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Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, and Democratic leaders plan to start fining Senate Republicans whose continuing absence denies a quorum for Senate floor action.

Legislative Counsel Warns of Dire Consequences Without Budget Okay

The Senate GOP walkout enters week 22 of the 2023 legislative session and week five of a Senate Republican walkout. Starting today, absent senators will face $325 per day fines. Meanwhile, budget bills began burbling up in the Ways and Means Committee in preparation for a likely special session next month.

Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson provided a memo at the request of House Republican Leader Vicki Breese-Iverson that outlined dire impacts on schools, transportation and state services if lawmakers fail to pass a biennial budget by September 15. That’s when a continuing resolution to keep spending at current levels expires.

A handful of Senate Republicans convened an unofficial hearing last week of what they call the Joint Committee on Oversight and Accountability. What Republicans hoped would be a forum to denounce Democratic tyranny turned into a hearing with witnesses telling the absent senators to go back to work.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sued 21 chemical manufacturers for producing toxic foam used in firefighting. A federal court in Portland will hear testimony this week on the constitutionality of voter-approved Measure 114 gun regulations. And Josephine County commissioners voted 2-1 to yank local funding for Oregon State University Extension Services, which they described as “woke”.

Walkout in Week Five
The Senate Republican walkout continued, even though a handful of senators entered the Capitol last Thursday to hold an unofficial hearing. Intended as a forum to denounce Democratic leaders, the hearing featured witness testimony chastising the walkout. Starting this week, the unexcused absent senators will be subject to $325 per day fines levied by Democratic legislative leaders. The Oregonian editorial board encouraged an end to the walkout, which it called a “duel of egos”.

Legislative Counsel Warning
Dexter Johnson, who heads the office of legislative counsel, issued a stark summary of the consequences if lawmakers fail to approve the 2023-2025 budget by September 15.

Hundreds of Bills at Risk
The walkout threatens hundreds of bills, including many bipartisan health care measures such as making naloxone widely available to reverse overdoses, renewing contracts for Coordinated Care Organizations, continuing care for some Medicaid enrollees and a compromise on hospital nurse staffing. There is also legislation to provide $70 million to bolster Oregon’s behavioral health system. OPB posted a story with more detail.

Final Semiconductor Incentives Imperiled
Among the bills that could be left on the cutting room floor are the last pieces of incentives to lure more semiconductor and related manufacturing to Oregon. Those incentives include an investment tax credit business groups have urged and key changes to local property tax incentives.

Oregon Health Authority Budget
Lawmakers on Ways and Means wrapped up the proposed budget for the Oregon Health Authority, one of the state’s most intricate agency budgets. One of the complications is the loss of $460 million in federal funds with the end of the federal COVID emergency declaration that forced a state investment in redetermining Medicaid eligibility. Key highlights include:

  • $35.2 billion in total funds – representing a 5.1% increase from the current biennium.
  • 30 percent increase for behavioral health providers, coupled with a budget note requiring the agency to implement the full increase.
  • Implementation of the Basic Health Plan at a total funds cost of more than $730 million – the bulk of which comes from federal funds.
  • Implementation of a 988 crisis line for $69 million.
  • Public Health modernization at $30 million.
  • Planning funds for creation of Cover Oregon 2.0. The policy bill, SB 972, also moved this week.
  • Full expansion of Healthy Oregon program to cover all adults, regardless of immigration status at $480 million.
  • CCO funding with a 3.4 percent increase.

Measure 114 in Federal Court
Opponents of Measure 114 assert the gun control measure approved by voters in the 2020 election poses six different constitutional challenges, which they will argue in federal court this week. The following OPB post provides commentary on the challenges.

OSU Extension Service Called ‘Woke’
Josephine County commissioners voted 2-1 this week to end local tax funding for the Oregon State University Extension Service, including local 4-H programs, according to the Grants Pass Daily Courier. Commissioners earlier this month accused the extension service’s 4-H program of barring youths from displaying Christian symbols on their clothing. Leaders of the program disputed the commissioners’ claim. The vote leaves the agricultural programs short $400,000 they were to receive from a local tax levy. In addition to 4-H, the extension service runs agriculture, forestry and master gardener programs.