Despite a continuing political slowdown in the Oregon House, the pace at the state Capitol picked up slightly with approval of a foreclosure eviction moratorium extension and a bill to expedite siting of emergency shelters. After the Senate approved a bill to ban firearms in state buildings, Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod was threatened with a recall vote for allowing a quorum to consider the bill. The Oregon Supreme Court weighed in on legislative redistricting.
- The House voted 38-21 to extend the residential foreclosure eviction moratorium until July 21 and allows the governor to extend the moratorium for 90-day increments for the remainder of 2021. The measure is limited in its application to landlords with fewer numbers of smaller units and doesn’t apply to commercial properties. House Bill 2009 now goes to the Senate. Republican opponents of the measure insisted the moratorium was unconstitutional. A previous moratorium on residential and commercial evictions expired December 31, raising questions about the status of sales of foreclosed houses since the end of last year. House Bill 2006 grants emergency authority to local governments to waive design, planning and zoning requirements to speed siting of emergency shelters. It also now heads to the Senate.
- Legislators scrambled to pitch one-time capital spending ideas for $780 million, the unspoken for portion of American Rescue Plan funding that will flow to Oregon. Legislative budget-writers claimed $1.3 billion of the $2.6 billion allocated to Oregon to maintain existing services and programs. Budget-writers set aside $520 million for reserves. Rumors in the Capitol indicated lawmakers collectively submitted spending ideas topping $31 billion, which is likely to touch off a spirited competition for project funding. Some Capitol observers suggested the prospect for approving GOP lawmaker priorities could be a carrot to end or at least limit the minority party’s tactic of forcing every bill coming to the House floor to be read in full.
- The House Judiciary Committee voted out 10 bills addressing police reforms with bipartisan support. Chair Janelle Bynum and her GOP Vice Chair Ron Noble will carry the legislation jointly when it reaches the House floor. The bills deal with increased transparency about police misconduct, deeper background checks on police officer candidates, a finding that racism has no place in public safety, a prohibition of certain chemicals and tactics for crowd control and a requirement that police uniforms to include the names of officers. The package of bills will go to the Joint Ways and Means Committee because of fiscal impacts.
- Another bill emerged from House Rules with unanimous, bipartisan support that excuses Oregon employers from paying around $100 million in taxes this year and $2.4 million over the next decade to cover the increased burden on the state’s Unemployment Compensation Insurance Trust Fund caused by the COVID-19 economic lockdown and business closures. The Employment Department initially balked at the tax break; its leadership ultimately agreed to the legislative compromise. Oregon’s unemployment reserves stand at $3.8 billion, one of the best reserves in the nation, although the funding saw its reserves dip during the pandemic by $1.3 billion.
- On a 16-7 vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 554, which bans firearms at the state Capitol and other state buildings and allows local governments, school districts and universities to set their own gun rules. The measure also increases the fee for a concealed handgun license from $50 to $100. Senator Ginny Burdick spoke in favor of the bill, citing the violence during the January 6 incursion of the US Capitol and an incident in 2019 when gun rights advocates came to the Oregon Capitol to protest. Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod opposed the bill, saying it would needlessly criminalize law-abiding citizens who are unlikely to participate in mass violence. Despite his opposition and moves to table the legislation that led to more than three hours of debate, Girod became the target of a threatened recall drive because he permitted enough Republicans to attend to provide a quorum instead of walking out to prevent floor consideration of SB 554. Half of the GOP senators plus newly declared independent Brian Boquist were excused.
Even though Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod spoke against and tried to derail legislation to ban firearms in the state Capitol and other state buildings, he faces sharp criticism from Republicans who thought he should have staged a walkout to prevent consideration of the bill on the Senate floor.
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- In a unanimous ruling, the Oregon Supreme Court granted the request of legislative leaders for more time to complete congressional and legislative redistricting. The court gave the legislature until September 27 to complete the job. Normally redistricting should be concluded by July 1 in the year after a US Census, but Census data on which redistricting maps are based won’t be available until this summer.
- The fate of recycling modernization perked up as Senator Lee Beyer released an amendment to Senate Bill 582 that was negotiated among the Department of Environmental Quality, producers, haulers and others. The measure would overhaul Oregon’s recycling system by requiring producers of packaging materials to pay into Producer Responsibility Organizations assigned to recover and recycle packaging materials. A key target of the legislation is packaging that bears misleading recycling symbols. A work session before Senate Energy and Environment is set for Tuesday, which is the deadline for bills to pass out of committees in their house of origin or die for the session. SB 582 is expected to gain approval and be sent to the Joint Ways and Means Committee.
- The Senate rejected Senate Bill 166, which would have required Oregon drivers always to have their headlights illuminated. Some senators who opposed the bill said they support always-on headlights, but they disapproved of making it an offense subject to a fine.
- The Senate approved legislation to require at least one semester of civics education in all high school curricula. Senate Bill 513 would first apply to high school students graduating in 2026.
- A Marion County judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by business interests that sought to overturn Governor Brown’s March 2020 executive order seeking to reduce the state’s carbon emissions. The case had been tentatively dismissed last fall, but the business group plaintiffs sought an amendment that shifted the focus to state agencies executing the governor’s order. Judge Daniel J. Wren ruled last week the amended lawsuit veered too far from the original complaint and failed to “state a valid claim”. Brown issued her climate change order after legislative Republicans staged what became a session-ending walkout to block consideration of climate change legislation. The Department of Environmental Quality leads a state agency effort to cap greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon at 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80 percent below that level by 2050.
- Replacement of the I-5 Columbia River Bridge resurfaced as the Washington House Transportation Committee unveiled a plan that sets aside $1 billion as that state’s share of what is now estimated to cost up to $4.5 billion. The action appears linked to the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan that includes $115 billion to repair or replace roads and bridges. A previous attempt at a bi-state deal to replace the aging bridge, which is viewed as one of the worst bottlenecks along I-5, fell through when Washington officials refused to go along with a replacement that included a light rail extension to Vancouver. Oregon officials gave a cool response to the latest news of potential funding. Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said the project must include light rail.
- Senate President Peter Courtney and Senator James Manning indicated they plan to pursue legislation to allow college athletes in Oregon to receive compensation for use of their names and images. Athletic directors from Oregon’s Division 1 universities asked the two Democrats to pause Senate Bill 5 until Congress enacts legislation regarding collegiate athletic compensation.