Image for Chipmaking, Literacy, Panic Button Bills Advance
Requiring a panic safety button in every Oregon school classroom is advancing in the Oregon legislative session.

Gun Restrictions, 988 Funding and Rent Control Hang in Balance

The semiconductor investment bill cleared the legislature as measures to boost childhood literacy, ensure gender-affirming care, ban flavored tobacco products, require panic buttons in schools and discourage street racing advanced.

In week 12, the halfway mark of the 2023 legislative session, majority Democrats continued to push for gun restrictions, stronger rent control and funding for a 988 suicide hotline without Republican support.

The first major session deadline April 4 sidelined bills that would have required employers to post pay ranges for all job postings, legislative approval for public universities to switch athletic conferences, data centers to use specified amounts of green energy and project labor agreements for all projects with more than $750,000 in state funding.

Also left on the committee shelf were bills that provided a private right of action when a job applicant was asked about their age, authorized pharmacists to test and provide treatment for short-term illnesses, imposed a tax on the sales of tires and off-road diesel equipment and a modified the parole release process.

The Ways and Means co-chairs surveyed lawmakers on their top three spending priorities. Governor Kotek celebrated ShadowMachine staff members for the Portland-based studio’s work on the  Oscar-winning animated movie Pinocchio. She also cut off travel reimbursement for state remote workers and Oregon OSHA removed the remaining requirement for masks at healthcare facilities.

Semiconductor Manufacturing Incentives – SB 4
The House with a bipartisan majority approved Senate Bill 4 that authorizes $210 million to attract semiconductor manufacturing and research facilities with federal CHIPS Act financial assistance. Kotek praised passage of one of her priority bills. The expansion sites narrowed to two large tracts of existing farmland outside Hillsboro, including tracts owned by farmers willing to sell. Lawmakers also hinted they may sweeten the pot further by approving tax credits for investment or research, something business groups have urged.

Literacy Push – HB 3198
The Early Literacy Success Initiative, a Kotek-backed initiative, moved out of committee to Ways and Means on a unanimous vote. The only question came from Rep. Gerald Wright, R-Coos Bay, about whether $120 million over the next two years was adequate to the task of improving the state’s low third-grade reading proficiency rates. Kotek and reading literacy advocates have called House Bill 3198 the first step, which they say also requires revamping training for elementary teachers.

Gender-Affirming Care Access – HB 2002
Democrats on a 6-5 vote in House Behavioral Health and Health Care pushed through House 2002 that guarantees access to gender-affirming care and abortion. Committee approval of House Bill 2002 was bracketed by Idaho’s legislature approving a bill that would criminalize transporting a minor across a state line to obtain an abortion. “Abortion and gender-affirming care are a political football in other states,” said Rep. Ben Bowman, D-Tigard. ”Fundamental rights are being stripped away from people, but Oregon is not going to do that.”

Panic Buttons in Schools – HB 3101
One of several school safety bills to advance, House Bill 3101 (called Alyssa’s Law in honor of a student killed in the Parkland school shooting) would require panic buttons in all school classrooms that connect directly to 911. Installing panic buttons is estimated to cost $2.5 million, according to sponsor Rep. Emerson Levy, D-Bend. House Bill 3584, introduced by Rep. Jeff Helfrich, R-Hood River, would require school districts to adopt policies to alert parents about safety threats, lockdowns and evacuations. Another bill would make false school threats a felony.

Street Racing – SB 615
The Senate advanced by a bipartisan majority legislation to impose tougher penalties for illegal street racing. A first offense can bring a $6,250 fine and 364 days in jail. A second offense can result in $125,000 fine and five years in jail. Under current Oregon law, speed racing is a class A traffic violation and carries a fine of $440.

Gun Restrictions – SB 348, HB 2005
Senator Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, pushed through an amended version of Senate 348 that would largely duplicate permit-to-purchase gun purchase requirements in voter-approved Measure 114, which has been held up by a court challenge in Harney County Circuit Court. The amendment, which caught opponents by surprise, restricts a court challenge to Marion County Circuit Court, a potentially friendlier venue for gun regulation.

House Bill 2005, which would prohibit the sale and possession of guns without a serial number, emerged from the Joint Ways and Means Committee over Republican objections and will head for floor votes. HB 2005 also prohibits people under 21 from owning firearms except for hunting and allows cities and counties to ban firearms in their public buildings.

Mask Requirements Fully Lifted
Oregon OSHA removed the remaining mask requirements imposed for workplace safety during the pandemic. The decision dropped the requirement to wear masks at hospitals and other health care centers.

Data Centers and Renewable Portfolio Standard – HB 2816
Legislation died that would have required data centers in Oregon to meet the green energy standards in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which was created to apply to power suppliers, not power users. Amazon, which operates a data center in Eastern Oregon led the charge to oppose House Bill 2816. It also eased the bill’s defeat by signing a deal to buy renewable energy from Umatilla Electric Cooperative.

Housing and Building Measures – SB 611, HB 3302
A controversial measure to stiffen Oregon’s rent control provisions is on shaky ground, while a new tax credit to invest in or develop affordable multi-family housing units has been forwarded to the Joint Committee on Tax Expenditures, patterned after the federal low-income housing tax credit. Favorable consideration is expected for several related bills (Senate Bills 868, 869 and 870) to modify the state building code to improve energy efficiency. There are still concerns over how the modified code requirements would affect commercial buildings, hospitals and schools.

Bolstering Public Defender Bench – SB 337
This measure would add public defenders as state employees to address a shortage that has left many defendants waiting in jail for trials or resulted in prisoner release. The measure also would move the Oregon Public Defense Commission from the judicial to executive branch.

Kotek Curtails Remote Worker Reimbursement
Effective September 1, Kotek terminated the pandemic-era practice of reimbursing state employees who work remotely for travel costs back to Oregon. The move made legislation that was moving unnecessary.

Special Education Bills – SB 575, SB 758, SB 819A, HB 2895
Multiple bills are in play that address special education. Senate Bill 575 would create a statewide education plan for special education. Senate Bill 758 would require school districts to respond in a timely way to parental concerns for their special education students. The legislation also seeks a pay increase for special education teachers to address chronic shortages. Senate Bill 819A requires a school full day for all students. The bill responds to a report indicating almost 1,000 Oregon students only received an abbreviated day of learning. A work group is trying to iron out details in light of testimony by Oregon school board representatives that SB 819A could result in Oregon schools being out of compliance with federal special education lw.

Surviving Labor Bills – HB 2057, HB 3471
House Business and Labor approved House Bill 2057 that would allow employees of subcontractors to file lawsuits against general contractors for unpaid wages and House Bill 3471 that would prohibit employers from offering no-rehire provisions in workers’ compensation settlements.

Ban on Foam Containers – SB 543
The Senate on a 20-9 vote approved legislation to ban plastic foam containers in meal service. Similar legislation failed to pass in a previous session. Senate Bill 543 now moves to the House. If it clears the legislature, Kotek has signaled she will sign it, making Oregon the ninth state, including Washington, to adopt a similar ban.

Opioid Education – SB 238
The Senate approved Senate Bill 238 requiring school districts to create a curriculum stressing the danger of fentanyl and other opioids. The bill also requires teaching students about the state’s Good Samaritan Law, which provides immunity to anyone reporting drug or alcohol use, or to those seeking medical treatment for an overdose.

Parental Caregivers – SB 91
A bipartisan majority in the Senate approved a scaled down version of Senate 91 that would pay parents of about 1,000 children with the highest medical and behavioral health needs to care for them. The legislation allocates $3 million in state funding for the care, provided under Oregon’s Medicaid program. Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, had proposed a more sweeping bill that would have covered 10,000 children with disabilities.

Funding for 988 Hotline – HB 2757
Democrats are looking for some Republican support to pass legislation imposing a monthly 50-cent tax on phone lines and telecommunications services to provide permanent funding for the 988 suicide prevention hotline. There is already a $1.25 per month tax to pay for the 911 emergency services line. The legislation is pending in House Revenue as lawmakers attempt to find a compromise.