Political tension sharply eased after Portland Democratic Rep. Diego Hernandez agreed to resign over the weekend before the House was scheduled to vote this week on his expulsion. Meanwhile, The Joint Ways and Means Committee co-chairs released a preliminary cut at a 2021-2023 biennial budget after legislative work was delayed last week because of Salem-area power outages. And Tuesday is the deadline for bill introductions.
Hernandez offered his resignation after a federal judge refused to intervene in Oregon House disciplinary proceedings. A legislative panel concluded earlier this month that Hernandez harassed and created a hostile work environment for three women during the previous Oregon legislative session. Despite the allegations, Hernandez was re-elected last fall. In a statement, Hernandez said he would resign to allow the legislature to move on with its business, though he has indicated he wants to stay in office until March 15.
It would have taken 40 votes to expel Hernandez from the House. He would have been the first sitting Oregon House member to be expelled.
The Joint Ways and Means co-chairs released their high-level budget priorities mark, which underscores the current projected $1.7 billion shortfall for the 2021-2023 biennium and spending priorities that include continuation of critical programs and services and mitigating the effects of severe wildfires and pandemic-related recession. Top priority was given to education, health care and public safety, with special focus on behavioral health, housing, racial inequity and rural economic development.
The co-chairs are holding off on a more detailed budget proposal until late in March when the state’s revenue picture may be clearer. Congress is expected to act by mid-March on President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which includes substantial revenue assistance for states and local government, as well as additional resources for reopening schools and supporting COVID vaccinations and testing.
The Joint Ways and Means co-chairs are holding off on a more detailed budget proposal until late in March. Congress is expected to act by then on President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which includes substantial revenue assistance for states and local government, as well as additional resources for reopening schools and supporting COVID vaccinations and testing.
The co-chairs mark expressed more concern about the longer-term economic fallout of the pandemic in the 2023-2025 biennium, which could see a potential budget deficit of up to $3 billion.
In a related matter, freshman GOP Senator Dick Anderson called for legislation to prevent the state from taxing federal economic impact payments. “The sole purpose of federal stimulus checks was to give people help when they needed it the most,” Anderson said in a statement. “There is no justification for the state to take some off the top. Helping people get back on their feet means helping them keep more money in their pockets.”
The Legislative Revenue Office issued a report indicating 870,000 Oregon taxpayers who received federal stimulus payments may experience an uptick in state personal income taxes. A household receiving $3,400, LRO said, could owe an additional $298 in state tax. Anderson conceded it may be too late for the legislature to act in time to affect 2020 tax returns, but he said legislative action could exempt future stimulus payments from state taxation.
Here is some of the legislative activity scheduled for this week:
- Senate Revenue will consider Senate 137-1 that would disconnect Oregon’s tax system from federal tax breaks contained in the CARES Act that benefit business taxpayers.
- House Judiciary will hold a hearing on House Bill 2205, which is modeled after California’s private attorney general act and would allow individuals and organizations to file suit on behalf of the state regarding civil violations of employment, environmental, unfair trade and consumer protection laws.
- Senate Energy and Environment will take up three recycling bills. Senate Bill 14 would establish a stewardship program for plastic packaging and food containers. Senate Bill 581 would impose Oregon-specific labeling requirements. Senate Bill 582, with the -1 amendment, would require all packaging material producers to participate in and fund a new recycling regime.