Rumblings Circulate About a Major Bridge Investment Package
Priority housing and semiconductor bills are moving in the legislature amid rumblings of a major bridge investment measure in the works. The Oregon House approved an antisemitism bill and Oregon is poised to become the first state to allow children enrolled at birth in Medicaid to remain enrolled until age 6.
Hearings this week will deal with gender-affirming care, reproductive health, a statewide ban on flavored tobacco products, modifications to Ballot Measure 11 and other gun regulations.
Week nine of the 2023 legislative session ended on St. Patrick’s Day, which coincided with the first pass-or-die deadline for legislative measures. Leaders of the health care committees are asking for additional time to work out compromises on contentious and complex subjects like behavioral health investments, health care workforce expansion and a variety of health care mandates.
The Opioid Settlement Board approved disbursing $17 million for addiction research, prevention and treatment, as well as providing free supplies to community organizations that help people reverse overdoses and avoid disease. It’s the first disbursement of settlement funds that will total $149.7 million through 2038. The Oregon Health Authority said 745 Oregonians died in 2021 from opioid overdoses.
Priority Housing Bills Near Passage – HB 2001, HB 5019
The $200 million housing and homelessness package requested by Governor Kotek will go to the Oregon House floor for a vote Wednesday and are expected to pass with a bipartisan majority, then head to the Senate. As emergency measures, some of the money will be available to spend in this biennium. The measures have been praised, especially after amendments to increase rural housing investment, but some skeptics worry the money won’t be spent as urgently as needed. Concerns also have been raised that new incentives may not extend to existing homeless shelters facing financial difficulty.
Chips Bill Advances Amid Disappointment – SB 4
The Joint Semiconductor Committee voted out Senate Bill 4 on a 12-2 bipartisan vote to provide $200 million in direct funding to chipmaker expansion and $10 million for university research. Despite the bill’s popularity, lawmakers grumbled that SB 4 provisions varied from the recommendations of a task force, failed to include a tax credit for research and hiring and didn’t resolve land-use issues over developable land in Washington County. Industry supporters complained about potential loopholes that could undermine the state’s ability to attract major federal CHIPS Act funding and new semiconductor investment. The measure now moves to Ways and Means to approve its funding provisions.
Bridge Investment Rumor Circulates
Rumors have circulated for weeks that state lawmakers are working on a package of bridge investments that could include the Interstate 5 Columbia River Bridge replacement, the Hood River-White Salmon Interstage Bridge project and seismic upgrades for the Bridge of the Gods. The Burnside Bridge also has been mentioned as part of a package. A bridge investment package wasn’t foreseen this session, but that changed with news that the highway cost allocation study indicates significant tax overpayment from the trucking industry has occurred in recent years. Meanwhile, planners for the I-5 bridge have been instructed to include a lift to accommodate river traffic. The lift in the current bridge causes serious traffic delays on an Interstate highway.
Child Eligibility for Medicaid
Oregon will become the first state to allow children who qualify for Medicaid to enroll at birth and stay enrolled until they turn 6, regardless of changes in their household’s income and without having to reapply. Several states are looking at this post-pandemic enrollment policy. Oregon has received federal approval for its policy change, which will go into effect after Oregon’s public health emergency declaration ends in May.
Dems Push Gun Regulations – HB 2005, 2006, 2007
Democratic lawmakers, backed by House Speaker Dan Rayfield, are pursuing gun regulations that track closely with those in voter-approved Ballot Measure 114, which hasn’t gone into effect pending a trial on its constitutionality in September. The bills take aim at ghost guns, increase the legal age to purchase firearms and give local governments the ability to restrict concealed handguns on their property.
Opioid Overdose Legislation and Money – HB 2395
The House passed House Bill 2395 to make naloxone kits available in more settings, including public buildings and schools. A total of $13 million from the opioid settlement money will go toward supply overdose kits to communities. The remaining $4 million will pay for a new data system to collect and analyze data on substance use prevention, treatment and recovery services and look for gaps in the availability of state services.
Kotek Supports Literacy Initiatives – HB 3454, HB 3198
Governor Kotek urged House Education Committee members to support a pair of literacy measures, including grants to schools and communities to promote early literacy efforts. Less than 40 percent of Oregon third-graders in 2021-22 are reading at grade level. Literacy rates are lower for historically marginalized students – 23 percent for students in foster care, 21 percent for Black and Latino students, 20 percent for students with disabilities and 8 percent for English language learners.
Kangaroo Leather Bill Dies – SB 764
The bill to ban kangaroo leather in Oregon died in committee after Nike and Puma announced they would no longer use it in their shoes.
Worker Signing and Retention Bonuses – HB 3205
House Business and Labor considered business-backed House Bill 3205 that would ease state restrictions on private and public employers using signing and retention bonuses. The measure would exempt hiring and retention bonuses from Oregon’s Equal Pay Act. Oregon is the only state with these types of restrictions.
Pet Store Pet Sale Ban – HB 2915
House Business and Labor approved House Bill 2915 that would prevent pet stores from selling dogs and cats as a way to thwart puppy mills. Animal shelters would be exempt and the bill’s stricture won’t apply to existing pet shops until they change ownership. Breeders would still be allowed to sell dogs directly to consumers.
Estate Tax Exemption Increase – HB 2624
House Revenue is considering House Bill 2624 that would increase Oregon’s estate tax exemption from $1 million to $2 million and index it for inflation. A vote may wait until after the May 17 revenue forecast. According to backers of the legislation, Oregon is tied with Massachusetts for the lowest estate tax exemption level in the nation, but the Massachusetts Legislature may raise its exemption this year to $3 million.
Universities, Pac-12 and Bad Behavior – HB 3427, HB 2472
Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, introduced House Bill 3427 that would require legislative approval for the University of Oregon and Oregon State University to depart the Pac-12 conference. An OSU spokesman said, “HB 3427 could provide the opportunity to create open dialogue in advance of important conference realignment decisions, but may limit opportunities for exploration because of the potential lack of confidentiality associated within the review process.” A work session on the bill was set for March 28.
Legislation also has been introduced to punish coaches and athletic directors for bad behaviors by fans at sporting events such as derogatory or inappropriate names, insults, verbal assaults, profanity or ridicule in violation of equity focused policies.
House Passes Anti-Semitism Bill – HB 2905
The Oregon House unanimously passed House Bill 2905 to add people of Jewish descent to an existing requirement that schools teach the histories and contributions of marginalized or underserved people. Approved in 2019, existing law requires schools to teach students the histories and contributions of people who are Native American, African, Asian, Pacific Islander, Chicano, Latino or of Middle Eastern descent, as well as women, people with disabilities, immigrants or refugees, or lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.
Climate-Friendly Buildings – SB 868-871
A series of bills seek to construct more efficient homes and office buildings that protect the environment and reduce long-term homeowner costs. The bills are the product of a rebuilding task force to make homes and office buildings more environmentally friendly and resilient to heat, smoke and air pollution.
Creating More Behavioral Health Beds – HB 2544
Lawmakers are looking at bolstering the inventory of behavioral health beds around the state. The Oregon Health Authority estimates a need for another 282 beds to treat people with acute mental conditions. Providing those beds could cost $178 million. The legislature previously approved a $1.3 billion investment into the state’s behavioral health system, which included funding for 198 residential beds. Inpatient treatment can be critical for recovery for some people.
EV Charging Stations and Rebates
Federal funds to build out electric vehicle infrastructure will start to flow to states as applications opened last week. Meanwhile, Oregon officials said the electric vehicle rebate will be suspended May 1 until additional funding is available.
Senate Slowdown Tactics Continue
Senate Republicans are continuing to require all bills be read in full before floor votes, a tactic aimed at slowing down the legislative process. House Republicans so far have agreed to waive bill readings. Capitol observers say the 2023 session has a more bipartisan feel with many Republican-sponsored bills getting consideration. Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, said bill reading hasn’t disrupted legislative action, though he scheduled an unusual evening session Tuesday for votes on the $200 million housing and homeless package.
Beer, Cider and Wine Tax Hike – HB 3312
A bill to study raising Oregon’s beer, cider and wine tax rates may become a vehicle for actually raising taxes as much as 1,200 percent for beer and cider and more than a 500 percent for wine over five years. The House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care is expected to approve House Bill 3312, which would then go to House Revenue. For final passage, tax increases require three-fifth majorities in both the House and Senate.