Lawmakers to Consider High-Speed Rail Corridor Extension to Eugene
Lawmakers received another in a string of upbeat revenue reports, prepared to review newly released housing and homelessness package details and pressed on with a semiconductor investment package.
In week six of the session, compromise legislation advanced to limit travel reimbursement for state employees working remotely out of state. Bad weather delayed a hearing on extending the Cascadia high-speed rail corridor to Eugene.
Business witnesses testified in favor of establishing a state-level research and development tax credit and creating a task force to compare Oregon’s tax system to other states. Legislative committees looked into measures to train more nurses and restrict drones over local parks. The Senate passed a resolution supporting Oregon election workers.
Contentious hearings are scheduled this week on House Bill 2697, the labor-backed measure to mandate staff ratios in healthcare settings. Dana Hittle was named director of Oregon’s Medicaid program after serving two years as its interim director and just in time to review post-pandemic eligibility of the nearly 1.5 million Oregonians covered by the health plan.
Unexpectedly heavy snowfall forced legislators to postpone hearings on Thursday and Friday.
Rosy Economic Forecast
State economists said “personal and corporate tax collections continue to outstrip expectations”, in part because the state tax system is more diversified and less reliant on income taxation. Nearly $700 million in additional revenue was forecast for the current and coming biennia, which may erase a projected $500 million budget hole. The only declining revenue source is the marijuana tax, expected to drop by $46 million in the current and next biennium as a result of lower prices.
The personal income tax kicker, which Oregon taxpayers will receive next year, is now projected at almost $4 billion. The corporate kicker, which goes into the Education Savings Fund, is projected at slightly more than $1.5 billion.
Final state budgets for the 2023-2025 biennium, which begins July 1, will rely on the May revenue forecast.
Streamlining Rules to Boost Housing Supply – HB 289
The $200 million housing and homelessness plan being stitched together will require an annual estimate of new housing at various price levels needed in each city with at least 10,000 residents. Progress toward those goals would be posted on a state dashboard. The plan also would elevate housing over citizen engagement in the state’s land-use planning process, slow evictions, streamline homebuilding permits and provide low-interest loans for developers.
A companion spending bill includes the $130 million requested by Governor Kotek plus an additional $78 million added by lawmakers:
- $27 million to address homelessness in 25 rural counties that weren’t included in Kotek’s January emergency order.
- $25 million earmarked for homeless youth to help young people and their families with rent assistance, shelter and mental health or substance abuse treatment.
- $20 million to encourage production of modular homes.
- $5 million in grants for farmers to improve health and safety conditions at farmworker camps.
- $3 million in revolving loans builders can use to pay for predevelopment costs for homes that people earning between 80% and 120% of the median income can afford.
High-Speed Rail to Eugene
Willamette Valley lawmakers want the Cascadia high-speed rail corridor from Vancouver, BC to Portland extended to Eugene. “This must go to Eugene. It’s the entire corridor that needs to be addressed. This is not just about Portland to Canada. It has to benefit the clogged Willamette Valley and benefit more Oregonians,” says Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene. Oregon, Washington and British Columbia are preparing an application seeking $500 million in federal funding to make the high-speed rail corridor “shovel-ready”.
Remote Workers Reimbursement Compromise Reached – SB 583
Lawmakers and public employee unions reached a compromise to ban travel reimbursement for state workers who live more than 60 miles outside Oregon’s borders, unless they are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Of the 6,800 state employees who work remotely, only 432 live outside the state. The bill now moves to the Senate floor for a vote. The original bill was sponsored by all 30 senators.
Businesses Urge R&D Tax Credit – SB 55
Business representatives urged lawmakers to create a state research and development tax credit available to all Oregon manufacturers and innovators. They said Oregon is one of only 12 states without an R&D tax credit and the only state positioning for CHIPS Act grants without the credit. Business witnesses will testify this week on Senate Bill 45 to create a tax competitiveness task force charged with analyzing Oregon’s taxation compared to other states.
Boosting Nursing Workforce – HB 2928, HB 2744, HB 2926, HB 2697, HB 2408
The House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care heard three bills intended to bolster the nursing pipeline with scholarships, income tax credits and clinical training at hospitals, with an emphasis on serving rural and underserved communities. Lawmakers also discussed House Bill 2408 to authorize Oregon joining the 39-state Nurse Licensure Compact, which allows nurses to move between states without immediately obtaining a new license. They will hear testimony this week on House Bill 2697 that strengthens enforcement of an existing requirement for nurse staffing plans.
Resolution Passes Supporting Election Workers – SR 1
The Senate, with some Republican support, approved a resolution applauding local election workers for “professionalism and dedication in upholding fair and safe elections.” Proposed by Secretary of State Shemia Fagan who said, “These jobs are demanding. They are stressful, and they have become more so ever since the 2020 election as false information has led to increased lawsuits, public records requests, threats and harassment. Our clerks have my unyielding respect and admiration for their service.” Fagan noted one-quarter of Oregon clerks have retired or resigned, including some after 30 years of service. Senate Republicans opposing the resolution said it failed to address issues such as ballot harvesting and fees charged for Freedom of Information requests involving alleged election irregularities.
Stiffer Fines for Street Racing – SB 615
Senator Chris Gorsek, D-Gresham, introduced legislation to stiffen penalties for illegal street racing to one year in jail and a $6,000 fine for a first offense and five years in jail and a $100,000 fine for subsequent violations. Drivers also would forfeit their vehicles. Gorsek introduced the bill in light of increased street racing, including a recent crash in North Portland that killed one driver and seriously injured a passenger.
Restrictions for Drones at Local Parks – SB 812
Lawmakers will consider legislation that would allow cities and counties to ban drones taking off and landing in local parks. State law prohibits local bans. The Portland Audubon Society supports the measure, claiming increased drone usage disrupts birds and wildlife. The League of Oregon Cities also supports the measure, saying drones aren’t appropriate in every park.
State Audits Coming on Mental Health, Abortion, Clean Air
State auditors will undertake performance audits this year on access to reproductive health for Oregonians and the state’s response to elder abuse, domestic violence and child mental health. There also will be performance audits on state finances and cybersecurity measures. Audits nearing completion include an evaluation of safe harbor provisions intended to prevent renter evictions, the effectiveness and equity of state cannabis licenses and Oregon’s red flag law to remove weapons from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Youth Legislature Convenes
The Oregon Youth Legislature convened in a weather-caused hybrid format for a three-day session, according to Dick Hughes in his Capital Chatter blog. Meeting at Willamette University’s College of Law, student lawmakers elected West Albany High School senior Caroline Gao as governor and approved mental health, gun safety and police reform measures as well as funding for school librarians. Gao is the founder and executive director of The World In Us, which seeks to eliminate cultural ignorance and cultivate a new generation of global citizens.