Image for Lawmakers Vote to Reverse Measure 110
Under the pressure of a well-financed initiative drive, Oregon lawmakers vote to end Measure 110's drug decriminalization experiment.

Housing, Book Bans, Leave Policy, AI Deepfakes, Suicide Task Force Advance

Passage of a compromise measure that recriminalizes drug possession capped week four of the 2024 Oregon legislative session. The Senate also passed a scaled back version of Governor Kotek’s priority housing legislation. And a bill to limit private equity ownership in medical practices stayed alive after being suddenly sent to Senate Rules.

Also advancing last week were Senate bill to ban book-bans, which passed on a party-line vote, and a measure with bipartisan support that cracks down on deep-fake campaign videos and literature. The House gave final passage to legislation that aligns leave policies authorized in the Oregon Family Leave Act and Paid Leave Oregon.

The legislature now enters its final full week before adjournment on Sunday when the focus will be on spending measures.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit of Appeals affirmed a federal district court decision that prevents Senate Republicans who walked out during the 2023 session from running for re-election this year. “Actions have consequences. When those actions might be described as expressive in nature, the First Amendment sometimes protects us from the repercussions that follow. This is not one of those instances,” the appellate opinion said. The Oregon Supreme Court earlier upheld the decision of the Oregon secretary of state to keep the senators off the ballot.

The campaign to switch to open primaries in Oregon was suspended. All Oregon Votes, the group mounting the initiative drive, said it had run short of resources to secure the required number of valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Oregonians defeated open primary proposals in 2014 and 2008. Polling shows Oregonians from both major parties have warmed to the idea since then.

Measure 110 Rollback
House and Senate members easily approved House Bill 4002 with the -33 amendment, the compromise bill that re-establishes criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of illicit drugs. The House vote was 51-7 and the Senate vote was 21-8.

Lawmakers also approved $211 million to bolster addiction treatment, a key reason why public sentiment soured on decriminalization in Measure 110. House Bill 5204 provides $85 million for shovel-ready projects to expand behavioral health capacity, $80.5 million to bolster public safety and public defender capacity, $17.6 million for addiction prevention and $18.8 million for behavioral health system enhancements, including Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics and jail-based medication-assisted treatment services for opioid addiction.

Senator Lew Frederick, D-Portland, voted against HB 4002 because he believes it will disproportionately impact people of color. Senators Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, and Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, opposed the bill, claiming it was being rushed through that mirrored the flaw with voter passage of Measure 110.

Passage of HB 4002 prompted a Salem protest organized by Unite Oregon “to highlight the visibility of marginalized Black and Brown communities that have been sidelined in discussions surrounding the legislation.”

HB 4002 now goes to Governor Kotek’s desk. The Coalition to Fix and Improve Ballot Measure 110, which has a draft initiative ready with stronger penalties for drug possession, said it will back off if Kotek signs the bill.

Kotek’s Housing Proposal
The Oregon Senate easily passed a pared-down version of Governor Kotek’s housing proposal. Senate Bill 1537 and companion bills will approve a $376 million investment to promote new housing, expand homeless shelters and provide rent assistance. The measures also give some cities a one-time opportunity to expedite urban growth boundary expansions in return for guarantees 30 percent of new home construction will include affordable units. The bills now head to the House.

Kotek sought $500 million and homebuilders said even that amount won’t address the problem of meeting the costs for new housing. Much of the challenge relates to the cost of building infrastructure to support new housing.

Kotek received praise for her efforts to rally support for more housing. “We know that the best product comes from much input from both sides of the aisle, from urban and rural, and this bill reflects that,” said Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend. “This has the best chance to help change the path that Oregon’s currently on, which is continued homelessness and disadvantaged Oregonians not having a place to lay their head at night that is warm and comfortable.”

Corporate Medical Ownership
A contentious hearing, punctuated by comments from former Governor John Kitzhaber, left legislation to limit corporate ownership of medical practices limping to the Senate floor. Then Senate President Ron Wagner intervened and redirected the bill to Senate Rules, presumably to provide more time to shore up support.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Ben Bowman, D-Tigard, to reduce the influence of private equity in independent medical practices. Kitzhaber chastised members for yielding to pressure from out-of-state private equity firms.

A hearing in Senate Rules is scheduled for today, as the future of the legislation remains up in the air.

Banning Book Bans
On a 17-12 party-line vote, the Senate approved Senate Bill 1583 that prohibits Oregon school districts from banning books books because authors or characters are immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ+, disabled or from other protected classes.

Sponsored by Senator Lew Frederick, D-Portland, the legislation has become one of the most polarizing bills this session with 1,600 submitted testimonies. “I want to see kids reading and getting books out of their libraries, and I lament that this bill has been politicized,” Frederick said. “This bill is not about politics for me. It’s about kids reading.”

Senate Republicans were unsuccessful in offering a substitute that would have created a task force to “better establish standards for age-appropriate curriculum” and limit books that “contain graphic violence, are sexually explicit, contain vulgar language or lack literary merit or educational value.” They argued restricting book bans undermined parental rights and local control.

The state library cite statistics indicating more than 70 percent of challenged titles were about or written by people of color, LGBTQ+ people, women, people with disabilities and other underrepresented groups.  Frederick predicted the measure will pass the Democratically controlled House.

Calling Out Deepfakes
The Senate on a 23-7 vote approved Senate 1571 that would require campaigns to disclose when campaign materials use artificial intelligence or other digital technology to manipulate an image, audio or video to influence voters. It now moves to the House.

“These synthetic media can be used to create false narratives, impersonate public figures and manipulate public opinion in ways that aren’t immediately discernible to the average viewer,” said Senator Aaron Woods, D-Wilsonville, who sponsored the legislation.

SB 1571 would empower the secretary of state, or the attorney general in instances that involve candidates for secretary of state, to seek a court injunction blocking the use of campaign materials that don’t include an AI disclosure. Violating the law could carry a fine up to $10,000 for each instance.

Senator Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, voted against the bill, expressing fears that artificial intelligence is being used by “the ruling elite” to influence people in Oregon and globally. Senator Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, who opposed the bill, said, “We need to proceed carefully before we have basically one person, the secretary of state, deciding whether something is true or false or represents a candidate or ballot measure correctly.”

Leave Policy Alignment
Senate Bill 1515 that reduces redundancies in state leave policies now heads to the governor’s desk. To avoid “leave stacking”, the bill deletes most leaves permitted under the Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) so they will be taken instead under provisions of Paid Leave Orgon. OFLA will continue to cover of leaves not addressed by Paid Leave Oregon such as sick child leave, bereavement leave and leave for pregnancy disability.

The bill allows employees to “top off” Paid Leave Oregon benefits by using accrued paid time off to replace 100 percent of their wages. It also ensures that employers will not be subject to penalty pay if the schedule of an employee must be changed to accommodate the return of a colleague who returns to work without giving a 14-day notice.

Guns and Suicide Task Force
Senate Bill 1503 stayed alive despite opposition to set aside $250,000 to fund 17-member task force to study how to reduce suicide deaths by guns. Sensitivity of the topic led to a name change to the Task Force on Community Safety and Firearms Suicide Prevention. In 2022, suicides accounted for 72 percent of Oregon gun-related deaths, with an even higher percentage in rural areas of the state. If approved, the Department of Justice would hire an outside group to conduct research for the task force.

North Plains and Land-Use
A bipartisan legislative effort seeks to block a scheduled May vote in North Plains to expand its urban growth boundary to add 855 acres for housing and commercial and industrial development. Critics say North Plains officials didn’t properly inform the city’s 3,400 residents of its plans and hasn’t provided enough clarity how it develop the additional land. If House Bill 4026 is approved, it would nullify the May vote. HB 4026 opponents say it violates the Oregon Constitution by taking away citizens’ right to pursue a referendum.

Paul Holvey Decision
After surviving a recall election, 11-term veteran Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, announced he won’t seek re-election to focus of personal and family priorities. Less than an hour after Holvey’s surprise announcement, Eugene-area attorney and community organizer Doyle Canning issued a press statement announcing her candidacy. Canning ran unsuccessfully in 2022 for the Democratic nomination in the 4th Congressional District.