republicans jockey to advance their agendas.

Both parties say they'll focus on job creation and economic development. But legislative leaders worry the short session will bog down in debates over gun control, marijuana legalization and whether to fund a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia River.

Lawmakers also say they want more answers about what led to the troubled roll-out of the state's health insurance exchange, Cover Oregon.

Lawmakers will get an update on the state's financial outlook next week. That could lead to a round of budget adjustments in order to head off deeper cuts later on.

The legislature will wrap up its work by March 9. That's just over two months before the May primary.

Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman covers the Oregon state capitol for JPR as part of the Northwest News Network, a group of 12 Northwest public radio organizations which collaborate on regional news coverage. Chris graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He began his career producing arts features for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana and has been a reporter/announcer for NPR station WNIJ in DeKalb, Illinois. Chris has also reported from overseas, filing stories from Iraq, Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe and Uganda.
Chris Lehman
Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.