Image for Lawmakers Prepare to Act on $2 Billion of New Spending

With adjournment looming and some high-profile bills in limbo, Oregon lawmakers are scheduling work sessions this week on spending bills that could add $2 billion or more to the state’s biennial budget.

Last week was marked by final approval of bills to allow Oregon collegiate athletes to receive compensation for use of their images and to prevent bakery employers from penalizing workers who refuse to work overtime on short notice. 

No consensus on a farmworker overtime bill was reached in House Revenue, which sent the contentious measure to a newly formed joint committee to look for a compromise. A bill to permit self-serve gas barely survived legislative deadlines after moving to Ways and Means with two courtesy votes.

Legislation to allow the Oregon Lottery to conduct sports betting ran into opposition from tribes that operate casinos. A measure to expand the number of annual primary care check-ups without cost-sharing and increase access to behavioral health services was rescued via a “gut-and-stuff” of a Senate bill now is headed to the House floor.

Legislation to allow the Oregon Lottery to engage in college sports betting ran into opposition from Oregon tribes that operate casinos. Anti-gambling advocates also opposed the measure.

A trucker convoy protesting mask mandates surrounded the Capitol on Thursday, hoisting a giant US flag on a crane. A dozen protestors entered the Capitol without wearing masks. On the same day, Senator Dallas Heard, R-Myrtle Creek, reiterated his opposition to mask mandates and refused to wear his mask while on the Senate floor. With truck horns blaring outside and after Senate President Peter Courtney pleaded, the Senate voted along party lines to exclude Heard temporarily from floor sessions.

GOP lawmakers continue to require verbatim reading on bills before floor votes, which has bogged down the session. 

Major Funding Proposals

Majority Democrats unveiled a $400 million housing package, with $215 million to build and maintain affordable housing, $165 million for homeless services and $20 million to improve access to home ownership. Some of the $165 million will expand Project Turnkey that helps local government purchase motels and convert room into emergency housing. Only $25 million will go to homeless services, which is half what mayors requested. Noticeably left out of funding is the City of Portland.

Governor Brown has requested $200 million for her Future Ready Oregon 2022 initiative to boost job training, especially in minority and underserved communities, for careers in health care, manufacturing, technology and construction. Other proposals propose $125 million to move Harriet Tubman Middle School to a site farther away from I-5, $120 million to protect Elliott State Forest, $100 million to expand childcare and increase provider pay, $30 million for Native American student college tuition and $38 million to help small businesses.

Courtney and Senator Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, proposed $150 million to continue a summer learning and childcare program, which last year supported 6,000 summer programs serving 89,000 K-12 students.

The threat of a late-session walkout remains strong enough to prompt Democratic leaders to dangle a $100 million budget lollipop to Republicans to spend in any way they please, with no strings attached. It wasn’t clear whether GOP leaders accepted the proposal and, if so, how they would divvy up the $100 million.

Collegiate Athlete Royalties

Senate Bill 1505, which would allow Oregon collegiate athletes to receive compensation from producers of team jerseys, video games and trading cards that use their images, received final approval and now heads to the governor’s desk for her signature. If signed, Oregon would join Pennsylvania as the only states permitting collegiate athlete royalties. The Oregon measure, championed by Courtney, would allow royalty payments to begin July 1.

College Sports Betting

Senate Bill 1503, also sponsored by Courtney, would allow the Oregon Lottery to conduct collegiate sports betting, with proceeds going into the Oregon Opportunity Grant program for need-based college scholarships. Courtney says college sports betting already occurs illegally, putting bettor at risk of fraud. The bill was opposed by Oregon tribes who said it would reduce their casino revenues and comes at a time when out-of-state interests are trying to gain a gambling foothold in the state. Anti-gambling advocates joined the tribes in urging a task force to study gambling, especially given 24-hour access to betting sites on mobile devices.

Simplified Voter Registration
Majority Democrats pushed through House Bill 4133 that allows persons without state-issued driver’s licenses to register to vote on online. People without driver’s licenses have been required to submit paper registration forms, which advocates say is inconvenient, expensive to process and subject to errors. Republicans who opposed the bill said it could make state elections less secure and open to fraud. Online registration would require someone to provide the last four digits of their Social Security number and a facsimile of their signature. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow online voter registration with provisions like HB 4133.

Farmworker Overtime

Unable to reach consensus on House Bill 4002, one of the marquee policy bills of the session, House Revenue members dispatched the bill to a newly formed Joint Committee on Farm Worker Overtime. Advocates say ag workers have been exempted from Oregon’s overtime rules since 1938. Opponents contend mandating overtime pay will force farmers who cannot afford a year-round 40-hour overtime threshold to cut work hours, mechanize or switch to less labor-intensive crops.

Self-Serve Gas

House Bill 4151 limped to Ways and Means thanks to two courtesy votes after some lawmakers questioned the impact of self-serve gas on people with disabilities and gas station attendants who could lose their jobs. The bill has been amended to allow gas station owners to designate half of their pumps as self-service, which could alleviate the chronic shortage of attendants, but also raise issues of enforcement by the State Fire Marshal.

Oregon State Hospital

House Behavioral Health continued a discussion of capacity issues at Oregon State Hospital and the ongoing workforce crisis within the behavioral health continuum. Providers, unions, advocacy groups, hospitals and health system leaders from Providence Health & Services, AFSCME, NAMI Oregon, the Unity Center for Behavioral Health and several other groups participate in the discussion. This occurred as the legislature continues to debate investing hundreds of millions into these services in the short session.

Health Care

House Health Care used Senate Bill 1529 to insert provisions from a House bill stuck in Ways and Means that would allow three additional primary care visits annually without co-pays, while also increasing access to behavioral health care services. The amended version of SB 1529 passed without opposition and now goes to the House floor. If passed in the House, Senate re-passage would be required. 

Short Notice Overtime

Senate Bill 1513 passed the House on a party-line vote to prohibit bakery and tortilla plant employers from penalizing workers who refuse to work mandatory overtime with less than a five-day notice. The Oregon AFL-CIO requested the measure, which was narrowly drafted to apply to 294 Oregon employers with more than 5.500 employees. House Republicans objected to the bill, saying it penalizes employers already facing worker shortages.

School Superintendent Protection

Legislation intended to discourage no-cause firings of school superintendents remained alive. If passed into law, the measure would require a 12-month notice for superintendent let do without cause. The bill grew out of controversial firings in Oregon school districts last year.

Washington Gas Export Tax

Lawmakers from Oregon, Idaho and Alaska testified in Olympia in opposition to a proposed tax on gas processed at Washington refineries and shipped to neighboring states with lower gas taxes. Sponsors say gas exports are exempt from Washington’s gas tax. The export charge would be equivalent to 6 cents per gallon, effective in 2023. Governor Brown said the charge was unacceptable. Idaho Governor Brad Little urged Washington Governor Jay Inslee to veto the measure if it reaches his desk.