Political News Roundup
This post will focus largely on legislation, but several other notable things happened this week:
• Legislative caucus leaders discussed their priorities for this session and answered questions from OBI members during our Feb. 8 panel. You can watch a video here.
• Citing a drafting omission by sponsors, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan disqualified a trio of notable campaign-finance initiative petitions. Shortly thereafter, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum certified the language of the measures, easing sponsors’ path for a state Supreme Court appeal.
• Nike co-founder Phil Knight donated $250,000 to nonaffiliated gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson.
• Bill Sizemore announced his candidacy for governor, motivated in part by fellow Republican Stan Pulliam’s engagement in consensual activity likely to undermine his campaign.
Legislative Week in Review
The second week of the 2022 legislative session is drawing to a close, and there’s much to report. Sessions that occur in evenly numbered years may last only 35 days, but so much is packed into each day that the result can feel like lawmaking by dog years. The deadline to schedule bills for work sessions passed Feb. 7. Right on its tail looms the Feb. 14 deadline to move bills from committees in the chambers in which they were introduced. Bills move quickly, and sometimes unexpectedly.
Fortunately, bad bills often die quickly. That was the case this week for at least two bills on which OBI’s policy team was heavily engaged. These include HB 4152, which would have undermined franchise agreements, and HB 4079, which would have imposed a 3% tax on many consumer goods.
Additional policy team victories include SB 1514, which is likely to be used as a vehicle to extend the ability of employers to offer recruitment and retention bonuses without negotiating the compliance complexities created by the state Equal Pay Act.
Progress on other legislation has been less dramatic and involves the negotiated mitigation of harm. And, of course, there are problematic bills that enjoy the unyielding support of lawmakers who are in a position to move them forward. One such bill is SB 1530, which would require most employers to provide uncapped coverage for a range of fertility services.
Listed below are the major bills on which OBI’s policy team has focused. Some bills that have appeared in previous updates have been folded into other bills and do not appear below. The list also includes new bills that have grown in importance.
Education and Workforce
SB 1539 (Watch): A pilot program created by this bill would use state education funds to provide support and wraparound services for homeless students in seven districts. The bill has broad bipartisan support.
HB 4124 (Watch): This bipartisan bill would require the Department of Education to review how districts administer student assessments, then recommend best practices.
SB 1545 (Support): This is the governor’s Future Ready Oregon proposal, which would direct $200 million to workforce development programs. Among other things, it would expand apprenticeship opportunities and create grant programs to support workforce development activities in health care, manufacturing and construction.
- Update: A significant amendment to the bill was introduced Feb. 8 that addresses many of the concerns OBI had shared. The bill now identifies the programs on which all budgeted funds would be spent, details how much would come from the general fund ($78 million) and how much from the federal ARPA program ($122 million). It also expands targeted industries. However, OBI is still concerned about the fact that businesses will not have direct access to any funding even though they suffer the effects of the workforce crisis the bill addresses. A draft amendment on which OPB has provided input would allow industry associations to apply for grants.
SB 1590 (Support): This bill directs the Department of Education to work with the STEM Investment Council to develop a statewide, long-term strategic plan to provide computer science education. It would integrate computer science education in schools, establish curriculum standards and give all students the opportunity to participate.
- Update: OBI has submitted a joint letter of support with the Oregon Business Council and the CTE-STEM Employer Council. Following a Feb. 10 work session, the bill is headed to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
HB 4104 (Watch): This bill establishes the Prosperity 10,000 Program to provide career coaching, occupational training and job placement services for at least 10,000 low-income job seekers affected by the COVID pandemic. Much like the Future Ready Oregon proposal, this bill would provide funding for workforce boards to issue grants.
- Update: A proposed amendment would fold the bill into SB 1545 (above).
For questions about education and workforce bills, contact Morgan Beltz.
SB 1530 (Oppose): This bill would require health insurance coverage of specified fertility services and treatments. It would require small and large employers and individual health benefit plans to cover a wide range of fertility services without cost sharing or capping coverage.
- Update: At a Feb. 9 hearing, Morgan Beltz shared OBI’s concern that a costly fertility mandate would compromise employers’ ability to offer other benefits that would better address the needs of their employees. Beltz urged the committee to adopt the -4 amendment to study access to fertility treatment instead. Some members of the committee were not receptive to this input. You can watch Beltz’s testimony here at 1:01:07. A Feb. 14 work session has been scheduled.
HB 4035 (Watch): This placeholder bill ultimately will involve Medicaid and the allocation of money needed to start the process of creating a new platform for the state health plan that eventually would house a public option.
- Update: A hearing occurred Feb. 9, with a presentation by the Oregon Health Authority on the Medicaid redetermination process and the options for moving forward. A second hearing took place Feb. 11 on the -1 amendment, which proposes a timeline for a task force to create a “bridge program” that would provide affordable health care for people who frequently enroll and disenroll in health care programs due to fluctuations in income. The task force would create a bridge program proposal by May 31, 2022. OHA will present on the -1 amendment at the Feb. 14 House Committee on Health Care work session.
For questions about health care bills, contact Morgan Beltz.
Employment and Labor
HB 4002 (Oppose as introduced): This bill would remove the long-standing agricultural exemption from overtime. Farmers and ranchers simply do not have the ability to increase prices to adjust to increases in costs, and their labor needs are dictated by nature. This bill will reduce hours for workers, increase administrative burdens for farmers and harm one of Oregon’s largest industries. Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle has indicated she plans to move forward with administrative rules to enact overtime at 40 hours if the Legislature does not pass legislation this session. OBI would support legislation that addressed seasonality and had a higher threshold for triggering overtime payments.
- Update: A public hearing on this bill was held Feb. 8. OBI signed onto a coalition statement expressing concerns about the harm the bill would do to the state’s agriculture industry. You can read it here. A Feb. 14 work session has been scheduled.
HB 4152 (Oppose): This bill would unravel franchise agreements and prevent the enforcement of consistent standards among franchises. In essence, this bill would allow businesses to use the franchise logo but not adhere to any other brand standards.
- Update: This bill has died. Paloma Sparks testified and provided written testimony during a Feb. 7 public hearing. She also submitted a coalition letter explaining some of the legislation’s flaws.
SB 1512 (Oppose): This bill would prohibit employers from taking job applicants’ juvenile records into consideration. As introduced, the bill is overly broad and ignores the needs of employers who handle sensitive personal information or work with vulnerable populations.
- Update: Paloma Sparks expressed these concerns during a Feb. 7 hearing. Her testimony begins at 22:28 here. Amendments to this bill are still being drafted, but key legislators seem determined to prohibit employers from considering applicants’ juvenile records. A Feb. 14 work session has been scheduled.
SB 1513 (Neutral): This bill would require bakeries and tortilla makers to give employees a two-week notice of required overtime. This requirement does not recognize the workforce realities of such businesses, which must react quickly to staffing shortages.
- Update: Paloma Sparks expressed OBI’s concerns during a Feb. 3 hearing. You can hear her testimony here at 1:35:45. An amendment was subsequently introduced and approved that would decrease the two-week window to five days.
SB 1514 (Support): This placeholder bill may offer a path to further delay a provision of the Oregon Equal Pay Act that requires employers to adhere strictly to equity requirements when giving hiring and retention bonuses to employees. That provision has been delayed until March 1. Without further delay, hiring and retention bonuses are likely to disappear. The burden of complying with the Equal Pay Act would make bonuses untenable.
- Update: An amendment was introduced Feb. 10 that would extend the exemption for hiring and retention bonuses. A Feb. 11 work session has been scheduled.
SB 1586 (Neutral): This bill, aimed at nondisclosure agreements, would create an unlawful employment practice if an employer even asked an employee to enter into a settlement agreement that required the nondisclosure of certain elements. It would eliminate the confidentiality requirements of mediation. It also would encourage litigation by guaranteeing $5,000 in damages even when the individual failed to prove any damages.
- Update: Paloma Sparks worked with legislators and other groups to eliminate the most damaging components of the bill, and OBI is now neutral. Listen to her Feb. 8 here at 22:55.
For questions about employment and labor bills, contact Paloma Sparks.
HB 4034 (Support): This bill would allow pharmacy technicians and interns to perform tasks related to ephedrine just as they may now perform tasks related to other drugs they are allowed to handle. This bill is the omnibus healthcare bill and contains many other provisions.
- Update: This bill has absorbed components of HB 4024 that allow employees conducting pseudoephedrine sales to collect required information by swiping customers’ driver licenses.
SB 1565 (Oppose): This bill would require businesses to accept cash. This is problematic given the pandemic-related reluctance of many workers to handle cash. Employers do not want to force employees to engage in activity they consider unsafe. This bill also ignores changing technology and attitudes toward cashless businesses.
- Update: Paloma Sparks explained problems with this bill during a Feb. 8 hearing. You can watch her testimony here at 1:12:10. Despite the bill’s problems, the committee approved it unanimously.
HB 4020 (Oppose): This bill prohibits certain contractors from requiring payment in advance for large residential repair projects. Typically, such legislation is intended to guard consumers from small, unlicensed contractors who require payment up front, complete a small portion of the work, then disappear. HB 4020, however, applies only to “major residential contractors,” which are publicly traded companies. It would effectively end the practice of providing interest-free loans to conduct kitchen remodels and other services provided by large home-improvement stores.
- Update: In testimony provided at a Feb. 9 hearing, Paloma Sparks explained that the bill’s sponsors had produced a consumer-protection bill that fails to protect consumers from real predators and undermines their ability to obtain services from credible contractors. She also provided a link to the Construction Contractors Board’s “Buyer Beware” list, which displays allegedly crooked contractors unaffected by HB 4020. A Feb. 14 work session has been scheduled.
For questions about retail bills, contact Paloma Sparks.
- Update: At a Feb. 10 hearing, Paloma Sparks provided testimony expressing OBI’s view that contribution limits should ensure that the resulting system is equitable, constitutional and easy to understand and navigate.
For questions about campaign finance bills, contact Paloma Sparks.
Environment, Energy and Natural Resources
SB 1567 (Watch): This bill would require bulk fuel terminals to conduct seismic vulnerability assessments from which the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) would develop risk reduction plans and mitigation requirements. Fuel suppliers already implement state and federal standards to reduce risk from major earthquakes. Additional requirements created by the bill will add cost and complexity.
- Update: Most concerns with this legislation are in the process of being addressed, and the bill is likely to includes a reasonableness provision for mitigation measures required by DEQ. One remaining concern involves the high cost of administering facility reviews, which would be paid through fees on fuel companies. The regulated community has urged the state to seek federal grants to support the Seismic Mitigation Fund and reduce costs for affected employers, which also will bear significant costs related to mitigation measures. A Feb. 14 work session has been scheduled.
For questions about environment, energy and natural resources bills, contact Sharla Moffett.
HB 4090 (Oppose): This bill requires state agencies procuring diesel vehicles to obtain certifications from manufacturers and dealers that their trucks can operate with a 20%-biofuel mix. Warrantying specific fuel types would add cost and complexity to an already challenging regulatory environment.
- Update: Sharla Moffett testified in opposition to this bill Feb. 3. Her testimony begins at 1:08:50 here. No further action has yet been scheduled.
HB 4141 (Oppose): This bill would ban petroleum diesel and mandate renewable diesel statewide by 2029. Renewable diesel is an important tool for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and achieving Oregon’s climate goals. However, a mandatory transition to renewable diesel of limited supply almost certainly would lead to market volatility, uncertainty and fuel shortages. Current regulatory programs and those in progress will already drive market demand for renewable diesel without the arbitrary targets contemplated in the bill.
- Update: A hearing was held Feb. 10 and carried over to Feb. 15, when Sharla Moffett will testify. It is clear that more information is needed to determine supply, cost and statewide needs for renewable diesel. The regulated community is advocating for study provisions like those in the -2 amendment, but bill proponents prefer the -4 amendment study that presupposes a ban on petroleum diesel.
For questions about transportation bills, contact Sharla Moffett.
Tax and Fiscal Policies
HB 4015 (Support): This bill would expand eligibility for state entrepreneurial loans and raise the per-loan limit from $500,000 to $1 million.
- Update: Scott Bruun testified in support of this bill Feb. 7, and it has received a work session and second reading.
HB 4079 (Oppose): This bill would create a 3% sales tax on a range of consumer goods, including clothing, electronics, automobiles and recreational equipment. The revenue this tax generated would fund a monthly stipend for lower-income people even as employers are trying to bring more people into the workforce.
- Update: This bill has died. It was scheduled for a Feb. 8 public hearing but was pulled amid significant pressure.
SB 1524 (Support): This omnibus technical tax modification bill contains elements we support, including the expansion of the rural medical practitioner tax credit and extension of the gain share program.
- Update: In testimony provided during a Feb. 7 hearing, Scott Bruun described the problems the bill would create for pass-through partnerships. They would be required to make a key tax decision eight months earlier than they do now. The bill’s language will now be amended to alleviate this problem. Meanwhile, the bill may be amended to align state and local income tax definitions to ease taxpayer compliance. A Feb. 14 public hearing and work session are scheduled.
SB 1525 (Support): This bill would reconnect Oregon’s tax code to the federal tax code, which is essential for reducing compliance costs and complexity for Oregon taxpayers.
- Update: The Senate approved this bill with a bipartisan vote.
For questions about tax and fiscal policy bills, contact Scott Bruun.
If you’d like to follow the progress of these or other bills yourself, you can do so using the Oregon Legislature’s OLIS site. Information available includes bill text, amendments, hearing schedules and online access, meeting materials and more.