Image for Housing Bill Heads to House Floor for Vote
A priority $200 million housing bill is headed to a House floor vote this week.

Pending Bills Address Retail Theft, Vacant Building Conversions

The priority $200 million housing bill advanced through committees to a House floor vote this week and a number of health care measures struggle to stay alive before a key  March 17 deadline. A bill to enfranchise prison inmates advanced to Joint Ways and Means, escaping a threatened minority report. Chipmaker suppliers made a pitch for inclusion in state funding.

Legislation fighting to survive this session would curb political influence, combat organized retail theft, make the canola farming ban permanent, lower the age to vote in school elections and make it easier for Ukrainian refugees to obtain driver licenses.

Along with a round of COVID-19 infections, other bills percolating in the Capitol include a pay bump for special education teachers, incentives to convert vacant office space to housing, removing racial restrictions from deeds,  preparing fairgrounds as emergency shelters, giving state funds to the Oregon Food Bank and allowing motorists to pump their own gas.

In week eight of the 2023 legislative session, the Ways and Means Committee geared up for its review of state budgets following an upbeat March revenue report. The first step is a framework budget later this month. Final state budgets will rely on the economic projections from the May revenue report.

The Department of Revenue launched an income tax refund tracker, the No Labels Party qualified to place its nominees on state ballots and the 2017 House Concurrent Resolution will be revisited March 17 that recognizes marionberry pies as the Oregon state pie.

Chipmaker Suppliers Make Their Pitch
Companies that support semiconductor manufacturers made a pitch to be included in the $200 million aid package being considered by the Joint Semiconductor Committee to snare federal CHIPS Act funding. Co-chair Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, who has a degree in electrical engineering, led a tour of the HP Corvallis plant. She touted the return on investment in the Silicon Forest and urged more inclusion. “There’s no shortage of smart kids who are first-generation college students, who are Black, who are Latino,  who have come from migrant farms, who have been in the foster care system, who have been incarcerated,” Bynum said. “There is no shortage of talent in this state.” The committee voted on a bill to provide a $190 million fighting fund, $10 million for university semiconductor research and authority for Governor Kotek to bypass land-use regulations to designate land for a semiconductor plant.

Fighting Retail Business Theft ­– SB 318, SB 340
Senate Judiciary heard two bills that would increase penalties for organized retail crime and give prosecutors more flexibility in trying offenders who commit thefts in multiple counties. Senate 318 would provide $5 million to assist cities and counties counter organized retail crime and pay for two criminal investigators in the Oregon Department of Justice. “Customers see the impact of organized retail crime through necessary items not being available on store shelves, increased costs for those items when they are in stock and the use of extensive security features to protect these items from theft,” Detective Michael Zacher of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, told lawmakers.

Pay Bump for Special Ed Teachers – SB 283
To overcome chronic shortages, lawmakers are considering giving special education teachers a 20 percent pay bump. The pay differential would apply to educators who spend 75 percent of their time in special education classrooms. The measure also addresses shortages of substitute teachers.

Converting Vacant Office Space to Housing – HB 2984
House Bill 2984 would require local governments to permit commercial building conversions to housing without a zone change. As written, the measure would require housing for families to own or rent who earn 120 percent or less of area median income, but some lawmakers questioned whether the requirement would make conversions too cumbersome. One city administrator warned the bill effectively throws out the “essence of planning”.

Kotek Urges Money for Oregon Food Bank
Governor Kotek asked lawmakers to approve $7.5 million for the Oregon Food Bank after federal SNAP benefits returned to their pre-pandemic level of an average of $270 per month, down from an average of $450 per month. Kotek began her career working for OFB.

Lowering Voting Age for School Board Elections – HB 3206
Rep. Ben Bowman, D-Tigard and a member of the Tigard-Tualatin School Board, introduced House Bill 3206 to lower the voting age for school board elections from 18 to 16, making another 100,000 Oregonians eligible to vote. “When I look back at the most impactful and meaningful things that we’ve accomplished together, student leaders were at the table for each one of them,” Bowman said, “and they wouldn’t have happened without students.”

Pumping Your Own Gas – HB 2426
House 2426 would allow self-pumped gas for the first time since Oregon’s ban went into effort in 1951. If approved, the legislation would require gas station operators to maintain attendants. Self-service was legalized in 2015 for rural areas and the state fire marshal has lifted the ban during wildfires and heat waves since 2020. An industry spokesman said most gas stations have been understaffed for years. Polls indicate 60 percent of Oregonians favor self-service gas.

Fairgrounds as Emergency Shelters – HB 2948
House Bill 2948 would provide $20 million in grants to improve power, water and internet infrastructure at fairgrounds that are used to shelter people fleeing wildfires. According to Rep. Charlie Conrad, R-Lane County, “If you’ve been evacuated, and all you’re worrying about is using a restroom, and the plumbing isn’t functioning right, you can’t really work on everything else that you do during the disaster — contacting friends, family, processing the event that’s going on.”

Large Animal Farm Operations Prohibition – SB 85
Senate Bill 85, which initially directed the Oregon Department of Agriculture to study the impact of industrial farming operations, now includes an amendment ordering the Oregon Department of Agriculture to stop issuing new permits for industrial-sized operations known or for their expansion until June 30, 2031 and the study is complete. In addition to two hours of testimony before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources thar included eight legislators, 400 people also testified in writing, with more than 300 in favor of the bill and 100 against. The state’s Right to Farm Law that exempts many large operations from liability for nuisance charges hasn’t been updated since 2001. “I doubt if anybody could foresee 10,000 cow dairies and million bird chicken factories at that time,” said John Carter, a Salem livestock operator.

Removing Racial Restrictions from Deeds – HB 3294
House Bill 3294 which would allow homeowners to request new documents without illegal covenants applying to their property. The language to redact discriminatory language is modeled after legislation in Washington, which has been upheld by the Washington Supreme Court. It would amend a 2018 Oregon law, adopted by the Oregon House 59-0, to simplify the redaction process.

Curbing Political Donor Influence – HB 3455, HB 2003
Proposals introduced by Governor Kotek and House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, would restrict individual political donations, while still allowing  unions and business associations to contribute large amounts through “small donor” political action committees.

Student Climate Change Proposal – SB 854
The Senate Education Committee heard a proposal to incorporate climate education across all grades and disciplines, starting in the 2026-2027 school year. Oregon would become the second state to codify climate education.

Ukrainian Refugee Driver Licenses – SB 935
Senate Bill 935 would waive the $40 fee to obtain a driver’s license for Ukrainian refugees with a valid license. The measure also would waive the requirement for a cosigner to rent housing.

Canola Farming Ban Gets Airing – SB 789
Senate Natural Resources took testimony on a bill to make permanent a de facto ban on canola farming in the Willamette Valley. Canola farming in the Northwest has tripled since 2016, but is limited to only 500 acres in the Willamette Valley.

DOR Launches Refund Tracker
The Oregon Department of Revenue launched a website to enable Oregon taxpayers to track their refunds. Nearly 682,000 Oregon taxpayers submitted their 2022 taxes by March 3, and almost 496,000 people have already received refunds, according to DOR.

No Labels Party Qualifies for Ballot
The No Labels Party gathered the required 29,294 valid signatures to qualify as a minor party, which means its nominees for federal, state and county offices can appear on election ballots, including primaries. It becomes the seventh minor party in Oregon.

Letting Prison Inmates Vote – SB 579
On a 3-2 vote, Senate Bill 579 to allow 12,000 prison inmates to vote was voted out of Senate Judiciary and sent to Joint Ways and Means, which prevented a potential minority report. Senator Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said he saw voting rights as a step to rehabilitate based on the experience he witnesses in Norway.

Kotek’s First 60 Days
The Oregonian reviews Governor Kotek’s first 60 fast-paced days in office.