Image for COVID Rules, K-12 Budget and Burdick Nomination Create Salem Sparks

Sparks flew in Salem last week over newly released Or-OSHA COVID-19 workplace rules, a proposed $9.3 billion K-12 budget and the nomination of Democratic Senator Ginny Burdick to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, as legislation faced a critical milestone of moving or dying in committee. This week the pivotal May revenue forecast will be unveiled.

Legislative Republicans cried foul on workplace rules that included an indefinite extension of Governor Brown’s mask mandate and social distancing requirements. The release of the rules came as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance that excused fully vaccinated adults from wearing masks or avoiding contact with other vaccinated people. The CDC update came as a surprise for many agencies and people in the country.

Or OSHA officials said the new rules would remain in effect until they are “no longer necessary to address the effects of the pandemic in the workplace.” Brown posted a video shortly after the rule release saying businesses wouldn’t need to enforce the mask mandate if they could show patrons were vaccinated. Business leaders immediately questioned how they could reliably determine if patrons had been vaccinated.

The confusion over what rules or guidance applies in what circumstances may take days or weeks to resolve. Meanwhile, many vaccinated adults responded to the CDC announcement by removing their masks in public for the first time in months. In her video, Brown said she would relax most COVID-19 restrictions when 70 percent of the eligible population in a county has been vaccinated.

The co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Committee were taken aback when Brown threatened a veto of a proposed K-12 budget despite a $300 million increase over current-service levels and $200 million more than Brown herself proposed in her budget. The Governor took issue with removing $200 million from Education Stability Fund reserves without, in her view, doing more to address systemic educational inequities. Lawmakers believed they satisfied requirements for withdrawing ESF reserve funds.

Top legislative Democrats and Brown reportedly reached an agreement last Friday, though what they agreed on wasn’t immediately clear. The agreement did allow the Ways and Means Committee to move a $9.3 billion K-12 budget to the Senate floor. Legislative Republicans pushed for a $9.6 billion K-12 budget. Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, one of the co-chairs, said total spending on K-12 education would be around $12 billion when funding from the commercial activity tax and federal aid was included.

Republicans on Senate Rules jumped on Brown’s appointment of their Democratic colleague, Ginny Burdick, to a government position that pays more than $140,000 annually, calling it a golden parachute at taxpayer expense. The attack on Burdick’s nomination failed to acknowledge Brown appointed former Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli to the same council in 2017. Burdick’s nomination was ultimately approved by the Senate 23-6. Burdick’s term on the council begins November 1, when she will resign her Senate seat, which she first won in 1998. She will replace Richard Devlin, currently the council chair and also a former Oregon state senator.

Lawmakers this week will receive the revenue forecast used to set 2021-2023 biennial budgets. Previous quarterly forecasts have been pleasant surprises, with unexpectedly strong revenue increases. Nothing has occurred to suggest the new forecast will rain on the revenue parade.

On Wednesday, lawmakers will receive the forecast used to set 2021-2023 biennial budgets. Previous quarterly forecasts have been pleasant surprises, with unexpectedly strong revenue increases. Nothing has occurred to suggest the new forecast will rain on the revenue parade. The biggest questions are how much additional revenue will lawmakers have to spend, will the personal income tax kicker be triggered and, if so, by how much. Under the kicker, taxpayers receive a rebate if state revenue collections are 2 percent higher than the May forecast preceding the current biennium.

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The Joint Committee on Transportation heard further testimony on the latest iteration of House Bill 3065, introduced by Speaker Tina Kotek to modify provisions in the $5.3 billion transportation package approved in the 2017 legislative session. Her latest amendment would permit additional short-term bonding to finance upgrades on two bottleneck bridges – Boone Bridge on I-5 and Abernethy Bridge on I-205 – using $30 million previously earmarked for the controversial widening I-5 near the Moda Center in Portland. The bridges were included in the transportation package without funding. 

Kotek’s amendment also would fund between $300 and $400 million to start work on a Portland area freeway tolling system. A work session has been scheduled on the bill-in-progress on May 25.

Senate Bill 282, which gives renters in arrears another eight months to catch up without penalties, is now headed to the governor’s desk for signature. Under the bill, renters must keep up with current rent as of July 1, but they would have until February 2022 to make all back payments. Large amounts of renter relief have been approved, but not disbursed, which should help renters in distress. Data from the 2020 US Census indicated 17 percent of Oregon renters were behind on rent payments. Meanwhile, landlords are grousing at the slow pace of financial relief overseen by Oregon Housing and Community Services.

The Oregon House approved Senate Bill 704 that prohibits accused murderers in Oregon of mounting the “gay/trans panic defense” by claiming they experienced an extreme emotional disturbance when learning their victim was gay or transgender. Brown is expected to sign the measure, making Oregon the 14th state to pass similar legislation.

Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, failed to appear last week for his arraignment on first-degree official misconduct charges because his attorney said he is quarantining after contracting COVID-19. Nearman was captured on video opening a door to let in protesters when the Capitol was closed to the public during a legislative special session.

Debate has intensified over Senate 580, which would require school districts to negotiate class sizes in teacher contracts. Teacher unions support the measure, but The Oregonian editorial board expressed opposition, saying the class size reductions wouldn’t be significant and could come at the expense of spending money on equity initiatives and mental health support in schools.

Borrowing a trick from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Governor Brown is reportedly considering Oregon Lottery prizes to lure hesitant Oregonians to get vaccinated, according to The Oregonian.