A bill to limit gubernatorial emergency powers failed, gun legislation passed, the Senate GOP slowdown continued and Republican senators escalated their internal squabble as another critical legislative deadline approaches this week.
Bipartisan anger over resumption of COVID-related business closures spilled over into House Bill 2243, which would have required written explanations for emergency declarations and legislative approval for emergency order extensions. It was sponsored by Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, and Rep. Rick Lewis, R-Silverton. A handful of Democrats joined Republicans in supporting a motion to pull the bill directly to the House floor, however that motion failed 28-27.
The specter of the legislation and a federal lawsuit filed by Oregon business owners, plus declining new COVID-19 cases, prompted Governor Brown to reverse her order of a week ago to restore “extreme risk” restrictions on businesses in 15 counties. Similar restrictions were due to go into effect in Washington County last Friday. Lifting the restrictions allowed resumption of in-person dining and some 2,000 fans to attend Friday night’s Portland Trail Blazer home game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
A mash-up measure that bans firearms in the state Capitol, allows public schools and universities to do the same on their campuses and requires safe storage in homes passed its last legislative hurdle and now heads to the governor’s desk. The amended version of Senate Bill 554 was approved by the Senate on a 17-7 vote. Senate President Peter Courtney brought the bill to the Senate floor to prevent it from becoming an end-of-session political pawn or the cause of a late-session Republican walkout.
Senate Republicans continued to refuse waiving the full reading of legislation before floor votes, but also were enmeshed in yet another intra-party skirmish. Two GOP senators introduced Senate Bill 865 that would prohibit an elected official to hold a leadership position in their respective political party. Senator Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, was recently chosen as chair of the Oregon Republican Party and Senator Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, serves as treasurer. The measure was introduced by Senators Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and Bill Hansell, R-Athena. The legislation adds to the fracture that led Senators Brian Boquist of Dallas and Art Robinson of Cave Junction to abandon the Senate GOP caucus and serve as independents.
To remain live this session, legislation must be scheduled for a work session by Friday. The deadline doesn’t apply to bills in the Rules, Revenue and joint committees. The deadline always produces a flurry of lobby activity, including giving contested bills some temporary oxygen by asking them to be sent to committees that will remain open. Friday’s deadline will be followed by the May 19 unveiling of the May economic and revenue forecast, which is what lawmakers use as a reference point for biennial budgets. The May forecast also comes into play in determining whether higher-than-anticipated revenue collections in the next biennium trigger personal and corporate income tax kicker refunds.
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In addition to dividing up the pie for state agency budgets, legislative budget-writers face the daunting task of squeezing $35 billion in one-time special investment requests from fellow legislators into a $240 million chunk of American Rescue Plan funds Oregon. Those allocations could be affected by additional guidelines expected this week on how state funds can be spent. A bipartisan deal was struck earlier in the session to ensure every House district receives at least $2 million and every Senate district receives $4 million from the federal pot of money provided to Oregon.
Implementation of Oregon’s 12-week paid family and medical leave program would be delayed by a year under House Bill 3398. The Oregon Employment Department cited the impacts of the pandemic as the reason for seeking the delay. Rulemaking for the benefit was scheduled for completion September 1, with employer and employee contributions to begin next January. Contributions now won’t be collected until January 2023.
On a party-line vote, Senate Housing and Development sent House Bill 2009 to the floor that would extend a previous emergency foreclosure moratorium until June 30. The measure is expected to pass the full Senate and be signed by Governor Brown. Opponents have raised concerns about the legal complexities of extending a moratorium that expired December 31 and won’t go back into effect until Brown signs it, which may not occur until later this month. Legal questions, they say, could put a shadow over the purchases of foreclosed properties occurring before the extension goes into effect.
House Bill 3178, which temporarily changes the definition of unemployment until next January, is headed to the Senate floor with support from organized labor and Oregon hospitality’s industry. The legislation fixes a measure passed in a special session last year that was intended to allow low-income Oregon workers to work part-time while still receiving jobless benefits. The glitch resulted in the lowest-wage workers not qualifying for continuation of jobless benefits. “What we passed helped people on unemployment that made more than $300 a week (in benefits),” Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle testified, “and not those workers who are most vulnerable and are making the least.” “This creates a little more flexibility for people to pick up a couple more shifts at a time when workers are hard to come by,” explained Jason Brandt, president of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, “without it disincentivizing them in terms of staying whole on the unemployment insurance side.”
What we passed helped people on unemployment that made more than $300 a week in benefits, not those workers who are most vulnerable and are making the least.
House 2583, which is on the governor’s desk, would prohibit local ordinances limiting occupancy of a residence based on familial relations. Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said these kinds of local ordinances date to an earlier era and don’t recognize the current reality that unrelated families may share the same house. The legislation wouldn’t prohibit landlords from limiting occupancy of rental units or local governments from enforcing safety occupancy codes.
On a bipartisan vote, the Senate approved Senate Bill 236 that would ban suspensions and expulsions at private daycare facilities and preschools that receive public funding. The measure now heads to the House where it may be conjoined with House Bill 2166 that would create training program for daycare and preschool providers.
A package of ethics bills is expected to receive bipartisan support, including a measure to require future lawmakers to recuse themselves from discussions, debates and votes on bills in which they have a personal stake.
Calling themselves No More Costly Walkouts, groups affiliated with Democrats are floating a series of potential initiative petitions that would penalize lawmakers who stage walkouts to deny quorums and prevent floor votes. Ideas include legislative fines and pay cuts, bans on re-election and elimination of the two-thirds quorum rule and the constitutional requirement to read bills in full. The coalition, which includes organized labor, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and Planned Parenthood, has begun to raise money and develop a campaign. It most likely will try to place only one or two initiatives on the ballot. Legislative Republicans, who are in the minority in both the House and Senate, have staged walkouts in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 sessions and forced time-consuming bill readings this session.
On a 21-1 vote, the Senate approved Senate Bill 870 that provides some legal protection for hospitals and health care providers who can defend their actions as compliance with state or federal public health requirements during the pandemic. The protection wouldn’t extend to lawsuits alleging gross negligence, discrimination or reckless conduct. The bill, which now moves to the House, is intended to provide some liability protection for canceling non-essential procedures during the early part of pandemic when hospitalizations and intensive care unit utilization created system stress.