In the waning hours of the state legislative session, a bill was quietly—but frantically—being worked that would have made it easier for employers to fire workers with medical marijuana cards, even if they're never impaired at work. It died with a whimper, but the fallout could upend this week's House leadership elections.
The bill, Senate Bill 465, a product of lobbying by Associated Oregon Industries and Associated General Contractors, sailed through the Senate with Democratic support in March, catching labor leaders off guard.
"We believed the bill would have discriminated against people unfairly—just for being sick," says Tricia Smith, a lobbyist for Oregon School Employees Association. "It was inappropriate overstepping into the personal lives of workers."
But once it got to the House, it met resistance from Democrats, and was assigned to the Elections, Ethics, and Rules Committee, where it was expected to fizzle without much fanfare—or a work session.
That is, until House Majority Leader Dave Hunt (D-Clackamas County) stepped in and teamed up with Republicans to attempt to force a full floor vote. When that failed, he teamed up with Republicans on the Ethics Committee—despite urging from the rest of the Democratic caucus to let it drop—to force a work session, which was then scheduled for Wednesday, June 27, the day before the session ended.
But, once again, luck wasn't on Hunt's side; one of the Republicans on the committee, Vicki Berger, had left for the evening, meaning Hunt didn't have the votes he needed. So, when the scheduled meeting rolled around at 6:30 pm, Hunt was nowhere to be found. Finally, at 7:30 pm, he showed up and the work session started. After a couple of minutes of floundering, Hunt admitted the bill was dead.
But one of Hunt's Democratic colleagues, Peter Buckley (D-Ashland) had some blistering words for the bill's sponsors.
"The people who brought this bill forward have never cared for someone who's dying of cancer; they've never cared for someone who's in chronic pain," he said. "They don't understand that people with cancer or chronic pain are using medical marijuana as a way to make their lives livable. And they don't understand what the dignity of a job means for someone."
The little bit of late-session drama would have otherwise gone unnoticed if it weren't for the fact that Hunt's leadership position is up for election this Thursday, July 12. With his party-bucking antics fresh on their minds, House Democrats may choose to replace Hunt as Majority Leader.
Hunt didn't return a call for comment.