The most veteran member of the Oregon Legislature, Senator Peter Courtney is now serving a record-setting fifth term as Senate President.
During his tenure as the Senate’s presiding officer, President Courtney has been the driving force behind the push for annual legislative sessions in Oregon. The effort culminated in November 2010 when voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 71 mandating that the Legislature meet for a limited time every year. As a result, the 2011 session is Oregon’s first annual session.
Another of Courtney’s long-term efforts is also nearing completion. In 2004, Courtney was among a group that discovered the unclaimed cremated remains of more than 3,500 Oregonians who had died while patients at the Oregon State Hospital. The story of the “Room of Forgotten Souls” served as catalyst for the effort to replace the state mental hospital facility built in 1883. The first patients were moved into portions of the new 620-bed Oregon State Hospital in January and the facility is scheduled to be completed and fully occupied in late 2011.
In his fourth term as President, Courtney played a key role in 2009 in the development and passage the largest transportation investment package in state history and a measure which expands healthcare coverage to 80,000 additional children and 35,000 adults. Courtney also led passage of two capital construction packages, helping make 2009 the “Jobs Session.”
His other most recent Legislative accomplishments include passage of legislation in the 2010 Supplemental Session that creates the Safe Families program and a 2009 measure that gives Oregonians dealing with the inherited disease known as PKU the surety that the medical food required to treat the disease will be covered by insurance indefinitely.
President Courtney oversaw the extremely successful 2007 session, during which he provided strong leadership on a variety of Legislative reforms; restoration of the State Capitol building; and passage of one of the strongest ethics reform packages for public officials in the country. During this session he was also instrumental in passing an updated and expanded Oregon Bottle Bill and a bill to protect the health of bar and restaurant owners by banning smoking in all public indoor spaces. He also helped pass legislation that will phase in requirements for Physical Education in public schools and provide grants to districts to hire and train physical education teachers.
In the 2005 Legislative session, Courtney successfully steered mental health parity and other landmark legislation through the Legislature. He helped direct public attention to the needs of the Oregon State Hospital and its residents and authored “Molly’s Law,” helping families of people with developmental disabilities reconnect with loved ones.
In his first term as Senate President in 2003, Courtney helped negotiate an historic power-sharing agreement between the 15 Democrats and 15 Republicans in the state Senate that year. In the 2001 session, he sponsored an historic package of bills related to earthquake emergency training and seismic retrofitting of public buildings, all of which were overwhelmingly approved by Oregon voters in November 2002. For this work, he received the 2001 Award in Excellence for Legislation from the Western States Seismic Policy Council.
Courtney is in his fourth term as a state senator. He previously served seven terms in the Oregon House of Representatives, including four terms as House Democratic Leader. He represents Senate District 11, which includes portions of Salem, Gervais and Woodburn.
Courtney began his career in public service in 1974 as a member of the Salem City Council, where he served until 1980. He also was a member of the Salem Area Mass Transit Board. An active member of his community, Courtney serves on the Salem YMCA advisory board, served on the Salem United Way board and coached basketball for the Salem Boys and Girls Club. At Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Courtney is a long-time instructor and administrator. Courtney has run the Hood-to-Coast relay race 16 times, most recently in August 2010 after having undergone hip replacement surgery just 12 months earlier.
As a champion for children, people with mental illnesses, people with developmental disabilities, and people who serve in the armed forces, Courtney has a long list of Legislative accomplishments, including, among other Oregon firsts - a comprehensive package of benefits for Oregon National Guard and other military veterans, a law allowing legal surrender of unwanted newborns to police and hospitals and a law requiring background checks for school staff and volunteers.
Born June 18, 1943, in Philadelphia, Courtney was raised in Virginia, West Virginia and Rhode Island. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and a Master’s Degree in public administration from the University of Rhode Island and received a law degree from Boston University. He is a member of the Oregon State Bar. Courtney and his wife, Margie, have been married for 35 years. They live in Salem and have three adult sons—Peter, Sean and Adam.