Senate Republicans Near Measure 113 Limit of Unexcused Absences
This should be a pivotal week at the Capitol with release of the May revenue forecast on Wednesday and possible resolution of the Senate GOP walkout that has blocked floor action for almost two weeks. OPB posted a detailed story about the contents of House Bill 2002 that in part prompted the walkout.
Last week marked the end of the COVID public health emergency, though the Oregon Health Authority maintained some provisions such as allowing non-citizens more time to verify their citizenship status when enrolling in the Oregon Health Plan.
The wording has been released of a ranked choice voting initiative likely to appear on the 2024 general election ballot. In the wake of Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s resignation, lawmakers are considering ethics legislation as well as a pay raise for state officials, even as they struggle to finalize a union contract with legislative staff.
Oregon State University was selected to lead a regional semiconductor research project. The Oregonian carried a story noting that data centers have swallowed up land and tax breaks that could work for computer chip manufacturing.
May Revenue Forecast
This forecast serves as the revenue estimate used to shape a balanced 2023-2025 biennial budget. Previous forecasts have been rosier than expected despite increased interest rates starting in March 2022 that have slowly brought down inflation while not stopping job growth. Oregon’s revenue growth has outpaced earlier forecasts to the point where state economists predict a record high personal income tax kicker refund in 2024 of nearly $4 billion.
Senate Walkout Negotiations
Negotiations last week didn’t produce a resolution as the Senate Republican walkout extended to nine days. Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, canceled floor sessions until this week to give breathing room before at least three GOP senators receive their tenth unexcused absence, which under voter-approved Measure 113 would disqualify them from seeking re-election.
Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, has identified 20 bills his caucus opposes, including two House bills dealing with abortion, gender-affirming care and gun regulation. Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, has said Democrats will negotiate a “hope list” but not a “kill list”. Lieber said the two House bills aren’t negotiable.
What’s in HB 2002
At the center of the Senate GOP walkout is House Bill 2002 that deals with reproductive health and gender-affirming health care. OPB provided a detailed look at HB 2002’s provisions, describing what they do and don’t do, as well as putting the changes into historical perspective.
Ranked Choice Voting Initiative
Proponents filed the Voters Choice Act last week would implement ranked-choice voting in statewide and legislative contests. Measures dealing campaign finance reform and open primaries were filed previously.
Pay Raises and Ethics Reform
In the wake of Shemia Fagan’s resignation, legislative leaders are proposing an independent commission to study pay levels for statewide office holders, judges and possibly lawmakers. They also are considering tightening state ethics laws. House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, has promised to pass ethics and campaign finance reform laws in response to the scandal engulfing Fagan.
OSU Chip Research
With $1 million from the National Science Foundation, Oregon State University will lead a three-university research effort to explore innovations in semiconductor manufacturing technology, energy-efficient chip architecture and entrepreneurship and workforce training. Oregon is pursuing a separate research center with funding from the federal CHIPS Act, which Congress approved last year.
While Oregon leaders are hunting for large tracts for new computer chip manufacturing plants, many of the possible sites are being swallowed up by huge data centers. As reported by The Oregonian’s Mike Rogoway, “Hillsboro’s hottest new neighborhood borders the rolling fields and farms on the metro area’s scenic western edge. Construction workers are busily putting the final touches on sprawling, gated developments. These aren’t houses. They’re enormous data centers, hulking buildings stuffed with billions of dollars’ worth of computers that feed our insatiable thirst for digital ephemera. Tech companies are drawn here by readily available land, power and water – and tax incentives unmatched almost anywhere. ”
Call for Resignation
House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, called on freshman Rep. Brian Stout, R-Columbia City, to resign after a restraining order against Stout was upheld from a campaign volunteer who accused him of sexual assault. Stout, who has been barred from serving on committees but can vote on the House floor, issued a statement saying he disagreed with the ruling but didn’t resign.
Virtual Charter School Approval – HB 3204
House Bill 3204 is moving in the Senate and, if passed, would require districts to notify families of a denial within 10 calendar days of their request to enroll in a virtual charter school. Advocates said some students have been out of school for longer than a month before they hear back. Supporters also want to hold districts accountable for demonstrating whether they have reached the 3 percent limit. The bill would require districts to calculate at least twice each year the percentage of students attending virtual charter schools that are not sponsored by the district.
Kotek and the Bunny Bill – HB 2689
Governor Kotek allowed House Bill 2689 become law without her signature, the first time that has occurred in Oregon since 2007. The new law will allow the slaughter of up to 1,000 rabbits a year without a license, mirroring an existing law that allows the unlicensed slaughter of poultry. “Governor Kotek supports the intent of the bill, allowing meat processing for small-scale, local farms,” according to a spokesperson. “She also has a personal belief that animals should be treated humanely before being slaughtered, and believes rabbits and chickens should be added to Oregon’s humane slaughter statutes.”
Lawmakers and Their Union Staff
Two years after legislative staff voted to unionize, lawmakers and staff members have failed to agree on a contract. Willamette Week reporter Nigel Jaquiss poked at majority Democrats who have pushed legislation to protect workers from wage theft and require cannabis companies and substitute teachers to unionize, but are quibbling with staff on overtime pay and other workplace protections. Lawmakers insist they are negotiating in good faith and say overtime pay isn’t an issue. They cite high turnover in legislators and a lack of awareness of what benefits are available.
Campaign Contribution Actions
Two Senate Republicans urged Oregon U.S. Attorney Natalie Wright to investigate cash donations from a cannabis firm to state politicians, including Governor Kotek and Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego. Cash contributions are not illegal in Oregon. “This cash scandal is simply the tip of the iceberg in the Legislative Assembly and Oregon State Capitol,” according to Senator Brian Boquist, I-Dallas, and Art Robinson, R-Cave Junction.
The Oregon Democratic Party was fined $15,000 for filing a false report about the source of a $500,000 campaign donation from Nishad Singh, an executive at disgraced cryptocurrency firm FTX. Despite knowing the name of the actual donor, party officials listed the donation as from Prime Trust. Some eyebrows were raised by the reduced fine from $35,000 that was overseen by Molly Woon who previously worked for the Oregon Democratic Party. The Party also won’t face a criminal charge.