Image for Co-Chairs Unveil State Budget Framework
Senator Bill Hansell, who represents a huge swath of Eastern Oregon, successfully championed the potato as Oregon's official state vegetable, leaving onion supporters weeping.

The Potato Moves One Row Closer to Official State Veggie Status

Lawmakers with bipartisan majorities sent a $200 million bill to fight homelessness to Governor Kotek, the Ways and Means co-chairs unveiled their $31.6 billion biennial budget framework and the potato moved one row closer to becoming the official state veggie.

In week 10 of the 2023 legislative session, hearings were held on abortion and gender-affirming care, gun regulation, motorcycle lane-splitting and requiring large data centers to use renewable energy. The House passed legislation allowing self-service gas, and Kotek urged further expansion of behavioral health services. Lawmakers floated the possibility of earmarking $1 billion for the I-5 Columbia River Bridge replacement.

Debates continue over how to improve childhood literacy and whether to require fentanyl education in schools. A vote is scheduled this week on removing a state restriction on hiring and retention bonuses. Votes also are pending on a series of employer measures, including one that would allow an employee to refuse work they deem too dangerous. A House committee is expected to advance legislation banning the sale of flavored tobacco products in Oregon.

Next week will be hectic as the second key deadline for legislative progress on April 4 looms. Floor votes will occur on the state’s semiconductor investment package, which will coincide with memorial services for Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who championed the chipmaker’s expansion to Oregon. Moore died on Friday. He was 94.

The semiconductor investment package will be voted on this week, coinciding with memorials for the late Intel co-founder Gordon Moore who introduced chipmaking to Oregon.

$200 Million Homeless Package
Kotek is expected to sign the pair of bills that will provide $130 million in the 10 counties with the most unhoused people and $27 million for the 26 rural counties. The money will be targeted housing 1,650 households, expand shelter capacity and provide rental assistance to prevent 8,750 households from becoming homeless. Another $25 million will aid homeless youth, $20 million to incentivize modular home construction, $5 million for tribes and $5 million for onsite housing improvements for farmworkers. A $3 million revolving loan fund is intended to jump-start worker housing by covering permit and system development fees.

The legislation was approved in a Tuesday night Senate floor session that allowed for both bills to be read in their entirety. House Bill 2001, weighing in 74 pages, took 90 minutes to read. Five Republicans joined Democrats to pass the measures. Senator Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, voted against the measures because he said they didn’t contain incentives for multifamily housing. Senate Republican Leader  Tim Knopp, R-Bend, voted for the measures, while adding, “We also need to unleash the private sector to solve this problem.”

Budget Framework Released
The Ways and Means co-chairs called their framework a “no-frills” budget for the next two years in light of “economic uncertainty” that includes a possible recession later this year. The framework pegs K-12 funding at $9.9 billion, the same as Kotek proposed in her budget, but less than the $10.3 billion sought by school advocates.

Senator Elizabeth Steiner and Rep. Tawna Sanchez, the co-chairs who are both Portland Democrats, set aside $10.7 billion for human service programs. They left open a $325 million pot to cover a mix of pressing spending demands such as increasing pay for public defenders, investing in school literacy programs and assisting Oregonians who may not qualify for post-pandemic continuing Medicaid coverage. The co-chairs reserved $450 million for state worker pay increases and directed $325 million to the state’s Rainy Day Fund. There is a $197 million allocation for promoting housing construction and attracting semiconductor companies, which will come from excess tax revenue in the current biennium. The budget framework left open how to utilize bonding, including the $1 billion Oregon contribution to the I-5 Columbia River Bridge replacement.

Self-Serve Gas – HB 2426
The House by a 47-10 margin passed House Bill 2426 that would allow self-service gas statewide, though urban area gas stations would still be required to have attendant service at least half of their pumps. Rural customers, who already can pump their own gas, would be allowed to do so at any time regardless whether there is an attendant. Rep. Anna Scharf, R-Dallas, voted the bill despite her mother’s threat to stop sending her Christmas presents if she did. HB 2426 now goes to the Senate.

Abortion Access – HB 2002
A hearing before the House Health Care Committee drew 600 often emotional and strongly worded statements for and against House Bill 2002 that would make interference with access to a health care clinic a crime and reinforce a woman’s right to decide her own reproductive health care. HB 2002 advocates pushed for stronger protections relating to access to abortion pills and gender-affirming care. House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, created a work group following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the decision in Roe v. Wade., which recommended the provisions in HB 2002.  He said legal access to abortion is not the same as practical access to abortion, especially in rural parts of Oregon. A vote on HB 2002 is set this week.

Affordable Housing – HB 3302
Introduced by Speaker Dan Rayfield at the request of the Willamette Valley Legislative Fellowship, House 3302 that would income or corporate excise tax credits for investments in affordable housing, including multifamily units. Business supporters testified the incentives are necessary because the relative scarcity and high cost of land, coupled with regulatory and systemic cost drivers, makes for prohibitively high development cost, leaving little incentive to build affordable housing. Lawmakers are expected to move a housing investment package this session.

Behavioral Health Expansion – SB 1044
Kotek urged lawmakers last week to support her $80 million plan to expand the state’s behavioral health system. She cited statistics indicating Oregon’s mental health and addiction rates exceed other states with a behavioral health system that’s inadequate to the task. Her proposal calls for $20 million to recruit and retain diverse health care providers in underserved areas, $15 million for substance use disorder facilities and recovery center, $10 million for community mental health programs, $7.7 million for suicide prevention and $6 million for case management of patients released from Oregon State Hospital.

Gun Regulation – HB 2005, HB 2006, HB 2007
House Judiciary took testimony on bills to ban untraceable ghost guns, raise the minimum age to purchase a firm from 18 to 21 and allow local governments to prohibit guns in their public spaces. The battlelines are well-established. Legislation to address gun violence is one of the reasons Senate Republicans are using the delaying tactic of fully reading all bills that come to the Senate floor. It’s possible House Republicans would follow suit if any of these bills makes it out of committee. Senate Judiciary is holding its own gun regulation hearings this week.

Hiring and Retention Bonuses – HB 3205
The House Business and Labor Committee has scheduled a vote this week on House Bill 3205 that would exempt hiring and retention bonuses from Oregon’s equal pay statute. Supporters say the exemption is necessary for businesses to recruit and retain workers in a tight labor market. According to supporters, Oregon is the only state restricting these kind of payments.

Data Centers and Renewable Energy – HB 2816
The House Climate, Energy and Environment Committee will vote this week on House Bill 2816 that would subject large energy-consuming data centers to provision of Oregon’s renewable portfolio standard. The RPS was established to nudge electricity  providers to deliver more green energy. If passed, HB 2816 would be the first expansion of the RPS to apply to an energy consumer.

Motorcycle Lane-Splitting Revisited – SB 442
In a re-do of legislation vetoed by former Governor Kate Brown in 2012, the Senate has advanced Senate Bill 442 that would allow motorcyclists to travel between lanes on multi-lane highways with a speed limit of at least 50 mph, but only when traffic has slowed to 10 mph or less. Motorcyclists riding between cars could travel no more than 10 mph faster than the flow of traffic. The Senate floor vote was 27-2. There is bipartisan support for the measure in the House. California allows a form of lane-splitting and Washington’s legislature is considering similar legislation.

Highway Toll Viewpoints
The Portland Tribune asked its readers for their views on tolling major highways in the Portland area. Unsurprisingly, 90 percent of the 333 self-selected respondents opposed tolls. One reader said, “We pay enough taxes without being gouged with tolls as well”. Another opponent added, “You can raise money other ways. Terrible concept! We will bear this burden of thousands of drivers who skip the tolls and use off-roads from I-205.” The Tribune included two supportive comments. “I think it is the only way to address congestion and also is a good way to pay for roads with more cars using less or no gas.” “It’s necessary for traffic management and common in other cities of our size.”

Fentanyl Education in Schools – SB 238
Senate Education will vote on Senate Bill 238 that charges the Oregon Health Authority, the state Board of Education and the Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission to develop “curricula supplements” on fentanyl and other opioids. The state’s 197 school districts would incorporate the supplemental material into their curriculum by the 2024-2025 school year. The Beaverton School District already has a fentanyl prevention program with slides and videos that has attracted national attention. Beaverton offers its program free of charge.

Hate Crimes – HB 3443
House Bill 3443 would allow victims of hate crimes to break rental leases with no financial penalties to move away from their attackers. The Oregon Department of Justice in 2022 received 257 reports of bias perpetrated by neighbors and 185 reports of bias perpetrated by landlords. There also is a sharp increase in racial threats. The measure, which is in House Judiciary, also would allow victims to receive leave from their jobs for medical or psychological care, pack for a move or cooperate with law enforcement on an investigation.

Workforce Issues – SB 851, SB 907, HB 3471
A trio of bills dealing with workforce issues opposed by business interests are slated for action. Senate Bill 851 would hold employers liable for issues like poor performance reviews to disagreements between employees. Senate Bill 907 would allow employees to refuse work they deem too dangerous and take paid sick leave. House Bill 3471 would prohibit no-rehire provisions in workers’ compensation settlements.

State Vegetable and Movie
Lawmakers already designated animals in shelters as the state pet and now are considering two more state icons. The Senate passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 3 to designate the potato as Oregon’s state vegetable and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest may be named the official state movie. Senator Bill Hansell, R-Athena, who is retiring when his term expires, championed the potato as the state vegetable, which had to overcome a drive to give that distinction to the onion. In the end, the potato was more ‘appeeling’.

There are many official state symbols like the Oregon Hairy Triton as the state seashell, the Dungeness Crab as the state crustacean and brewer’s yeast as the state microbe. State designations have involved competing contestants. It took a decade for the border collie to become Oregon’s state dog. While Oregon is referred to as the Beaver State, that designation has never been made official.