With adjournment likely this weekend, lawmakers are homed in spending for capital projects and bonding as well as American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding allocations and legislative pet projects in the session-ending ‘Christmas Tree’ bill. Last week, human composting and cocktails-to-go legislation was signed into law, while Governor Brown exercised her line-item veto authority to remove a portion of the K-12 school budget.
Veteran Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, signals the session is nearing the end when she breaks out jaunty bonnets, as she did last week. The Oregon legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn by June 27. Observers predict sine die will occur a day or two earlier.
Much of the final-days suspense centers on ARP funding allocations. An agreement earlier in the session between Democratic and Republican leaders guaranteed each House district would receive at least $2 million for projects identified by lawmakers.
The late-session introduction by Democrats of House Bill 3409, which would use $450 million of Oregon’s ARP funding share to provide retention bonuses and incentive pay for workers, has created a new potential lane for how federal dollars could be spent. Labor unions support the measure to reward frontline workers who stayed on the job during the pandemic and entice reluctant workers back into jobs.
Businesses struggling to stay afloat as the economy begins to reopen also are seeking bridge financial assistance. Brown has promised to relax most pandemic restrictions when the state hits the 70 percent vaccination rate. As of Friday, 68.5 percent of the state’s eligible population 18 or older has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. A total of 4.43 million doses have been administered in Oregon and 2.17 million Oregonians are fully vaccinated.
House Bill 3409 would use $450 million of Oregon’s ARP funding share to provide retention bonuses and incentive pay for workers. Labor unions support the measure to reward frontline workers who stayed on the job during the pandemic and entice reluctant workers back into jobs.
Brown’s line-item veto to strike a portion of the $9.3 billion K-12 budget also could be restored in the Christmas Tree bill with a new source of funding. Brown struck a provision tapping into a school funding reserve, claiming it wasn’t necessary given the state’s flush financial situation.
With Brown’s signature, Oregon becomes the third state to permit human composting, referred to as “green burial”. Rules for natural organic reduction are expected to be finalized next year. The Governor also signed a measure that gives permanent authority for restaurants and bars to sell cocktails-to-go along with food orders. Temporary authority was granted during the pandemic to help restaurants and bars attract more takeout diners and survive economically.
Legislation advanced in the House to establish a 19-member task force on homelessness to recommend ways to ensure equitable delivery of services to the homeless. Task force findings would be submitted to the 2022 legislative session that convenes next January. “This is an opportunity for us to turn the page and build a framework for culturally responsive and equitable services, focusing on the outcomes for Oregonians experiencing or at risk of homelessness,” said Rep. Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Other pending action includes a further renter eviction moratorium extension, a clean electricity bill and wildfire recovery relief. The extension is necessary to align it with the timing of landlord financial relief to prevent mass evictions this summer.