House Votes Mark End of Legislative Calm
The quiet before the storm is about to end at 2023 Oregon legislative session with two contentious bills scheduled for House floor votes Monday and Tuesday and a key deadline Friday for legislation to survive. The pivotal revenue forecast will be released May 17 and policy committees begin shutting down May 19.
House members will vote today on House Bill 2002 that protects gender-affirming care. Tuesday’s calendar centers on House Bill 2005 that regulates firearms. Both face stiff Republican opposition, which has slowed down legislative action with delay tactics. Majority Democrats are expected to approve both measures and send them to the Senate.
Conversations continued over Oregon’s $1 billion contribution to the I-5 Columbia River Bridge replacement as the Joint Committee on Transportation held a hearing on House Bill 2098. Witnesses took issues with posted amendments. Some objected to the reliance on the state’s general obligation bonding capacity. Others questioned pro-union contract provisions.
Secretary of State Shemia Fagan found herself in the middle of a scandal for moonlighting as a paid consultant for a troubled cannabis company while overseeing an audit of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. La Mota, Oregon’s second largest cannabis dispensary, faces allegations of unpaid taxes and bills from vendors. Fagan claims she recused herself from the audit, but reporting indicated her recusal came after the first draft of the audit was completed. Top Republicans are calling for Fagan to resign. Governor Kotek has called for an ethics investigation. Meanwhile, the audit suggests security requirements and high fines are hamstringing the industry at a time when cannabis demand has peaked. It downplays the impact of illegal cannabis activity.
Oregonian Credit Protection – HB 2008
House Rules considered House Bill 2008 intended to offer more protection for Oregonians facing large debt by shielding more of their property, wages and assets from garnishments and court-ordered seizures. It also would target unlawful debt collection practices. Banking and credit industry witnesses warned the bill could have unintended consequences by making it harder for people to obtain credit.
Chronic State Staffing Shortages
OPB posted a story describing widespread state staff shortages that hamper service delivery, including for emergency services. Nearly one in five state jobs is vacant. Pay and burnout are seen as the main reasons. State employee union advocates attribute the shortages to low pay in relation to working conditions and personal risks.
Paid Leave Program Contingency – SB 31
The legislature cleared a bill that gives the Oregon Employment Department flexibility to delay the state’s family and medical leave program if the trust fund lacks sufficient revenue to pay for the benefit. Starting January 1, Oregon workers began paying 0.6% of their gross wages every paycheck and employers began contributing an additional 0.4% to fund the program, giving the state eight months to build up its trust fund before the program’s scheduled launch in September. Senate Bill 31 is viewed as a contingency plan, which Governor Kotek supports.
Campaign Finance Proposals – SB 500, HB 3455, HB 2003
Majority Democrats are still trying to push through campaign finance reforms. Senator Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, introduced two amendments that seek stringent limits on political donations and more transparency in political advertising. Governor Kotek’s plan in House Bill 3455 would allow individuals, corporations, unions and other entities to donate up to $1,000 per primary or general election cycle to candidates for state offices and up to $500 to legislative candidates. Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, has introduced House Bill 2003 that would limit contributions to $3,000 for a candidate for state office, $2,000 for a state Senate candidate and $1,500 for a state House candidate. Campaign reform advocates opposed both House bills, which they have too many loopholes.
Legislative Process and ‘Unicameral’ Legislature
Minority Republicans are raising concerns about a legislative process where a policy bill is sent to the Joint Ways and Means Committee and bypasses a policy committee in the other chamber. “Prior leadership has claimed that a solution is simply untenable,” minority leaders Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson and Senator Tim Knopp wrote in a letter to Democratic leaders. “We disagree. Instead, in our view, prior leadership have been unwilling to change the status quo for fear that their hand-picked policy preferences will suffer from additional scrutiny by policy committees and public hearing.” The specific object of their concern are the gender-affirming care and gun regulation bills appearing on the House floor this week, then head straight to the Senate floor. “Democrats are using this system to make a unicameral legislature out of Oregon,” Knopp said. “And I think it violates the state constitution.”
Speed Cameras in Cities – HB 2095
Lawmakers approved legislation allowing all Oregon cities to use photo enforcement of speeding violations. Under existing law, only 10 cities are allowed to use photo radar, and for no more than four hours per location per day. Governor Kotek is expected to sign the legislation.
Foam Cup Ban Passes – SB 543
Plastic foam cups and containers must hit the trash for Oregon restaurants by 2025, according to legislation passed last week. Nine cities already enforce polystyrene foam bans. The legislation also bans so-called forever chemicals such as PFAS. Styrofoam containers, including the packaging used to ship and store food that has not been prepared to eat like egg cartons, are not affected. Kotek is expected to sign the legislation.
Risk Insurance Map Limitations – SB 82
Senate Bill 82 cleared the legislature and will restrict how insurance companies can use wildfire risk maps. It’s in part a response to last summer’s controversial map, which outlined wildfire risk at the property ownership level across the state. Kotek is expected to sign the legislation.
Pushback on Spirits Marketing Proposal – HB 2976
Oregon distillers proposed creating an Oregon Spirits Board supported by state liquor revenues to promote new distribution channels for their premium craft spirits. Opponents challenged the use of liquor revenues to promote alcohol use. They also questioned the bill’s provision preventing the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission from adding a surcharge to in-state produced liquor. Governor Kotek has proposed attaching a new 50-cent surcharge. House Bill 2976 has bipartisan backing and passed the House Economic Development and Small Business Committee on an 11-0 vote. It still needs to be voted on by House Revenue.
Life in a Trash Bag – SB 548
Senate Bill 548 would require the Oregon Department of Human Services to maintain luggage for foster children and submit an annual report to the legislature with the number of times they use trash bags when moving. Children in the state’s system move an average of 5.3 times every 1,000 days, worse than the federal standard of 4.1 times. DHS says 8,620 Oregon children were in the state’s foster care system in 2021.