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Negotiations between business and union representatives produced a compromise on campaign contribution limits, which may not be strong enough to ward off a much stricter initiative this fall.

Lawmakers Advance Transportation, Child Labor and Hospital Violence Bills

Compromises emerged during week three of the 2024 legislative session on campaign finance limits, penalties for possessing small amounts of illicit drugs and how to move forward on eliminating daylight savings time. Separate bills advanced to penalize child labor law violators and persons who attack hospital workers.

Bills that failed to move this session would have strengthened Oregon’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, allowed employers to offer recruitment incentives, raised the corporate activity tax exemption to $5 million and prohibited public school teacher strikes.

As the session moves toward its mandatory March 10 adjournment, the focus will shift to how lawmakers decide to spend up to $1.3 billion in available revenue. The largest expenditure is expected to be a pared down version of Governor Kotek’s housing production initiative.

Campaign Finance Limits
Introduced as an amendment to House Bill 4024, the campaign finance proposal creates a series of limits for individual donors and groups. Individuals would be limited to $3,300 donations for state and local candidates per election, which is the same as federal contribution limits.

Small-donor committees that only accept individual contributions of up to $250 per donor would be allowed to donate up to $33,000 to state and local candidates per election. A committee with 5,000 individual donors could double its candidate contribution and give a candidate a total of $132,000 for a primary and general election. Small-donor committees are the vehicle often used by labor unions to support candidates.

Membership committees formed by business or advocacy groups would have a per candidate donation limit of $16,500 per election or $33,000 for both a primary and general election. Any independent groups that spend $50,000 or more would be required to identify individual donors who gave $5,000 or more to the group.

Honest Elections Oregon, which is ready to press for a campaign limitation initiative this fall, circulated a memo critical of the compromise, claiming it has broad spending loopholes, weak enforcement provisions and lax disclosure rules.

“There’s something in this for everybody to hate, but at the end of the day, we are trying to come up with a system that works,” said Preston Mann, political affairs director for Oregon Business & Industry. The most recent Oregon Beliefs and Values survey showed 75 percent of respondents favor campaign contribution limits. If enacted by the 2024 legislature, the compromise campaign contribution  limits wouldn’t take effect until the beginning of 2026.

Drug Possession Penalties
Legislative Democrats unveiled a revised version of their Measure 110 modification that would create a new, non-traditional type of misdemeanor for possession of small amounts of illicit drugs with the intent to divert users to local treatment programs, even before arrest and with the possibility of expungement. The revised concept still includes expansion of treatment options and the time for welfare holds from 48 hours to 72 hours for persons arrested after using fentanyl.

The unclassified misdemeanor would carry the potential  of up to 30 days of jail time for probation violations or more if probation is revoked. The change moved district attorneys, sheriffs, chiefs of police and the League of Oregon Cities from opposition to neutral. A coalition of BIPOC advisory groups reacted negatively to the changes. The Oregonians for Safety and Recovery Coalition, which opposes recriminalizing drug possession, refused to meet with Democrats who worked on the changes.

Legislative Republicans were considering the changes, which haven’t been released yet in bill form. The revised Democratic proposal takes a page from a measure offered by Rep. Kevin Mannix, R-Salem, that included a new type of misdemeanor and placing violators immediately in detox before a court appearance.

Daylight Savings Time
Senate Bill 1548 to end daylight savings time in Oregon faced a rare Senate floor defeat on a 15-15 tie vote. The bill was rescued and sent back to committee for an amendment that conditions the phaseout to similar action by the legislative bodies in adjoining states.

Senator Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, raised concern that Oregon acting alone could lead to confusion for Oregonians living near or who traveling between bordering states. The 2024 Washington Legislature convened without acting on similar legislation. Measures are still alive in the legislative bodies in California and Idaho.

Child Labor Law
The House unanimously passed House Bill 4004 that empowers the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries to pursue and retain penalties for child labor law violations. Current Oregon law requires the Bureau to refund penalties it collects if an employer pays related penalties to the U.S. Department of Labor, which has served as a disincentive to investigate child labor cases.

Labor Commissioner Christina Stephenson testified that the status quo gives bad actors a competitive edge and can make the state a comparably attractive place to break the law. The bill is now in the Senate and has until February 29 to move out of committee.

Hospital Worker Attacks
The House Judiciary Committee advanced House Bill 4088 that would make knowingly attacking a hospital worker a Class C felony that carries up to five years in prison and a $125,000 fine.

Hospitals would be required to post signs in five languages about the law and report incidents to the Department of Consumer and Business Services. Hospitals also would be prohibited from forcing employees to wear identification badges with their last names and allow union representatives to participate in worker safety meetings.

The bill seeks an undetermined amount of funding for rural and critical access hospitals to install metal detectors and other protective measures. HB 4088 was sent to Ways and Means to address funding.

The measure is opposed by advocates for persons with disabilities. “Many people with disabilities don’t access medical care until it’s an emergency or crisis,” said Beth Brownhill, an attorney for Disability Rights Oregon. “Lack of care culminates in a crisis and being in a crisis complicates their much-needed care. Caregivers for individuals with disabilities will be less likely to help them seek care if they might face a felony for behavior that manifests from a crisis.”

Transportation Measures
The Joint Committee on Transportation held a hear on a trio of bills aimed at rectifying the current disparity in heavy and light vehicle taxes. With heavy commercial truck users paying more than their constitutional fair share for the use of Oregon roadways, Article 9 Section 3a requires the legislature to adjust tax rates or transportation spending.

Senate Bill 1519 and Senate Bill 1543 both aim to decrease the current weight mile tax that trucks pay, while House Bill 4165-4 seeks to repeal the weight mile system and replace it with a diesel tax.

The committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 1572 that requires the Oregon Department of Transportation to $250,000 study extending the Westside Express Service commuter line to Salem.

To prepare for a 2025 session transportation measure, the committee held a hearing where state transportation officials painted a grim picture. They said inflation is eroding the buying power of State Highway Fund revenues. Of those revenues, only 20 percent is available for road maintenance while the rest pays for capital projects. Transportation revenues also are affected by increasing vehicle gas mileage efficiency and the switch to electric vehicles.

Summer Learning Programs
Some legislators are having sec0nd thoughts about budgeting $50 million for summer learning programs, questioning the value of summer sessions and whether the state can afford the expenditure. Governor Kotek has made summer learning a priority and research indicates it is one of the most effective ways to recover learning loss. Data shows Oregon students trail their counterparts in other states in recovering from lost classroom time during the pandemic. Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, raise a concern about whether summer learning funding is sustainable in light of other K-12 education needs. Lawmakers spent $200 million and $150 million in 2022 and 2023, respectively, on summer learning programs.

House Bill 4802 contains accountability provisions. To be eligible for the funding, districts would have to demonstrate they will focus on core academics and key transition points, including the run-ups to kindergarten and middle school. Programs must offer at least 80 hours of instruction and enrichment.