Lawmakers Consider Measure 110 Changes, Housing Boost and Chip Incentives
Oregon lawmakers convene next week for a 35-day session that isn’t expected to feature the political fireworks that dominated the 2023 legislative session.
Reforming Measure 110
The most charged issue facing lawmakers will be how to modify Measure 110, the voter-approved initiative that decriminalized possession of small amounts of illicit drugs, but which has been blamed for a rise in open drug use, fentanyl overdoses and crime. Governor Kotek has called for a ban on public consumption of controlled substances.
Democrats will propose modifications that stop short of repeal, which may not be enough to forestall a well-funded initiative this fall to recriminalize drug possession.
Housing and Homelessness
Kotek’s top priority is allocating another $600 million to homelessness and housing. Most of the money would be for boosting housing production by addressing development costs, providing technical assistance for small communities and supporting housing-related infrastructure.
Another Kotek priority is moving forward on recommendations that came from the Portland Central City Task Force that she commissioned. Retail businesses continue to abandon downtown, citing open drug use and relentless shoplifting. The governor already has assigned greater state police presence in Portland and she just declared a fentanyl emergency in the city.
Business Legislative Objectives
Major business groups will push for additional incentives to induce further semiconductor industry investments in Oregon. A major concern is ensuring adequate shovel-ready industrial land to accommodate expansion.
Business interests are pressing lawmakers to clarify overlapping leave laws and to amend the state’s pay equity law to permit hiring and retention bonuses. Lawmakers are looking at the complex web of tax, insurance and regulatory issues posed by the 58 licensed professional employer organizations that supply a growing share of Oregon’s workforce.
Legislators dodged the bullet of how to respond to a court ruling invalidating the Climate Protection Program when the Department of Environmental Quality announced it would redo its flawed rulemaking process over the course of this year.
K-12 Funding Formula
Discussion and possibly some action is likely following the nearly month-long teacher strike last fall in Portland that revealed shortcomings in the state’s 20-year-old school funding formula. School officials and education unions have said the formula fails to consider new realities in public education such as the need for school-based health centers, tutors to combat student learning loss and assistance to update aging school facilities. There could be a move to enhance funding for school districts with high percentages of special needs students.
There will be a full agenda of health care proposals, including a renewed effort of using “quality of life” as a factor in determining eligibility for care under the Oregon Health Plan. Other bills would allow pharmacists to test for and treat viruses, expand the number of public guardians for incapacitated people and address a rise in hospital workplace violence.
The topic of involuntary commitment attracted interim legislative attention related to people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. There was some discussion on how civil commitments might play a role in addressing homelessness and drug addiction.
Disappearing Local News
Another issue drawing attention is the evaporating presence of rural newspapers and radio stations. It’s unclear what the legislature or the state in general could do, but the concern is real that a lack of local news coverage makes it harder for citizens to know what their elected officials are doing and how well they are doing it.
Local governments have been targets of ransomware attacks, prompting calls for increased technical and financial support to increase internet security.
Taxes are always on the table when the legislature meets, though no major new or increased tax measures have been teed up for the session. Kotek’s housing task force produced a report describing a potpourri of possible tax increases to boost housing production, but the governor scotched bringing any of those ideas to the 2024 session.
One tax issue involving transportation is expected to get attention – how to ensure electric vehicle operators pay their share into the Highway Trust Fund to maintain and modernize the state’s road system. Electric vehicles only represent 10 percent of vehicles on the road in Oregon, but that percentage will increase and shrink gas tax revenue.
Lawmakers also are expected to address that truckers are paying more than their share of highway fund revenues and to set aside additional funds to pay for winter road plowing and highway graffiti removal.
The Fate of Measure 113 Penalties
A handful of Republican senators, including Senate GOP Leader Tim Knopp, will be serving in their last legislative session after the Oregon Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the secretary of state’s interpretation of Measure 113 penalties for lawmakers who had 10 or more unexecuted absences during the 2023 legislative session. A federal judge earlier rejected a Measure 113 challenge by senators who will be barred from for re-election.
The Court concluded that “reading the text of the amendment in light of the ballot title and the voters’ pamphlet, voters would have understood the disqualification to apply to the term of office immediately following the term in which a legislator accrued 10 or more unexcused absences.”