Oregon Legislature begins 5-week session

Oregon Legislature begins 5-week session
Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego. is greeted by Rep. Wally Hicks, R-Grants Pass, as the Oregon House convenes for the 2014 session Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. In the coming weeks, debates over gun control, marijuana legalization and the proposed Columbia River bridge are likely to dominate. (AP Photo/Statesman Journal, Kobbi R. Blair)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon lawmakers kicked off the 2014 legislative session on Monday but avoided immediately wading into the most contentious issues on their agenda.

In the coming weeks, debates over gun control, marijuana legalization and the proposed Columbia River bridge are likely to dominate. The state budget will need to be revised, and lawmakers are likely to look at the fiasco with Cover Oregon, the state's health insurance exchange that has not yet launched a fully functioning website.

None of those hot-button issues were on the agenda for Monday, but lawmakers did advance a handful of relatively noncontroversial measures.

A House committee unanimously advanced a bill that would allow the children of reserve police officers and volunteer firefighters to qualify for scholarships that are available to the children of paid public safety officers killed in the line of duty. The bill follows the death in November of Robert Libke, an unpaid reserve police officer for Oregon City who was shot in the head responding to a report of a house fire and an armed man.

"These reserve officers serve all of our communities and they put their lives on the line," reserve Capt. Robert Ball of the Portland Police Bureau told the House Business and Labor Committee. "I felt that we as a community needed to give back and honor that service and stand behind that service when something as tragic as this happens."

The measure, House Bill 4120, is likely to be one of the first to get a vote in the full House later this week, when Libke's family is expected to visit the Capitol.

The House Health Care Committee approved House Bill 4013 allowing health care providers to electronically transmit prescriptions for painkillers, stimulants and other heavily regulated drugs known as Schedule II controlled substances. The committee also backed House Bill 4109, which would pay for a study of the costs and impacts of creating a "basic health program," an option under the federal health overhaul to make coverage more affordable for people with low incomes.

Lawmakers also debated a measure allowing prison guards to lock a gun in their vehicle while they're on duty, which currently violates state rules, but took no formal action on House Bill 4035.

Before legislative committees got down to business, the House and Senate opened with a bit of pomp and circumstance. Members of the Portland Lesbian Choir serenaded the House while senators listened to notes from the Willamette Master Chorus.

The newest member of the Legislature also was sworn in. Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, replaces Democrat Chris Garrett, who resigned to become a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals. Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, was elected to replace Garrett as speaker pro tem and will fill in when Speaker Tina Kotek is unavailable.

Unlike the past three years, Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber has not outlined an ambitious agenda he's hoping to muscle through the Legislature.

Lawmakers must wrap up their work by March 9 unless a bipartisan supermajority votes to extend the session.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.