Shelter Animals on Path to Becoming the State Pet
Lawmakers remained focused on the housing package requested by Governor Kotek, dug deeper into what’s needed to lure more computer chip manufacturing to Oregon and held hearings on steps to create a voter-authorized universal health care plan.
Week five of the 2023 legislative session included hearings on various health care mandates, legislation to end travel reimbursement for remote state workers and ways to lessen the environmental impact of large new construction projects.
On February 14, the State of Oregon marked its 164th year of statehood. Also during the week, legislators were told about declining public school enrollment, the need for more dental professionals and tougher fines for workplace injuries and a revised plan for the I-5 Columbia River Bridge replacement. Shelter animals are on their way to becoming the state pet.
Lawmakers this week will receive a quarterly economic and revenue forecast that informs initial state budget discussions. The final 2023-2025 biennial budget will be based on the next forecast issued in May.
Meanwhile, the Idaho legislature advanced a resolution to open conversation with their Oregon counterparts to discuss the secession of Eastern Oregon. And the daughter of an Oregon senator became a two-time winner on Jeopardy.
Housing and Homelessness – HB 2001
The House Committee on Housing and Homelessness reviewed a gut-and-stuff amendment policy changes to reduce youth homelessness, protect tenants from evictions for nonpayment, provide $20 million for modular housing and $3 million in rental assistance, and moderate housing development costs. Another hearing will be held this week where additional housing concepts will be added. The measure is a top Kotek priority for early action.
Semiconductor Manufacturing – LC 4320
The Joint Committee on Semiconductors met twice to review details of the proposed Semiconductor and Advanced Manufacturing Opportunity Fund. Elements include forgivable loans to entities to develop semiconductor sites, research new development methods for the industry and incentivize partnerships with institutions of higher education for workforce development.
The housing and computer chip legislation are on a path to pass in the next 30 days.
Universal Health Plan – SB 704
The Senate Health Care committee held two public hearings on establishing the Universal Health Plan Governance Board and undertaking next steps to form of a universal health care plan. The committee received hundreds of letters and heard from dozens of people on pros and cons of the plan that could cost nearly $55 billion, which would require major tax increases.
The House Health Care Committee held multiple hearings on mandate bills, struggling to find a balance between access to healthcare services and their cost. The struggle will become even more pointed this week as the committee takes up bills to address the current Total Cost of Care system in Oregon.
Remote Worker Compensation – SB 853
The measure introduced to address travel reimbursement for state remote workers received a hearing and is scheduled for a follow-up hearing and possible work session this week. The legislation arose after Willamette Weekreported state employees working remotely out-of-state were reimbursed for travel back to Oregon for meetings.
Regulating Indirect Air Pollution – HB 2396
The House Committee on Climate, Energy, and Environment heard testimony on the need to regulate air pollution generated on large construction projects from heavy equipment emissions to post-construction increased traffic. Opponents said tailpipe emissions are already regulated and raised the possibility this form of regulation may be preempted under the federal Clean Air Act.
The Senate and House environmental policy committees in coming weeks with take up other key issues such as renewable portfolio standards, public utility greenhouse gas reduction rules and harmful algal blooms.
Oregon Faces Declining Public School Enrollment
Public school enrollment has declined for the third consecutive year, though at a much slower rate, according to state education officials. The December 2022 enrollment analysis reported a net loss of 632 students. The largest losses were in Portland, Salem and Beaverton schools. North Clackamas and Eugene gained students. Enrollment dropped nationwide during 2020 and 2021 during the COVID pandemic. California and Washington schools have regained their enrollments.
Training More Dental Professionals – HB 2979
Advocates seek $20 million to bolster the pipeline of dental assistants and hygienists, especially in rural, tribal and low-income communities. A 2022 state report estimated that 9 percent of the state’s 5,480 dental assistant positions were vacant, twice the number of newly certified professionals. The $20 million would go for incentives to recruit and retain dental professionals, grants to start dental career programs and community college scholarships.
Raising Fines for Workplace Injuries – SB 592
Senate Labor and Business took testimony arguing for stiffer penalties for businesses with repeat worker safety violations. SB 592 would require the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health division to raise its fines to align with federal OSHA. It also would require Oregon OSHA to conduct comprehensive inspections of any workplace where a worker dies or a business commits three or more repeat violations within a one-year period. If a violation contributed to a worker’s death, the bill would require penalties ranging from $20,000 to $50,000.
Senate OKs Child Care Bill in Rental Housing – SB 599
The Senate on a 27-3 vote passed Senate Bill 599 to require landlords to allow child care services to operate in rental homes when tenants meet certain requirements in an effort to eliminate “childcare deserts”. “This bill is an important step to provide more affordable child care options so that working families can stay in their communities,” Senator Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City and a chief sponsor, said in a statement.
I-5 Bridge Design Slimmed Down
The lead engineer on the I-5 Columbia Bridge replacement project told an advisory committee the plan is now focused on a single-deck bridge. Critics opposed the double-decker design as too steep and too expensive.
Bill Seeks to Outlaw Conversion Therapy – HB 2458
The House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care took testimony in support of legislation to ban licensed counselors and therapists in Oregon from practicing conversion therapy on adults. Oregon lawmakers made it illegal in 2015 to practice conversion therapy on minors. Nearly 500 people submitted written testimony – 300 supporting House Bill 2458 and 175 opposing it. One lawmaker raised a question about the clarity of the definition of conversion therapy.
From Shelters to State Pet – HR 8
The resolution passed the House with 58 votes to make shelter animals the official state pet. Rep. David Gomberg, a co-chief sponsor who has three rescue cats, including one three-legged kitty called Skipper, said naming shelter pets as a state symbol would encourage more shelter pet adoptions. The Senate mayo vote on the resolution as early as this week.
Renewed Effort to Ban To-Go Containers – SB 543
Lawmakers renewed their previously unsuccessful effort to ban food containers made from Styrofoam in testimony in the Senate. “From the very bottom to the top of the food chain, foam particles are all too often ingested, carrying toxins up the ocean food chain that can also be found in humans,” Charlie Plybon of the Surfrider Foundation testified. Business witnesses said the legislation is overkill and would add confusion to implementation of a 2012 law that imposes sweeping packaging changes.
Reducing Car Crashes with Wildlife – HB 2999
Legislation received an airing that would allocate $5 million to build wildlife underpasses and fencing in an attempt to prevent cars from colliding with wildlife crossing roads. “Oregon has taken important first steps on badly needed wildlife crossing solutions,” said Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton. “This bill will keep us moving on implementation of projects with real benefits for communities across the state, urban and rural alike.”
Raising Police Education Requirements
Senator Lew Frederick, D-Portland, urged support for his bill to raise hiring standards for police officers to include at least two years of postsecondary education and four years for departments with 50 or more officers. Prerequisites have dropped in recent years as police departments found it harder to recruit and hire new officers.
Greater Idaho Resolution Moves in Idaho
The Idaho House voted overwhelmingly for a non-binding resolution to open talks with Oregon lawmakers about move 11 Eastern Oregon counties into Greater Oregon. Senator Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, has introduced a companion resolution in the Oregon legislature, which isn’t expected to move under Democratic control. The secession, if allowed, would be the largest shift in state boundaries since the Civil War and include 63 percent of Oregon’s current land mass. There are many political and practical obstacles, including the Idaho’s Constitution that limits its legislature to 35 districts.
Senator’s Daughter Two-Time Jeopardy Winner
Mira Hayward, a Portland writer and daughter of Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, came from behind on successive shows to win two games of Jeopardy. She lost in her third attempt, but she walked away with $37,000 in winnings. Another Portlander, software developer Matthew Marcus, won four games on Jeopardy earlier this month.