A citizen panel in Oregon has come to the conclusion that state legislators and legislative staff should not be drunk while performing their official duties. The Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature adopted the policy on Monday after it was recommended by Steve Doell, president of Crime Victims United.
Doell said that he and another member of CVU smelled alcohol on the breath of at least one legislator last year, though he would not name the allegedly drunken legislator. Doell apparently was particularly offended by the scent because he was at the capitol to advocate tougher drunken-driving penalties. But he did not say whether the incident had occurred in the legislator’s office, on the floor of the state house or in some other location.
I would like to be contacted if someone discovers that the legislator was actually drunk during a floor debate on drunk-driving penalties. That would carry a much higher comedy quotient but has to be confirmed first.
Apparently, legislative rules do not currently deal with possession or consumption of alcohol by legislators or staff members. Although alcohol is barred from most state buildings it can be served at capitol functions with written approval of the legislative administrator (which I’m sure is tightly controlled and rarely given). The PCOL did not draft proposed rules, saying they would leave that up to House and Senate leaders. "We were uncomfortable acting as a nanny," said one commission member.
The PCOL was created just last year, when the state assembly passed a bill creating it and authorizing it to study the legislature’s administration, procedures, etc., and suggest ways to improve those functions. I would bet that right about now, a lot of legislators are regretting that decision. While the minutes of the May 22 meeting are not yet available, the April minutes and the May agenda are already entertaining. While many of the ideas presented are very good ones, you’ll have to ask somebody else to summarize those. Others are less good and/or less necessary.
In addition to security, procedural, and alcohol issues, the PCOL is apparently wrestling with vital questions such as putting brighter light bulbs in the third-floor stairwell, whether to get new drapes for the chambers, and what to sell in the gift shop. Other citizen suggestions may just not be all that helpful, such as whether to "Protect staff from partisan exuberance" or to "Shift legislator focus to bigger more important issues than goose liver pate," which was tabled indefinitely at the last session in February. Other issues that the PCOL has decided do not merit further action: choosing legislators at random rather than by election, establishing a dress code or uniforms for legislators and staff, and my favorite, "Make legislators more accountable and accessible to the people they serve." Let’s get serious, people.
Still on the agenda: the topic of "Increasing legislator compensation" (one of the subtopics there is "Should legislators be paid more," which is helpful), and a suggestion that legislators "Show up on time, pay attention and stay in the room."