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2014 Oregon Legislature starts Monday

The Oregon Legislature begins a short annual session at the State Capitol today.

Sessions in even-numbered years are limited to 35 days. This is expected to restrict the number of controversial or complex issues that are likely to be considered.

The fact that 2014 is an election is expected to increase partisan tensions in Salem, too.

Perhaps the most contentious issue that will be considered is the fate of the Columbia River Crossing. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has asked lawmakers to consider approving an Oregon-led project currently estimated at around $2.8 billion. It would involve replacing the two aging I-5 spans between Portland and Vancouver with a new bridge including a light rail line. The Marine Drive and Hayden Island freeway interchanges would also be heavily modified.

Oregon would take the lead in the project because the Washington Legislature has so far refused to commit any state funding to it. The 2013 Oregon Legislature approved $450 million towards the project. The 2014 Legislature would need to recommit those funds and approve a program for collecting tolls from Washington drivers using the replacement bridge.

Kitzhaber says the project will die if the session does not approve an Oregon-led project. It has already cost over $190 million in planning funds.

Another controversial issue is gun control. The state Senate is expected to consider a bill requiring background check on all gun sales except those between relatives. Background checks are only requires for gun sales involve federally licensed firearm dealers at this time. Such a bill was introduced in the 2013 Oregon Legislature but did not make it out of committee. Senate Republicans accused Democrats of introducing the bill again to create a campaign issue against some of their members.

The Cover Oregon website is also likely to spark debate. Those seeking health care insure still cannot enroll through it. Instead, they must use paper forms, which are slower to process. Some Republicans have called for the website to be closed. Kitzhaber has defended the state's efforts to enroll Oregonians in new health care policies. Democrats are expected to back Kitzhaber, who is up for re-election this year.

Opposition from environmentalists is expected to a bill that would clear the way for nearly 2,000 acres in Washington County for development. Metro expanded the urban growth boundary to include the property in 2011, but the decision has been tied up in the courts for years. Some legislators want to essentially ratify the decision during the session.

A bill sponsored by state Rep. Ben Unger (D-Hillsboro) is also expected to be controversial. It would prevent local governments from waiving property taxes intended for schools to encourage economic development and urban renewal projects. At the present time, state laws allow local governments to waive a portion of all property taxes to encourage such projects. Such waiver are credited with encouraging large employers like Intel to locate in Washington County and the redevelopment of the Pearl District and South Waterfront in Portland.

Other potentially big issues include banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, privatizing liquor sales, legalizing marijuana, and issuing $200 million in OHSU construction bonds as a match to the $500 million Nike founder Phil Nike has pledged for an expanded cancer research program.

The state economist will release the quarterly revenue estimates on Feb. 12, nine days into the session. It will determine whether lawmakers have additional money to spend or must tap reserves to maintain existing budgets. Unlike the 2013 special session, no one is proposing another "grand bargain" to raise more revenue for schools or other purposes.