Image for Cap-and-Trade Bill Advances as Republican Walkout Looms

The Oregon legislature passed its first and second short-session bill deadline and moved cap-and-trade legislation one step closer to a Senate floor vote – and very likely one step closer to a Republican walkout.

Casualties of the first deadline included bills to allow Oregonians to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, cap charges for dialysis treatments and prohibit the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility from contracting with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Significant measures that made it through the deadline include capping out-of-pocket costs for consumers for each 30-day supply of insulin at $75 and requiring firearms be secured with a trigger or cable lock and stored in a locked container.

The main attraction was cap-and-trade legislation, which has drawn enormous, street-clogging crowds of opponents and supporters to the state Capitol. The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee released a 177-page amendment last Wednesday night, then considered the bill in its amended form at a working session on Thursday, as horn-blaring log trucks circled the Capitol in protest. Senate Bill 1530 passed out of committee on a 3-2 party-line vote.

Because of its fiscal impact, SB 1530 was sent to the Joint Ways and Means Committee. But politics played a role, too. The Ways and Means Committee is not as limited as other committees on when it must send bills to the floor for votes. Republicans have signaled fairly publicly they will walk out when cap-and-trade legislation is scheduled for a second reading in the Senate. A walkout would deny the Senate and House of quorums required to conduct floor business, including final passage of legislation. Democratic legislative leaders have signaled they may slow-walk the cap-and-trade bill to shorten the time of a potential Republican walkout.

As a precaution, House Democratic leaders shuttled HB 4159, its version of cap-and-trade, from House Energy and Environment to House Rules, another landing spot with more flexible schedules in the waning days of a legislative session. After demanding more hearings, Republican members of the House committee walked out before Democrats voted on the measure.

At a breakfast meeting last week, Governor Brown reiterated her strong support for cap-and-trade legislation in the 2020 session. Her declaration was cheered by Democrats in attendance, but less so by Republicans. House Deputy Minority Leader Daniel Bonham who put his shoe on his chair and began “lacing up his sneakers” and Senator Fred Girod said he was “wearing his cowboy boots today and they are made for walking.”

The maneuvering over cap-and-trade obscured another positive state revenue forecast that projected an additional $183 million in revenue this biennium. State economists cited higher personal income tax and corporate tax collections and an $87 million increase in estate tax revenue.

The extra cash could ease – or complicate – the job of Ways and Means leaders who must balance a broad array of hefty spending requests that include affordable housing, wildlife fire prevention and earthquake preparedness.

Dale Penn II is a partner and leader of the CFM’s state affairs team. He has been deeply involved in government relations and regulatory affairs in Oregon for more than 12 years and was active on behalf of a range of clients in the 2018 Oregon legislative session.