Image for First 2023 Legislative Deadline Looms on Horizon
Governor Kotek's housing package has been expanded with a proposed $1,000 per month People's Housing Assistance grant to pay for rent, food and utilities.

Lawmakers Consider Monthly Cash Payments for Unhoused Oregonians

Oregon lawmakers remain focused on priority housing and computer chip legislation, but now feel the heat of the approaching March 17 deadline when bills must move out of committee or be scheduled for a work session to survive.

The housing legislation sought by Governor Kotek may include a new provision by Senator WInsvey Campos, D-Aloha, to give $1,000 per month for two years to unhoused individuals. The $25 million People’s Housing Assistance Fund Demonstration pilot program would assist financially struggling Oregonians pay for rent, food and utilities.

Business leaders are pressing the Joint Semiconductor Committee to embrace more recommendations from the Oregon Semiconductor Competitiveness Task Force, including controversial land-use changes and tax incentives. Oregon Business and Industries also says the legislation should be broader than just semiconductors by promoting a “healthy ecosystem” for all types of manufacturing.

Following a report suggesting the Oregon Promise program failed to stimulate increased community college enrollment by students from low-income families, lawmakers are exploring increasing financial aid to those students. Different committees are considering measures to recruit and train more healthcare professionals and educators, as well as legislation that would mandate higher hospital staffing ratios to avoid nursing staff burnout.

Kotek’s first major agency appointment, James Schroeder at the often embattled Oregon Health Authority, is leaving after just 10 weeks on the job. Kotek indicated she will conduct a national search to replace Schroeder, whose last day on the job is May 17.

Mental health advocates are pushing legislation that would give patients a voice in their treatment. Children’s advocates tout an Oregon Kid’s Tax Credit. A proposal is on the table to give a substantial pay hike to legislators.

Here are more details from Week Seven of the 2023 Oregon legislative session:

Eliminating Natural Gas in Residences – HB 3152
At a hearing on HB 3152, environmental witnesses urged steps to eliminate the use of natural gas heating and stoves in residential buildings to reduce methane emissions. Opponents said the bill will transform the Oregon Public Utility Commission into an environmental regulator by prohibiting ratepayer funds to install natural gas lines. The City of Eugene has passed an ordinance to end residential use of natural gas. Northwest Natural Gas is financing an effort to put the ordinance up for a city vote.

Nursing Staffing Standards – HB 2697
Nurses testified in favor of minimum staffing standards and opponents said one-size-fit-all staffing requirements will disadvantage smaller hospitals. The local hearing played out in a national debate over how to ensure adequate levels of care without burning out strained nursing staffs.

Consumer Involvement in Mental Health – SB 432, would require the Oregon Health Authority to create a program “aimed at increasing and optimizing consumer involvement in planning and decision-making surrounding the access to, and the delivery of, behavioral health services in this state.”

Oregon Kid’s Credit – HB 3235
Introduced by Democratic Rep. Andrea Valderrama from Portland and Republican Rep. Greg Smith from Heppner, HB 3235 would extend a federal-level kids tax credit at the state level. Families earning less than $50,000 annually would qualify for a tax rebate of up $1,200 per child. The federal expanded child tax credit expired December 2021 after being credited with reducing child poverty by 30 percent.

Oregon Promise Phaseout
Senator Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, raised the prospect of phasing out the Oregon Promise program and replacing it with need-based student aid. Former state Senator Mark Hass, who championed the program, argued Oregon Promise is working to encourage students from middle-class families unable to access student aid to pursue higher education. Hass said the fundamental problem is high tuition.

Oregon’s Largest Tax Breaks
The Oregonian’s Mike Rogoway listed the state’s 10 largest property tax breaks that have gone largely to technology companies. “Intel, Amazon, Apple, Twitter and the parent companies of Facebook and Google cumulatively saved nearly $400 million last year,” Rogoway wrote. “They benefitted from two Oregon programs that exempt Intel’s factories, Amazon’s warehouses and a constellation of data centers that stretch from Hillsboro to Hermiston.” Authority for the enterprise zone tax break program expires this year and lawmakers are debating its extension.

Lawmakers Mull Pay Raise – SB 786
A coalition of lawmakers, advocacy groups and public employee unions is resuming a drive to increase legislative salaries as a step to encourage “average Oregonians” to seek legislative office. “The low legislative salary is a barrier to electing legislators who represent the diversity of our state,” according to the Opportunity to Serve Oregon. If approved, legislative salaries would go from the current base of $35,052 per year to $64,000. Lawmakers also receive per diem payments of $157 per day for each day of a legislative session and monthly stipends for expenses for official duties when the legislature is not in session. Attempts to raise legislative compensation failed in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 sessions.

Ban on Foster Care Funding Grab – SB 556, SB 557
A pair of bills would ban the state from retaining Social Security disability payments to children in foster care and create a fund to reimburse children who had payments withheld from them. If approved, Oregon would become one of the first states to stop the practice. Senate Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis and chief sponsor of the bills, said children don’t enter the child welfare system through any fault of their own and should not be financially penalized. Being placed in foster care “is a circumstance of life that actually makes them more likely to need those resources later,” she added. The bills may need technical fixes before passage.

Removing New Teacher Barriers – SB 279, SB 283
Two Senate bills seek to address a chronic teacher shortage. Senate Bill 279 would lessen barriers for out-of-state teachers to work in Oregon and Senate Bill 283 tackles retention, pay and educator recruitment issues. Both build on previously passed legislation that provided $78 million in grants to support personnel in K-12 schools across the state.

Expunging Criminal Records – SB 698
Senate Bill 698 would automatically identify an estimated 300,000 Oregonians accused or convicted of misdemeanors and most felonies as eligible for criminal record expungement. Oregon law already allows expungement, but the process of applying for it can be arduous and lengthy. SB 698 also would eliminate an expungement requirement to be fingerprinted and pay a fee. The ACLU estimates only 10 percent of Oregonians eligible for expungement have applied. Persons convicted of Class A felonies such as rape, kidnapping and assault would remain ineligible for expungement.

Seismic Shift of Housing Development – HB 2001
The state’s housing crisis has turned mortal enemies into allies. Advocates for homebuilders and farmland protection are supporting legislation to make building housing less cumbersome and more efficient and to put cities on a public dashboard for how well they meet housing targets.

Hansell to Step Aside
Three-term Senator Bill Hansell, R-Athena, announced he won’t seek re-election in 2024. “I just feel it’s the right time,” Hansell said, indicating he wanted to give potential candidates time to organize their campaigns. Capital Chatter columnist Dick Hughes called Hansell “one of the good guys”. “His focus is rural Oregon and constituent needs, but many of the outcomes resonate statewide,” Hughes wrote. “He’s a cancer survivor and pays attention to cancer legislation. He’s big on FFA and youth programs. He cares deeply about domestic violence issues. And he keeps trying to get potatoes enshrined as the state vegetable.”

Amend-O-Matic Mannix Returns
Kevin Mannix has been around the government block and now has returned to the Oregon House representing a Salem district. In his previous legislative stint, “Mannix earned the nickname ‘Amend-O-Mannix’ for his propensity to amend others’ bills, especially late in the session,” recalls former state Senator Rick Metsger. “Sometimes there is an issue that is a good one but doesn’t have enough horsepower on its own to move through the process,” Mannix says. “So, you try adding it on to another bill. The key is not harming the original bill. I just add a little car onto the train.” Mannix’ new causes include promoting financial literacy in public schools and urging the Oregon and Washington congressional delegations to combine their clout to land major infrastructure investments benefitting both states.

Three Oregon Cities Make Must-See List
Astoria, Hood River and Jacksonville were included in the top 100 American cities to visit, based on a survey by Family Destination Guide that asked 3,000 people what small towns they wanted to visit in 2023. Astoria came in at 25th, Hood River was 79th and Jacksonville squeezed as number 100.

Jimmy Carter in Oregon
News that former President Jimmy Carter entered hospice in his Georgia home sparked remembrances of his trips to Oregon. The first was in 1978 when Carter stayed at a home in the Irvington neighborhood of Portland. Janet and Paul Olson, his hosts who still live in the home, gave interviews about the visit. Powell signed 1,600 copies of his book A Call to Action at Powell’s City of Books in 2014. He also was spotted in 2018 at Multnomah Falls, where he posed for a picture with the U.S. Forest Service staff.