If State Representative Betsy Close (R-Albany) has her way, Oregon's teens will be on a tight leash, effective immediately. Over the past few weeks in Salem, Close has introduced a series of bills that, if successful, will curtail liberties throughout Oregon--not only those for youth, but perhaps yours as well. From demanding that the Ten Commandments be hung in classrooms (HB 2086) to allowing college students to opt out of required courses on the basis of "moral beliefs" (HB 2480), the second-term representative is hell-bent on limiting the state's intellectual playing field.

Yes, it is that time again: The state legislature is back for its biannual session. Although in session for the past five weeks, last Monday marked the deadline for introducing new bills. Now the real scramble for our state's legal soul begins.

For the past decade, the legislative session has been a perennial cause of alarm as conservatives try to downsize personal freedoms and chip away at environmental protection. This year looks to be no different.

But for the not-so-conservatively insane there are some glimmers of hope as well. The Greater Portland area has sent a few hard-headed legislators down to Salem to protect our liberties. Jo Ann Bowman (D-Portland) has returned for a third--and, unfortunately, final--term as a state representative. With a bill designed to curb racial profiling (HB 2887), Rep. Bowman is championing a sense of justice.

And, stealing a page from the Republicans who have controlled the capital for the past decade by swamping it with proposed laws, the sweet, moon-faced Sen. Ryan Deckert (D-Beaverton) is putting forward nearly two dozen left-leaning bills.

Keep Your Laws Off Our Cocks!

From stands of old-growth forests to wind swept seaside dunes, Oregon has long been a battleground for environmental concerns. While spotted owls and other critters were at the forefront of these fights during the '90s, they were more like symbols for the underlying issue of how we plan land use. But the new round of environmental fights is truly all about the animals.

Believe it or not, currently in Oregon, coital acts with livestock are not illegal. When sodomy was removed as a criminal offense in 1979, as part of the motion to lighten up on gays, so went sodomy protections for animals. Oregon's sodomy laws were a catchall statute that did not differentiate between the rectums of human or animal. Even with SB 227 on the fast track--passing unanimously through its committee--there are a surprising number of opponents.

Also introduced is a bill to halt cockfighting. At first blush, the bill may seem like a shoo-in. But game fowl breeders are putting up a serious fight. "What will they do next," said Dale Potter, an eastern Oregon breeder, "outlaw dogs and cats?"

The bill was one of twenty introduced by Deckert, who admits it was low priority until last week, when Sen. Lee Beyer (D-Molalla) killed the bill in committee. "Now it's personal," Deckert remarked, half-joking. He claims that he's moved the bill up closer to the top of his list.

But while it seems okay to agitate for animal protections within the capitol rotunda, it's not kosher to do so elsewhere. Perhaps as much as for Tazo Tea and Nike, Oregon is famous for inventing new brands of eco-terrorism. But hometown pride doesn't buy sympathy in Salem. Rep. Lane Shetterly (R-Dallas) has introduced two bills that, if passed, will deliver a one-two punch to animal right activists. The first, HB 2344, adds tree-spiking and interfering with animal research to the list of prosecutable offenses under racketeering laws. Its partner, HB 2385, makes interference with agricultural research a felony crime.

It's the Children, Stupid!

The smartest bill kicking around the House comes not from a legislator (what a surprise!) but from the clever mind of Adam Cornell. A former foster child, Cornell knows first-hand the barriers that life can throw in one's way--like not having a Daddy Warbucks to pay for college tuition. Cornell's clever idea? HB 2431, a proposal to free up state monies for college scholarships to foster kids! In early February, testimony was presented by foster children to the Student Achievement Committee detailing their struggles in the pursuit of collegiate diplomas--heart-breaking stories about graveyard shifts and skipped meals to save money for text books. When all was said, a teary-eyed committee recommended the bill unanimously.

But while Oregon's Orphan Annies may rejoice at their potential cash windfall, the rest of the under-18 population may lose what little freedoms they have left. Fed by the belief that video games encourage violence, Sen. Ken Messerle (R-Coos Bay) has introduced SB 59. Under the proposed law, arcade owners caught allowing minors to operate "violent" games would face up to a $5,000 fine or a year in jail. Another pugnacious bill sponsored by Messerle, SB 27 allows parents access to their children's library records, including past books they've checked out. The bill has the local ACLU up in arms! The Mercury's sympathies go out to Sen. Messerle's children.

Judging the Damned

Figuring out what to do with our criminals has been tougher than reassembling a Rubik's cube, blindfolded, in front of a firing squad. This past election, voters re-affirmed that we believe in mandatory minimum sentences. That still leaves the unanswered question; what to do with them once they're behind bars? A 1995 voter initiative demanded inmates work full-time to pay their debts. That idea, at best, has been a logistical headache for the wardens-cum-business managers, trying to figure out how to employ 10,000 low-skilled prisoners.

Rep. Rick Metsger (D-Welches) has another solution: Make inmates pay for their room-and-board. Following the it-ain't-a-free-ride mentality, SB 183 will force certain inmates to foot their share of the $24,000 annual expense to house an inmate.

More ingenious is Deckert's attempt to root out the causes of crime: SB 914 allows criminals who commit petty offenses while drugged out to seek treatment rather than serve time in the slammer.

Other Bills To Watch

HB 2646, outlaws cell phone use on highways

SB 190, charges fees for use of studded tires

HB 2089, disallows women under 21 from nude dancing in clubs where alcohol is served

HB 2434, repeals full-serve gas stations

HB 2071, requires parental notification for minor's abortion

SB 189, deletes references to "white inhabitants" in state constitution

HB 2823, allows Internet gambling

HB 2600, criminalizes falsification of drug test results