Image for Votes Coming on Bridge Funding, Climate Change
With the Senate GOP walkout ended, key votes lie ahead, including on a $1 billion commitment over several biennia to fund a replacement for the I-5 Columbia River Bridge.

Issues Include Toxic Bans, Insurance Lawsuits and a New State Bank

After the six-week Senate GOP walkout, it was easy to lose track of pending legislation. The Oregon Business & Industry (OBI) weekly newsletter provides status reports on several measures including the I-5 Bridge replacement, retail theft, insurance company lawsuits and climate change that will receive votes before adjournment June 25.

I-5 Bridge Replacement
OBI predicts the legislature will approve a $1 billion commitment over several biennia to replace the I-5 Columbia River Bridge. The approval, OBI speculates, will “fund some amount in a budget bill for this biennium, probably $250 million, and address necessary language for funds secured by bonds.”

Important decisions remain such as final bridge design and whether to use general obligation bonds or Oregon Highway Trust Fund dollars, which will need action before an application is made for federal funding to cover the bulk of the cost. Washington’s legislature has already committed $1 billion to the project.

Retail Theft – SB 900
The Senate will vote this week on $5 million for local law enforcement agencies to conduct sting operations as a way to combat increasing retail theft, some of which is viewed as the handiwork of crime syndicates. While Senate Bill 318, which would have funded Department of Justice analyst and investigator positions, didn’t move out of a Ways and Means subcommittee, the so-called Christmas Tree bill could include the funding, OBI says.

Suing Insurance Companies – HB 3242
The Senate is scheduled to vote this week on House Bill 3242 that would allow lawsuits under the Unfair Settlement Practices Act against insurance companies for “bad faith” actions. The bill, which OBI says will lead to higher insurance rates in Oregon, was amended to exclude lawsuits relating to workers’ compensation, medical malpractice or defense attorneys. A related measure, House Bill 3243, which OBI said would have caused even more severe consequences in the Oregon insurance market, appears dead for this session.

Climate Change Legislation – HB 3409
The Joint Ways and Means Committee adopted the -3 amendment to House 3409 to pack parts of 15 different climate change measures into a single bill. Opposition to a single word change delayed a House vote until this week.

The 122-page bill sent to the House floor would provide $60 million for climate change efforts, but it hit a snag last week. A declaration in the measure that it is the “aspiration” of the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was changed to the “policy” of the state is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, said the change would morph goals into mandates. A coalition of 30 industry groups objected to the change. Another coalition with 25 business members urged passage, calling it a sound business decision.

Christmas Tree Bill – SB 5506
Amendments to the so-called Christmas Tree bill, usually the last measure to pass in a legislative session, are expected to be released Wednesday by the Joint Ways and Means Committee. Final amendments also are expected at the same time for House Bill 5006, the capital construction funding measure. Both were delayed, presumably to accommodate concessions made in the compromise that ended the Senate GOP walkout.

State Bank Task Force – HB 2763B
House Bill 2763B would create a 19-member task force to study the benefits and downsides of creating a state bank. As envisioned, a state bank would serve as a depository for community banks and credit unions, provide financing for local government infrastructure projects, service cannabis businesses and offer student loans. The House approved the measure with a scant 31 ‘yes’ votes and it’s now in the Senate.

Senator Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, proposed Senate legislation to create a state bank modeled after the Bank of North Dakota, established in 1919, that has been praised for its agility, especially in helping employers navigate through the pandemic. Golden said the Bank of North Dakota doesn’t offer credit cards or ATMs to avoid competing with existing financial institutions. Cannabis businesses support the concept because banks are unable to service them since possession, distribution or sale of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Toxic Free Kids – HB 3043
The Senate is expected to vote this week on House Bill 3043 that would expand the 2015 Oregon’s Toxic-Free Kids Act by increasing the number of high-priority chemicals manufacturers of children’s products would be required to avoid using. Decisions on what additional chemicals to ban would be made by the Oregon Health Authority. Manufacturers and retailers of children’s products argue Oregon is too small of a market to accommodate state regulations. Backers of the legislation say it sets a higher bar for manufacturers for products sold everywhere.

Cosmetic Ban – SB 546
Like House Bill 3043, Senate Bill 546 would ban the sale of cosmetic products in Oregon that contain specified “high priority chemicals of concern.” Opponents say Oregon-specific requirements on manufacturers and retailers will result in fewer and more expensive options for Oregon consumers. Advocates say the health risks posed by these products merits the ban. OBI predicts HB 3043 and SB 546 will pass the Senate.