Image for Session Ends with Sunflowers and $2.7 Billion in Spending

Farmworker overtime passed and self-serve gas didn’t again as Oregon lawmakers adjourned the 2022 legislative session Friday after approving $2.7 billion more in spending and avoiding a GOP walkout.

It was Senator Peter Courtney’s (D-Salem) final legislative session after a 38-year career, the last 20 years as the Senate’s longest serving presiding officer. It was Rep. Dan Rayfield’s (D-Corvallis) first session as House Speaker following a 10-year tenure by Tina Kotek who resigned to run full-time for governor.

Three House members indicated they couldn’t afford to seek re-election after the legislature failed to raise legislative salaries. Advocates for the pay hike said it was necessary to ensure representation by the full cross-section of the state’s population.

Surging tax revenues and federal financial assistance enabled lawmakers to allocate money for affordable housing, homelessness, workforce development, behavioral health, childcare, stimulus payments for low-income workers, more public defenders and giving low-income Oregonians access to air conditioners to withstand heat waves. A variety of allocations also were approved for specific projects.

Some good, bipartisan things were accomplished

The short session ended sooner and with less fanfare than anticipated after Republicans agreed to waive full readings of bills before floor votes after the contested passage of HB 4002, a bill requiring farmworker overtime, but without other policy surprises. That allowed final approval of more than 60 bills and a drama-free, mid-day adjournment. The final day was punctuated instead by sunflowers on lawmaker desks to mark solidarity with Ukraine.

Courtney and Rayfield had scripted session timing to allow for GOP delay tactics. The Democratic offer of $100 million to Republicans to spend on 60 or so rural projects smoothed the way toward a congenial session ending. Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend) criticized Democrats for policy overreach and overspending, but said “some good, bipartisan things” were accomplished. Rep. Greg Smith (R-Heppner) who vouched for Rayfield as Speaker, commended the $100 million offer “with no strings attached”.

Oregon became the eighth state to make farmworkers eligible for overtime over 40 hours per week, despite intense agricultural industry opposition. Republican opponents said paying overtime could result in family farms selling to corporate farms and speed the trend of automation. Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon (D-Woodburn) said her parents, farmworkers themselves, are “overworked, underpaid skilled workers”.

Oregon remains one of only two states along with New Jersey that requires attendants to pump gas as a bill with bipartisan support languished in committee. Lawmakers failed to act on campaign financing, though Rayfield pledged it would be on the agenda for the 2023 session.

Democrats pushed through a bill to prohibit police from stopping motorists for broken taillights, headlights or brake lights. There was bipartisan support for bill rolling back previously legislated limitations on teargas, compensating people imprisoned for crimes for which they later were found innocent and creating a misdemeanor for harassing election workers.

Rayfield’s green transportation measure passed that directs the Department of Transportation to conduct a pilot program to assess the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of concrete, steel and asphalt used in roads and bridges. The objective will be to identify ways to reduce emissions.

Abundant revenue made additional spending the inevitable centerpiece for the 2022 session. Most of the spending agenda was previewed before the session began. The biggest allocation is $400 million to build affordable housing, boost homeless services and help low-income Oregonians buy a home.

Governor Brown’s Future Ready Oregon workforce initiative will receive $200 million to connect Oregonians with job training for jobs in healthcare, manufacturing and construction sectors. The biggest chunk of the funding, $123 million, came from American Rescue Plan Act financial assistance.

Summer learning programs, which were launched successfully last year, were given $150 million to continue this year. Around 250,000 low-income Oregonian workers who faced financial challenges during the pandemic will receive a one-time $600 payment, costing $180 million.

The $100 million handed over to Republicans will go to rehabilitate Cape Bianco State Airport, build a new community center in Medford and improve county fairgrounds in Eastern Oregon.