legislative session 2

Feb. 22 marked the half-way point of the 2024 session, which must end on or before March 10. Many speculate that legislators will try to end on Friday, March 8. Internal legislative deadlines have driven a fast pace in this short session. Many bills died on Feb. 19, the deadline for bills assigned to policy committees in their chamber of origin to pass out of those committees. Many bills survived, either because they were indeed passed as required or they were in (or sent to) a committee exempt from those deadlines. Several key bills for OBI are in these exempt committees. There is a different rhythm and tempo at this point of the session as most of the meat-and-potatoes committee work has been completed and legislators are spending an increasing amount of time on more complicated issues or on the floors of both chambers debating bills.

Measure 110 Reform

One of the Legislature’s stated goals this session is to reform Measure 110 so communities can respond to Oregon’s drug crisis, which has caused homelessness to explode statewide, exacerbated urban crime and led to a 41% increase in overdose deaths from 2022-23. The first drafts of the bill, HB 4002, were widely panned by law enforcement, local governments and business leaders for being too weak to get people off the streets and into treatment. Many viewed imposing only a class C misdemeanor, which would carry a maximum of only 30 days in jail for possession of hard drugs, as only slightly more effective than current law at moving offenders into treatment. The newest draft of HB 4002 will receive a public hearing on Monday, Feb. 26. This version would end Oregon’s drug decriminalization experiment and impose a new “unclassified” misdemeanor that would carry a jail sentence of up to six months for drug possession. It also would recognize the voters’ supposed intent to establish a health response to the crisis by offering offenders 18 months of probation instead of forcing them to enter the criminal justice system immediately. This would ensure offenders have multiple chances to complete treatment. With those changes, along with provisions making it easier to prosecute drug dealers and significant investments in behavioral health services, law enforcement and local governments are widely believed to be in support of the bill. OBI believes that changes to Measure 110 must give law enforcement and communities the tools they need to combat Oregon’s drug crisis. OBI will support the newest draft of HB 4002, which creates those tools.

Taxpayer Confidentiality

OBI believes that state law must state clearly that the public disclosure of taxpayer information is prohibited at both the state and local levels in Oregon. The issue arose following of a recent public records request for taxpayer information in Portland. The city denied the request, and the issue is currently tied up in litigation. OBI is leading the effort to pass amendments to HB 4031 to clarify the existing prohibitions against public disclosure of taxpayer information. It is important for the Legislature to act this session. The amendments received a public hearing last week, and OBI expects an informational hearing this week prior to a vote. OBI is optimistic this bill will move this session.

Daylight Savings

SB 1548, which would establish standard time in Oregon year-round, passed unanimously out of a Senate committee Feb. 15. The bill fared less well when it went to the full Senate for a vote, failing on Feb. 20 by a 15-15 vote. The split was bipartisan, with Democrats and Republicans on both sides. Arguments in favor focused primarily on the perceived health benefits and convenience of not changing clocks twice a year. Arguments in opposition focused almost exclusively on the challenges of being out of sync with neighboring states and the potential ramifications for travel, border businesses, and employees and customers who commute across state lines. After dying on the Senate floor, the bill was sent to the Senate Rules Committee, where amendments were introduced that would move Oregon to permanent standard time only when California and Washington did the same. SB 1548 is scheduled for a vote in that committee Feb. 27.

Medical Practice

OBI is closely monitoring HB 4130A, which seeks to strengthen Oregon’s Corporate Practice of Medicine (CPOM) doctrine to ensure that medical professionals control the operation of medical practices. On Feb. 19, the -6 amendment dropped just prior to the work session in the House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care. The committee adopted the amendment and sent the bill to the House floor, where it was approved 42-12. (OBI is told that several legislators voted “yes” only to move the bill forward in hope that it would receive needed fixes in the Senate.) While the -6 amendment addressed concerns raised by OBI and the Secretary of State’s Office about the compliance process and administrative dissolution of corporations, the amendment created new concerns. The sponsor has clearly indicated an intention to give affected practices seven years to comply before enforcement action can kick in. However, language in the -6 amendment would open them up to enforcement immediately if the secretary of state so chose. OBI has flagged the problem and will work on it in the Senate. Until then, OBI is back to being opposed.

Canola Farming

HB 4059 passed the House and is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Natural Resources and Wildfire Committee this week. OBI had concerns about the bill and several amendments due to tight restrictions and punitive enforcement fines on canola crops. Ultimately, the -9 amendment was adopted, reverting to current regulatory restrictions on canola crops with a sunset in 2028. While the amendment does not resolve the overall concern about limiting canola production, it avoids inappropriate, permanent regulation on canola until a reasonable, comprehensive solution can be found. OBI was concerned in part that the bill went significantly beyond recommendations by the Oregon Department of Agriculture canola work group and had no scientific basis. OBI objected more broadly to the bill’s potential impact on other genetically engineered (GE) agricultural products since there is global scientific support for GE crops and their role in meeting future food production needs. OBI filed testimony opposing the bill.

Hazardous Materials

HB 4044 requires the Department of Environmental Quality to conduct a study on earthquake-induced inhalation risks statewide. It is modeled after a study commissioned by Multnomah County and authored by Portland State University last fall. Although the potential impacts described in the report are serious and earthquake preparedness is critical, the report shows significant fear-based bias and raises more questions than it answers. The bill is clearly intended to gather information for future regulation at industrial and manufacturing facilities, which would add significant compliance costs. Ironically, facilities that use highly hazardous substances are regulated already by the EPA’s Risk Management Program. OBI testified against the bill and has met with bill sponsor to discuss its concerns. The sponsor insists that the study is needed, and OBI will seek to reframe the study, eliminate bias and narrow the scope so the resulting report is balanced and useful. The bill has been sitting in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means for several weeks, and its chances of moving are unknown.