Legislative and Rulemaking Updates
The legislative session will round a corner this week. On April 4, policy bills need to be voted out of committee in their chamber of origin to stay alive. This doesn’t apply to bills in Rules, Revenue, Joint Ways and Means or other joint committees. But for many bills, it’s an important step forward … or not.
To be clear, no concept is ever truly dead until the Legislature adjourns in June, but it’s a strong signal. With more than 2,900 bills introduced this session, the April 4 deadline will provide some clarity about what remains alive and what’s actually in most bills (as opposed to placeholder language). It also should provide a welcome reduction in distractions, allowing stakeholders to manage policy priorities more effectively.
Dead Bills: Several notable bills have died. These include SB 850, which would have required project labor agreements for public works projects valued at $750,000 or higher; SB 925, which would have required employers to publicly post pay ranges on job postings; and HB 2800, which would have amended Oregon’s age discrimination law.
Surviving Bills: Unfortunately, several notable employment and labor bills are still in play. Two that were passed by the House Committee on Business and Labor recently are HB 2057, which would allow employees of subcontractors to file lawsuits against general contractors for unpaid wages; and HB 3471, which would prohibit employers from offering no-rehire provisions in workers’ compensation settlements. They will now go to the House floor, and OBI will continue the fight them.
Outcomes Uncertain: A few bills OBI expected not to move have been scheduled for votes on April 3. HB 3152 would restructure the Public Utilities Commission, effectively making it an environmental regulator rather than an economic regulator. The bill also would eliminate energy efficiency incentives for natural gas customers using ratepayer funds. HB 2816, would require high energy use facilities like data centers to meet a renewable portfolio standard. OBI does not believe there are enough votes to pass these bills out of committee, but we are engaging actively.
Warehouses: Last week, HB 3568 was moved to the House Committee on Rules without a public hearing. The bill would limit employers’ use of performance metrics in specified industries by copying much of the national model for the Warehouse Worker Protection Act. There has been no discussion on this bill to date. While it is still a viable bill because it is in Rules, bills sent there often have a hard road ahead, especially if starting from scratch. OBI is monitoring the bill closely and continues to build a coalition against it.
Insurance: Two bills that would increase insurance costs in Oregon are scheduled for a full House vote this week. OBI expects them to receive party-line votes and will work to defeat them in the Senate. Under HB 3242, insurers could face lawsuits over settlement practices, and under HB 3243 they could face lawsuits under the Oregon Unlawful Trade Practices Act. Another notable insurance bill is dead. Modeled after a policy that had devastating impacts on the insurance market in Washington during its brief existence there, HB 2920 would have banned the use of information like credit scores, occupation, criminal history and other objective factors when setting insurance premium rates in Oregon. The bill would have led to increased insurance premiums for most Oregonians and potentially closed off access to insurance for some of Oregon’s most vulnerable people.
Rent Control: Last week, OBI testified against SB 611, which would exacerbate rent controls for multifamily housing owners and triple the payout owners would be required to provide tenants for any eviction. As noted in our testimony, owners and developers of multifamily and rental housing are not to blame for Oregon’s housing crisis. They did not create the land use and regulatory policies that have contributed to scarcity. Instead, they play a critical role in the solution. Yet, SB 611’s burdens would discourage investment in rental housing. This bill likely will pass out of committee, but we hope it can be stopped in the Joint Ways and Means Committee.
Housing Tax Credit: On a positive note, HB 3302 passed out of the House Committee on Housing and Homelessness unanimously and now heads to the Joint Committee on Tax Expenditures. HB 3302 would create a low-income housing tax credit available to those who invest in new, multifamily affordable housing. It is modeled after the federal low income housing tax credit. This concept is one of OBI’s Growth and Innovation Roadmap items. We are cautiously optimistic that this can pass. And we can’t help but point out the irony of this relative to SB 611, above.
Personal Finance: OBI commented last week on HB 3094, which would require high school students to pass a personal finance course. Many high school students graduate without the knowledge to make well-informed financial decisions. The bill is scheduled for a committee vote on April 3.
Diesel Ban Struggles: SB 803, which would phase out the sale of petroleum diesel, is scheduled for an April 4 committee vote. OBI has testified in opposition to this bill, noting that the supply of renewable diesel is inadequate. Sen. Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, and Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, have been working toward a compromise such as a task force or study on renewable diesel, and a handful of amendments have been posted to that effect. At this point, we do not expect a petroleum diesel ban to pass.
Building Efficiency: Work sessions on SB 868, 869, 870 and 871 were carried over to April 4. These bills are a result of Executive Order 20-04’s direction to evaluate components of state building code to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency and reduce environmental impacts. While significant work has been done to address problematic aspects of these bills, the most recent amendments still would establish problematic energy efficiency requirements for commercial buildings, including hospitals and schools. OBI expects the bills to be moved out of committee for further consideration.
Estate Tax: OBI testified in support of another estate tax bill last week. SB 68 would provide moderate, but important, reform by creating an additional exemption for estates valued up to $4.5 million, and then progressively reducing the exemption amount for estates valued up to $8.5 million. After that, the additional exemption would go away. The bill is intended to assist smaller family businesses and family farms. While OBI supports the full repeal of the estate tax, SB 68 is a step in the right direction. The Legislature will wait until after the May revenue forecast before making final decisions.
Recycling Labels: The Senate Committee on Energy and Environment moved SB 123 to the Senate floor on March 30. The bill would ask producer responsibility organizations (PROs) to develop a plan to create digital labels that educate consumers about the recyclability of packaging. While OBI helped eliminate a proposed requirement to develop digital labels, the bill is not necessary. Nothing prohibits PROs from developing such labeling if it is the right approach. Read OBI’s testimony here.
Rent Control: A bill that would tighten Oregon’s statewide rent-control law received a public hearing March 27. SB 611 would lower allowable annual rent increases to 8% or 3% plus a CPI adjustment, whichever was lower, the Portland Business Journal reported. Increases currently are limited to 7%, plus a CPI adjustment.
DEQ Ouster: Former DEQ Director Richard Whitman resigned abruptly in September, three months before a scheduled retirement. According to The Oregonian, Whitman was forced out after department leaders discovered he was in a relationship with an employee he supervised directly.
H-1B Court Ruling: A federal district court judge ruled on March 28 that the spouses of people who hold H-1B visas may work in the U.S., Bloomberg News reports. Under an Obama-era rule, the Department of Homeland Security issued H-4 visas to the spouses of thousands of H-1B visa holders. About 70% of H-1B visa holders hold science and engineering jobs in the tech sector. The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan of the D.C. Circuit, affirmed the work authorizations for H-4 visa holders.
Measure 110: A bill that would give the Oregon Health Authority a bigger role in distributing addiction funding provided by 2020’s Measure 110 received a hearing on March 28. Measure 110 decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs and has been followed by an increase in property crime and overdose deaths, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, describing the measure’s rollout as “shambolic.”
I-5 Bridge Tolling: Legislation has been introduced in Washington that would allow tolling on the Interstate 5 bridge, The Columbian reports. Toll rates would be set jointly by Washington and Oregon officials and is expected to generate up to $1.6 billion for the bridge replacement project.
Standard Acquisition: The Standard will acquire the life and disability business of Elevance Health and launch a product distribution partnership with the company, the Portland Business Journal reports. The agreement calls for The Standard, an OBI member, to acquire Elevance Health’s life, disability, accidental death and dismemberment, absence management and paid family leave businesses.
Duckwall Fruit Adapts to Shifting Markets, Worker Shortages
The Hood River Valley, which stretches from Mount Hood to the Columbia River, provides a virtually ideal climate for growing pears. As one of Oregon’s most expensive housing markets, however, the valley is less than ideal for sustaining the workforce needed to process the local crop.
But Duckwall Fruit would not be thriving after more than a century without the ability to adapt to challenges, from evolving markets to labor scarcity. Go here to read more about the history and evolution of the company, which is now in its fourth generation of family ownership.
Register for May 17 Annual Meeting
The OBI Annual Meeting will take place May 17 at the Salem Convention Center. The program will begin at 3:30 p.m., to be followed by a reception at 5 p.m.
This year’s Annual Meeting will include a discussion about recent public opinion polling led by John Horvick, senior vice president of DHM Research; an analysis of state and national economic trends by Kat Saunders of Economic Leadership; and an address by a keynote speaker yet to be announced.
The Annual Meeting is a chance for hundreds of our members to get together, hear an organizational update from our board leadership and OBI staff, and network with each other as well as elected officials. Past keynote speakers include A.B. Stoddard of RealClearPolitics and Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers. The 2022 Annual Meeting included a post-primary election forum involving the three leading candidates for governor.
OBI members can register for the Annual Meeting here.
Webinar: Campaign to Defeat Multnomah County Capital Gains Tax
In May, Multnomah County voters will weigh in on Measure 26-238, which would create a 0.75% capital gains tax to provide free legal representation for all tenants facing eviction. If it passes, the measure would further increase what are now some of the highest marginal income taxes in the country. Already, as recent research shows, taxpayers in Multnomah County are relocating in significant numbers to Clark County, Wash.
Join representatives of the opposition campaign, Building Our Future Together, on April 5 to learn more about the tax and the problems its passage would create. The webinar will run from 10-11 a.m. and is open to any OBI member curious about what’s happening even if you don’t live or work in Multnomah County. The OBI PAC Board has endorsed the opposition campaign.
OBI members can register here.
CompSAFE Webinar: Heat and Smoke Rules, One Year In
Oregon’s workplace heat-exposure rules went into effect on June 15, 2022. Companion rules governing exposure to wildfire smoke went into effect weeks later.
Join experts from Oregon Occupational Safety and Health on Thursday, May 18 to learn how the first year under the rules went and hear about potential adjustments. The online webinar will provide a brief refresher on rule requirements, a look back at 2022 and a look ahead to 2023. State experts also will field questions from webinar participants.
The webinar is made possible by OBI’s CompSAFE program, which allows qualifying members to save on workers’ compensation insurance through OBI’s partnership with SAIF, Oregon’s not-for-profit workers’ compensation insurance provider.
The webinar will run from 10-11 a.m. and is open only to OBI members and to invited guests.
OBI members can register here.