Oregon Political News
Much of the political drama in Oregon this week continued to originate in Olympia thanks to a proposal in the Washington Legislature to apply a 6-cent tax to every gallon of exported fuel. Oregon would be the most heavily affected state, as 90 percent of the fuel sold here is refined in Washington.
Tension between Washington and Oregon began to build last week. A pair of Oregon lawmakers testified in opposition to the tax, OBI President and CEO Angela Wilhelms wrote a column urging Gov. Brown and state lawmakers to fight back, and Brown herself tweeted her dissatisfaction. The governor has since followed up with an op-ed urging Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to put the proposal “back on the shelf.”
This week, governors and legislators in Alaska and Idaho continued to turn up the heat. The Idaho House of Representatives passed a joint memorial urging Inslee to veto the tax. Here in Oregon, Angela Wilhelms forwarded Idaho’s resolution to Speaker of the House Dan Rayfield and Senate President Peter Courtney and asked them to introduce a similar piece of legislation.
In Washington, meanwhile, the tax proposal continues to advance. Having passed the state Senate last week, it squeaked through a Washington House committee Tuesday on a party-line vote. Inslee supports it.
In Other News:
In Other News:
The Oregon Health Authority announced Thursday that its indoor mask mandate for businesses and public spaces will end March 19. OHA had announced earlier this month that the mandate would end no later than March 31 and could expire sooner if COVID-related hospitalizations fell below 400. The mandate will now expire on March 19 even if hospitalizations dip below 400 before then. Meanwhile, the state’s permanent COVID rule governing workplaces, adopted in December, remains in effect. OBI has joined many other business organizations in urging the state to repeal this rule, for which there is no longer a need.
Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday that she would lift the COVID emergency declaration effective April 1. This date is significant in the context of SB 1514 (see below), which would extend a key pay equity exemption for employers 180 days beyond the end of the emergency declaration.
Oregon gubernatorial candidate March Thielman resigned his position as superintendent of the Alsea School District Feb. 22. Thielman’s relationship with teachers and staff reportedly became strained following a January board decision, which he supported, making masking in schools optional. Thielman is one of 16 Republicans who have filed for the May primary.
It appears that a bill that would give Oregon lawmakers a raise may violate the state’s pay-equity law. According to Willamette Week, the potential problem involves an amendment that would provide child-care subsidies for members with kids under 13. These subsidies would violate law’s requirement that employers provide equal pay for equal work, Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson has advised. Despite the legal opinion, the Senate Rules Committee voted Feb. 22 to adopt the amendment and send to the bill to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
Legislative Week in Review
Below are updates on major bills on which the policy team has been engaged.
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.
- Update: The bill cleared the Senate Education Committee and was referred to the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee, where a public hearing was held Feb. 16. The bill had not been scheduled for further action as of Feb. 24
HB 4124 (Watch): This bipartisan bill would require the Department of Education to review how districts administer student assessments, then recommend best practices.
- Update: This bill moved out of the Joint Ways and Means Committee Feb. 23 and will head to the House floor for a vote.
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: An amendment was adopted Feb. 23 that includes industry associations as collaborative partners. The amended bill was passed by the Joint Ways and Means Committee Feb. 24 and will head to the Senate floor for a vote. By adding industry associations, the amendment allows workforce providers and community-based organizations to partner with industry associations to develop and administer workforce-ready grants in targeted industries. This partially addresses a concern shared by OBI and others about the fact that businesses are unable to apply for grant funds directly. This would be a problem, as the bill ostensibly addresses a workforce emergency. On Feb. 8, Morgan Beltz shared OBI’s concerns with this and other aspects of the bill.
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: As of late this week, this bill was sitting in the Joint Ways and Means Committee and no action had been scheduled. The longer it sits in this committee, the slimmer its prospects for passage become. Earlier this session, OBI submitted a joint letter of support with the Oregon Business Council and the CTE-STEM Employer Council.
For questions about education and workforce bills, contact Morgan Beltz.
SB 1530 (Oppose): This bill would require health insurance coverage for 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: As of late this week, the bill was still sitting in the Senate Rules Committee, where it arrived Feb. 15. The longer it sits in committee, the slimmer its chances of passage become. At a Feb. 9 hearing, Morgan Beltz shared OBI’s concern that the bill’s costly fertility mandate would compromise employers’ ability to offer other benefits that would better address the needs of their employees. You can watch Beltz’s testimony here at 1:01:07.
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: As of late this week, the bill was in the Joint Ways and Means Committee’s Capital Construction Subcommittee, where it awaited further amendment. It was scheduled for a work session on Feb. 25. Prior to its arrival in the committee, an amendment had been discussed that would change the bill’s focus to the Medicaid determination process and allow additional time 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.
For questions about health care bills, contact Morgan Beltz.
Employment and Labor
HB 4157 (Watching): This bill directs the Department of Revenue to provide one-time payments to low-income families to address the economic impacts of the COVID pandemic.
- Update: This bill was scheduled for a work session in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means on Feb. 24. It is expected to clear the committee and land on the House floor for a vote. Legislators expect that payments will reach recipients no later than July.
HB 4002 (Oppose as Introduced): This bill would remove the long-standing agricultural exemption from overtime. Farmers and ranchers 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: On Feb. 24, the the newly formed Joint Farm Worker Overtime Committee discussed the latest version of the bill and heard several hours of testimony from farmers urging them to reject it. The committee then approved the bill with only Democratic votes. The amended bill would phase in overtime payments after an employee had worked a certain number of hours each week. In 2023 and 2024, employers would pay overtime for hours in excess of 55 per week. In 2025 and 2026, they would pay overtime for hours in excess of 48 per week. And starting in 2027, employers would pay overtime for hours in excess of 40 per week. The bill also would establish refundable tax credits for agricultural employers required to pay overtime. The tax credits generally favor smaller employers and dairies and decrease over time. Previously, OBI had 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.
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: This bill was sent to the Senate Rules Committee this week, and it has not been scheduled for any action. As it sits in the committee, its chances of passage shrink. Senate Republicans have offered a minority report proposing a task force to study the issue. OBI supports the creation of a task that includes employers, who were not included in the group that developed the bill as introduced. Paloma Sparks shared OBI’s concerns during a Feb. 7 hearing. Her testimony begins at 22:28 here.
SB 1513 (Neutral): This bill, as introduced, 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: The House approved the bill on Feb. 24, and it now heads to the governor for her signature. The original bill was improved by the adoption of an amendment that replaced the mandatory two-week notice with a five-day notice. Another improvement involves enforceability, which will be done through the Bureau of Labor and Industries. There will be no private right of action. Previously, Paloma Sparks shared OBI’s concerns during a Feb. 3 hearing. You can hear her testimony here at 1:35:45.
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: This bill was scheduled for a House floor vote on Feb. 24. Previously, the Senate Committee on Business and Labor adopted an amendment extending the delay described above for an additional 180 days. The Senate approved the bill Feb. 16. Paloma Sparks testified in support of the bill Feb. 21 before the House Business and Labor Committee. You can watch her testimony here at 38:30.
SB 1586 (Neutral): This bill, as introduced, 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: A House floor vote on an amended and improved version of the bill was scheduled for Feb. 24. Earlier the bill passed the Senate with amendments that eliminated some of the original version’s most damaging components. Unfortunately, the amended bill does not allow employers to require the inclusion of settlement amounts in nondisclosure agreements. However, this issue may be negotiated by employers and employees. Overall, the bill is much better than the version that was introduced, and OBI is now neutral. Paloma Sparks described some of the original bill’s problems during a Feb. 8 hearing. Listen to her testimony 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 pseudoephedrine 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: The bill was scheduled for action Feb. 24 in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, and it was expected to head to the House floor for a vote shortly thereafter. Earlier, it absorbed beneficial components of a separate bill, 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: This bill passed the House Committee on Business and Labor this week, and we expect it to land on the House floor soon. It will then go to the Senate for concurrence on an amendment that exempts businesses that require memberships. Earlier amendments exempt gas stations and various other businesses. However, its fundamental problems remain. Paloma Sparks pointed out the bill’s flaws during a Feb. 8 hearing. You can watch her testimony here at 1:12:10.
For questions about retail bills, contact Paloma Sparks.
- Update: Given short timelines and the complexity of these proposals, it seems unlikely that they will move forward this session. 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 1518 (Oppose): As introduced, this bill would have allowed local jurisdictions to adopt the state’s “Reach” code, an optional energy construction standard designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By allowing municipalities to mandate a currently optional standard, the bill would have created a patchwork of codes across the state.
- Update: OBI joined 17 organizations in opposing the bill, since it would have resulted in confusion and increased costs. The Senate Energy and Environment Committee has converted the bill to a task force that will identify and evaluate building code policies for decarbonizing new and existing buildings and make policy recommendations. The bill was scheduled for a Feb. 24 work session in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
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: The bill was scheduled for a Feb. 24 work session in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, at which no significant changes were expected. Previously, the bill was amended to include a reasonableness provision for mitigation measures required by DEQ.
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: It appears that this bill will receive no further action this session. No attempt was made to move the bill out of the House Transportation Committee amid concerns about what truck manufacturers should be expected to do to comply with the mandate. Sharla Moffett had testified in opposition to this bill Feb. 3. Her testimony begins at 1:08:50 here.
HB 4141 (Oppose): This bill, as introduced, 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: The bill’s mandate has been eliminated, and legislators are moving ahead with a work group to study fuel supply and pricing. Sharla Moffett testified in opposition to the bill on Feb. 15. Her testimony begins at 45:17 here. Written testimony can be found here.
For questions about transportation bills, contact Sharla Moffett.
Tax and Fiscal Policies
HB 4092 (Support): The bill modernizes the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council, which would be a valuable change given the fact that the council will soon help direct the use of more than $100 million in federal funds.
- Update: The bill cleared the Joint Committee on Ways and Means’ General Government Subcommittee. It is expected to pass the full committee and move toward passage.
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: The Senate approved this bill Feb. 22, and it now awaits the governor’s signature. Scott Bruun testified twice in support of this bill, most recently on Feb. 17. You can see his Feb. 17 testimony here, beginning at 59:50.
SB 1524 (Support): This omnibus technical tax modification bill contains elements OBI supports, including the expansion of the rural medical practitioner tax credit and extension of the gain share program.
- Update: The Senate Finance Committee adopted amendments that contain minor changes on Feb. 23. The bill includes important components supported by OBI, which also pointed out flaws in the original legislation. 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 was then amended to alleviate the problem. The bill also was amended to align state and local income tax definitions to ease taxpayer compliance.
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 bill is expected to hit the House floor for a vote this week. Scott Bruun has provided verbal (at 22:35 here) and written testimony in support of the bill.
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.