Image for Hospitals, Nurses Break Deadlock Over Staffing
Hospitals and nurses reached an agreement on hospital staffing levels amid concerns of chronic shortages, the expense of contracting nurses and staff burnout.

Lawmakers Debate Rent Control, Gun Restrictions, Opioid Monitoring

Hospitals and nurses reached an agreement on staffing requirements, the Senate approved the semiconductor investment package and potential funding for the I-5 Columbia River Bridge replacement came into clearer focus.

Also in week 11 of the 2023 session, legislation was debated dealing with rent control, creation of a sports task force, gun restrictions, micro child-care centers, addiction treatment and food aid for children in low-income families.

Piles of work sessions are scheduled this week before the April 4 deadline for bills to move out of committee in their house of origin or die for the session. The House Health Care Committee has 28 work sessions scheduled for today on issues such as nurse staffing ratios, reproductive health care and tobacco controls. Senate Judiciary is tackling how to bolster the state’s public defender ranks. The House is expected to vote on the semiconductor package and send to Governor Kotek’s desk.

An analysis highlighted proposed spending increases contained in the biennial budget framework unveiled by the Joint Ways and Means co-chairs, and Capital columnist Dick Hughes shared a diary of a day on the Senate floor. Here are more details:

Hospital Staffing Compromise – HB 2697
Hospital representatives acquiesced to minimum staffing standards for nurses and certified nursing assistants and the nurses’ union agreed to support hospital-backed bills, including one that would exempt hospitals and health systems from state regulations aimed holding the growth of health care costs to 3 percent per year. Union representatives said the major compromises involved staffing ratios for emergency and psychiatric care.

Senate Passes $210 Million Semiconductor Bill – SB 4
The Senate voted 21-8 to approve spending $210 million to bolster the state’s semiconductor industry. The largest chunk of the money, $190 million, would pay for grants and loans for semiconductor companies seeking federal funding to expand in Oregon. The rest of the money will go for semiconductor-related research and to assist communities ready sites capable of handling computer chip manufacturing demands. The legislation also gives Governor Kotek sweeping powers to convert farmland to industrial sites, with attention centering on an 80-acre blueberry farm on the western edge of Hillsboro. The measure now goes to the House floor.

A Day on the Senate Floor
Capital columnist Dick Hughes provided a diary-detailed day on the floor of the Senate as it considered Senate Bill 4. Hughes lent his dry humor to his report, including the intermittent noise from Capitol construction and the droning computer voice reading all of SB 4 since Republicans refused to waive the reading. For regular Capitol watchers, some the scenes Hughes captures are familiar. For non-regulars, his depiction may feed the suspicion that lawmakers appear to waste a lot of time.

Funding for Interstate Bridge Replacement
Leaders of the Joint Committee on Transportation revealed a funding proposal, calling for $300 million in general obligation bonds, backed by the General Fund and the highway user tax program,and $700 million from ODOT’s budget. More details are expected as the funding plan receives a legislative aiding. Meanwhile, Washington lawmakers moved closer to agreeing to tolling to pay for replacing the bridge. The authority to toll would hinge on Washington and Oregon securing federal funding to pay the bulk of bridge replacement costs.

Biennial Budget Spending Increases
An analysis identified spending increases in the 2023-2025 budget framework that included:

  • $600 million for K-12 education
  • $2.3 billion for human services, including $485 million for behavioral health program expansion
  • $1 billion for public safety
  • $200 million for the judicial branch, including $35 million for additional public defenders
  • $515 million for state and contract employee raises

The framework also provides spending on new programs:

  • $217 million for homeless services
  • $210 million for Oregon CHIPS Act (semiconductor) incentives
  • $120 million for early learning initiatives
  • $100 million for child care infrastructure expansion

Tightening Rent Controls – SB 611
Senate Housing and Development is pushing forward legislation to lower the ceiling for rent increases to 3 percent plus inflation up to 8 percent. The bill also would shrink an exemption from rent controls for newer buildings and require landlords to pay evicted tenants three month’s rent if housing is being sold, renovated or demolished. Renters contend current rent controls, adopted in 2019, didn’t take account the impact of high inflation on affordability, resulting in sharply higher numbers of eviction notices.

Funding for Oregon Food Bank – HB 5045
Lawmakers cleared a budget bill providing $7.5 million to the Oregon Food Bank to offset the loss of pandemic federal food benefits for low-income Oregonians. The budget rebalancing measure also bumped up funding for public defenders, hospital staffing and weather-damaged roads. There was Republican opposition to Food Bank funding based on its previous public opposition to a GOP walkout to block passage of a climate change measure. The Department of Human Services is sending an extra $170 million of extra food aid to benefit 434,000 Oregon children.

Measure 110 Tweaks – HB 2513
Lawmakers considered legislation introduced by Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, to clarify the role of the Oregon Health Authority in carrying out the controversial voter-approved decriminalization of drugs. Republican bills to reinstitute criminal penalties never gained bipartisan traction, Nosse said House Bill 2513 was the work product of an 80-person work group. In testimony, Nosse expressed regret the measure didn’t address youth addiction.

Fighting Opioid Addiction – HB 2642, HB 3258
Lawmakers are struggling to respond to Secretary of State audit criticism about lax monitoring of opioid prescriptions.House Bill 2642 would require opioid prescribers to check on a patient’s prescription history. House Bill 3258 would require tracking of federal Schedule V drugs.

Measure 114 Fixes – SB 348
Senate Bill 348 is similar to voter-approved Measure 114 by requiring permit-to-purchase system for firearms, enacting a 72-hour waiting period and banning high-capacity magazine sales. Measure 114 implementation has been held up by legal action. One opponent who testified at a Senate Judiciary hearing called SB 348 a “vindictive attack on the state’s law-abiding gun owners.”

Child Care Pilot – SB 1040
Senate Labor and Business sent Senate Bill 1040 to the Joint Ways and Means Committee that would direct the Department of Early Learning and Care to create a micro-center child care pilot program. Micro centers are one-room child care centers in schools, hospitals, businesses or community centers.

Insurance Mandate Review – HB 3157
House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care is expected to advance House Bill 3157 that would establish an interim committee to review numerous proposals to expand mandated health insurance coverage of various procedures.

Sports Task Force – HB 3250
The measure, which the House Economic Development and Small Business is expected to approve, would create a task force to act on recommendations in a report developed by business groups. The objective is an economic development plan to leverage Oregon’s strengths in the sport, apparel, team and recreation ecosystem.

Universal Health Care – SB 704
An amended version of Senate Bill 704 was sent to Senate Rules as interested parties continued to talk about how to respond to voter approval of a constitutional guarantee for universal health care. The most significant amendment okayed by Senate Health Care removed a provision that would have required development of a comprehensive plan for a single-payor universal health plan. SB 704 would establish a Universal Health Care Governing Board (UHCGB) tasked with working in the interim on a universal health plan with a deadline of September 2024.