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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.