Oregon turns 164 years old on Tuesday, Feb. 14. That means the Beaver State has more years under its belt than the Idaho Legislature has bills before it. It’s hard not be envious. As of a few days ago, 133 bills had been introduced in the Idaho Legislature and 1,475 in the Washington Legislature. Compare that to the 2,290 introduced in Oregon, with another week left for bill introductions. Of course, not all of these bills will move. But the sheer volume makes for a lot of reading, researching and tracking.
After the measure introduction deadline of Feb. 21, the next major milestone is April 4, when bills need to be voted out of committee in their chamber of origin. Bills in policy committees need to be sent to the Senate or House for passage or head to one of the few committees where deadlines like these don’t apply (Revenue, Rules, Ways & Means or another joint committee).
DEQ Director Selected
The Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) voted unanimously on Feb. 10 to appoint Leah Feldon as the new director of Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The other finalist was Jamie McLeod-Skinner. OBI was invited to observe interviews with the two finalists and provide feedback directly to the EQC in an executive session. OBI supported the selection of Feldon, who has served in many capacities, including as deputy director and interim director, over her 17-year career at DEQ. Given the challenges with permit backlogs and implementation of complicated new regulatory programs, it is critical that the new director have an understanding of the agency and its stakeholders.
Two more of OBI’s regulatory reform bills will get a public hearing on Feb. 14. SB 38 would prohibit DEQ from moving permitting goal posts and require the agency to issue permits based on the rules in effect at the time a permit application is submitted. Pending permit applications are often held up months to years, because new requirements are added after the permit application has been filed. This causes businesses to redo lengthy environmental analysis and results in a protracted permitting process. SB 42 calls for greater fiscal and economic assessment of proposed rules. Current analyses are often incomplete if not inaccurate, and SB 42 would augment fiscal impact statements and require third party verification of economic analyses in certain circumstances.
R&D Tax Credit
Another piece of OBI’s Growth and Innovation Roadmap, SB 255, also has a hearing on Feb. 14. SB 255 would create an R&D tax credit in Oregon similar to the highly successful credit in Arizona. Oregon is one of only 12 states without this type of credit and it would be enormously helpful in restoring our economic development competitiveness and positioning activity in Oregon to secure CHIPS Act investments. Importantly, though, the bill is not limited to the semiconductor industry.
The House Climate, Energy & Environment Committee will hold a public hearing Feb. 15 on HB 2396, which would give DEQ broad authority to regulate indirect sources of emissions like retailers, schools, hospitals, ports, construction sites and others. The program could require indirect sources to carry out costly air modeling and obtain permits to operate. Air quality activists petitioned the EQC to regulate indirect sources in 2019, which was unanimously denied. A bill similar HB 2396 was considered in the 2021 session but died. OBI actively opposes this bill and will offer testimony on Feb. 15.
Last week, Derek Sangston testified on two bills that would harm businesses in Oregon. HB 2800, which would alter the definition of “age” for discrimination claims under Oregon law, encountered opposition because of the impacts it would have on both private and public employers. After the hearing, several legislators acknowledged the significant unintended consequences, not just on hiring, but on promotions, retention and terminations as well. The second bill on which Derek testified is SB 418, which would substantially alter Oregon’s workers’ compensation system. It would require employers to provide paid leave to workers for medical appointments after the workers’ comp. system cleared them to return to work. OBI and other stakeholders argued that the bill would violate two key tenets of Oregon’s workers’ comp. system, that it is a no-fault system and that the system is the exclusive remedy for workplace injuries. OBI is now working with the concept’s proponents on a potential compromise.
On Feb. 14, the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment will hear three bills that would (i) bar restaurants from using Styrofoam containers, (ii) task the Department of Environmental Quality with unrealistically reducing single-use food ware and packaging in Oregon, and (iii) permit customers to use their own to-go containers. OBI opposes each of these because of the unnecessary burden on businesses, ultimate cost transfer to consumers, potential liability, and because Oregon is in the middle of rulemaking from the passage of the Recycling Modernization Act in 2021. The one-off measures described above will likely delay the implementation of that bill.
Scott Bruun testified Feb. 6 on two bills that would extend the sunset dates for Oregon’s enterprise zone and rural enterprise zone programs. SB 134 and SB 135, respectively, are important for Oregon’s competitiveness, especially given that nearly every other state has an enterprise zone program. Most states also have tax credit programs relating to wages and training, capital expenditures and research and development, which Oregon does not. That makes our enterprise zone programs even more critical. Read Scott’s testimony on SB 134 here and SB 135 here.
The Joint Committee on Transportation continues to hold informational sessions on topics such as electrification of the transportation sector. Last week, the committee held public hearings on SB 431 to fund reconstruction of the Hood River-White Salmon bridge and SB 815 to fund Bridge of the Gods repairs. Both bills are broadly supported, including by OBI.
Scott Bruun testified Feb. 9 on HB 2624, which would double the current estate tax exemption level from $1 million to $2 million and index this level for inflation going forward. This would make Oregon’s estate tax comparable to Washington state’s and perhaps help stem the flow of capital migrating out of Oregon. OBI will continue to work with other stakeholders to educate lawmakers about the importance of this relatively modest adjustment.
SB 569 would require every business in Oregon with TVs in a public area to display closed captioning. While OBI and its members care about providing fair and equal access to their customers, OBI provided testimony focused on making the bill more closely align with a similar law in Washington state and providing flexibility to businesses when TVs are muted in restaurants or electronics stores.