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U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Key Homelessness Case

On Jan. 12, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving a controversial Ninth Circuit ruling that limits the ability of cities to prohibit camping on public property.

In 2018, the Ninth Circuit ruled in Martin v. Boise that municipalities can’t enforce anti-camping or disorderly conduct ordinances against homeless people unless they have enough shelter beds for their entire homeless populations. That decision has severely limited the ability of jurisdictions in the western United States to manage the effects of homelessness.

This case was filed initially in 2013 as a class action brought by advocates for homeless people against Grants Pass, which at the time was enforcing the city’s anti-camping ordinances. As cities have struggled to manage homelessness in the years since, public camping has gained prominence as a political and legal issue. Last year, Portland adopted a daytime camping ban scheduled to go into effect in November. However, a Multnomah County Circuit Court ruling halted the ban just days before it was due to go into effect.

While it will be some time before the Supreme Court issues a ruling (likely June or July 2025), it will be one awaited eagerly by cities across Oregon and throughout the United States.

Free-Market Group Opens Oregon Chapter; OBI CEO on Board

The Common Sense Institute, a Colorado-based nonprofit that supports free-enterprise principles, launched an Oregon chapter on Jan. 18. OBI President and CEO Angela Wilhelms will serve on the Oregon chapter board.

The nonpartisan organization was founded in 2010 by business and community leaders concerned about the partisan tenor of policymaking in Colorado. CSI develops data-driven policy analyses, including recent reports on men’s labor force participation in Colorado, the 20-year transformation of the state budget, and the impact of commercial property taxes, to name just a few.

CSI’s Oregon chapter will be its fourth. In addition to Colorado, it operates in Arizona and Iowa, whose chapter also launched on Jan. 18. The institute has affiliates in Indiana and Utah.

“I’m thrilled that CSI is coming to Oregon,” said Wilhelms in a press release announcing the chapter’s opening. “The sound, thoughtful research CSI is known for is exactly what we need in Oregon to help guide policy. Our state is at an inflection point, and we need all the tools we can get to inform a robust, fact-based public debate about economic and fiscal policy.”

Feb. 2 Webinar: Legislative Session Preview

Oregon’s 2024 legislative session will begin on Feb. 5 and end no later than March 10. During those 35 days, legislators are expected to address Measure 110, which decriminalized the use of hard drugs and affects related addiction and behavioral health issues; consider significant funding and policy changes to spur housing construction; discuss the state’s complex education funding formula, and much more.

OBI, meanwhile, hopes to see progress on several important issues, including economic development and adjustments to Oregon’s pay-equity law that would make it easier for employers to hire and retain workers.

Join members of OBI’s government affairs and political affairs teams on Friday, Feb. 2, for a preview of the 2024 session. The webinar will run from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and allow plenty of time for questions.

Go here to register.

Jan. 25 Webinar: Q&A with Treasurer Tobias Read

On Jan. 25, Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read will join OBI Political Affairs Director Preston Mann to discuss his campaign to become Oregon’s next secretary of state. Read announced in September that he would seek the Democratic nomination for the state’s second highest elective office. The secretary of state oversees elections and audits as well as the Corporations Division. The office holder also replaces the governor should she or he leave office early.

Read was elected treasurer in 2016 and won re-election in 2020. He is prohibited by term limits from seeking re-election. Prior to serving as treasurer, Read represented Beaverton for a decade in the state House of Representatives.

The webinar will run from 10-11 a.m. Following introductory remarks, Read will answer questions from webinar attendees.

Go here to register.

Policy and Rulemaking Update

Tax Legislation: An omnibus tax bill concept (LC 169) has been introduced that addresses key OBI priorities. It would allow trusts to participate in the state program that allows pass-through entities (PTEs) a tax workaround to the federal state and local tax (SALT) deduction limit of $10,000. It would reauthorize the state’s industrial site readiness program, which is designed to help local jurisdictions transform zoned industrial land into usable industrial land. OBI will work to amend the base omnibus tax bill during the 2024 session to provide further flexibility for PTE partners to use the SALT workaround. OBI also will seek an amendment to prohibit local jurisdictions from disclosing confidential taxpayer information, which recently has recently become a potential problem in Portland (see next item).

Tax Confidentiality: OBI is working to address the potential disclosure of tax information at the local level. A current issue in Portland regarding the disclosure of information involving businesses that pay the retail sales tax supporting the Portland Clean Energy Fund would, if more information is released, make Portland the only jurisdiction in the nation that releases such information. The background: Oregon Public Broadcasting submitted a public records request to the city of Portland requesting disclosure of detailed information relating to payments of this tax. The city declined the request. OPB appealed the city’s decision to the Multnomah County district attorney, and OBI and the Portland Metro Chamber filed comments in opposition to the disclosure. The district attorney ruled that the identity of taxpayers can be disclosed, as can the amounts paid, though identities and amounts should not be linked. While this address part of the issue, it is not sufficient and goes against precedent across the country. OBI is working with legislative leaders on a statutory clarification to ensure local jurisdictions are treated the same as the state. Taxpayer confidentiality should be protected in Portland just as it is in every other jurisdiction in the country.

Child Care: In 2023, HB 3005 created a $50 million fund to help child care providers establish or expand operations in the state. Concerns began to surface during implementation, however, that legal and logistical roadblocks were preventing in-home and small child care providers from accessing the money. LC 50 would address this problem by establishing a $5 million Home and Small Center Child Care Fund. Because the money would come from the general fund rather than lottery bonds, as was the case with HB 3005, access to funding would be more straightforward for in-home and small child care providers.

Pay Equity Fix: During the 2024 session, OBI will lead a broad coalition of public and private employers seeking a simple but critical change to Oregon’s pay equity law. A negotiated agreement was reached during the 2023 session, but the bill was scuttled during the waning days. This change sought by OBI and others would give employers more flexibility in recruiting and retaining the workers they need. Currently, the law prohibits employers from paying different amounts to two workers who perform similar tasks unless warranted by one or more specified factors, including merit, training and experience. Unlike all other states with pay equity laws, Oregon does not allow employers to pay certain workers more in response to outside economic factors. Without greater flexibility, Oregon employers will continue to lose employees to neighboring states. These include employees the Legislature needs to make good on planned investments in behavioral health, the criminal defense system and housing production.

Education Funding: In the wake of the Portland Association of Teachers’ strike, and as contract negotiations occurred in other school districts, Gov. Kotek vowed in November to examine school funding and increase transparency. Some of the concepts unveiled by the Senate Education Committee during this month’s Legislative Days would do just that. LC 219, for example, would require the Legislative Policy and Research Office to conduct a study of the state’s education funding system. We expect this work to inform significant education funding reform legislation for the 2025 legislative session.

Housing Bill: Gov. Tina Kotek has made housing her key focus for the upcoming legislative session, demonstrated by the sole bill she plans to introduce calling for a $500 million drive to create more housing (The Oregonian). Days earlier, the governor’s housing production council suggested that massive tax increases could be necessary to achieve the governor’s housing production goal of 36,000 new homes a year (The Oregonian).

Notable News

House Speaker: Democrats in the Oregon House are planning to make a highly unusual decision on the evening of Jan. 22: Who should be the state’s next powerful House speaker once the February legislative session is wrapped up? In a move that bucks the normal timeline for leadership elections, Democrats are hoping to solidify their choice for speaker ahead of the session that convenes Feb. 5. Current Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, has said he’ll preside over the 35-day session (Oregon Public Broadcasting).

Homeless Tax: On Jan. 16, the Metro Council greenlighted the formation of an independent panel to study shifting a big chunk of money from the 2020 supportive housing services measure to building more affordable housing (Willamette Week).

Unemployment Funds: The Oregon Employment Department wants to transfer $45 million from the state fund that pays jobless benefits over the next few years to shore up the agency’s funding and boost its flagging customer service (The Oregonian).

Health Care Contract: Providence Health & Services and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon have finalized a contract that will keep Providence in network for patients with Regence insurance (The Oregonian).

Dutch Bros: Dutch Bros announced Jan. 17 it will expand its corporate offices to Phoenix. In doing so, it plans to move 40% of its total support staff from its Grants Pass home to Arizona (Portland Business Journal).

Mattress Recycling: State regulators have hit the snooze button on efforts to establish a statewide mattress-recycling program in Oregon. The Department of Environmental Quality has rejected a plan from the Mattress Recycling Council. The agency cited concerns about outreach to rural and marginalized communities. It also asked for a more detailed budget and for more information about how mattresses contaminated with bed bugs or other substances would be handled (Oregon Public Broadcasting).

Port Request: The Port of Portland has requested $10 million in one-time state funding to help cover financial losses at Oregon’s only international shipping container terminal, which imports and exports products worldwide (Oregon Capital Chronicle).

Kombucha Maker: Central Oregon beverage maker Humm Kombucha has been acquired by a California-based group. SYSTM Foods bought the brand to add to its functional beverage portfolio, which includes protein drink brand REBBL and Chameleon Organic Coffee. The new owner plans to keep the company’s Bend manufacturing facility (Portland Business Journal).

Walmart Site: Portland investors have bought the former Walmart at Eastport Plaza for $20 million and plan to turn it into a Hong Phat Supercenter. Walmart closed that location in March 2023 (Portland Business Journal).

New Independent Contractor Rules Could Spark Lawsuits

On Jan. 10, the U.S. Department of Labor published a new rule governing the classification of independent contractors. The rule, which rescinds a 2021 independent contractor rule, could create an upsurge in misclassification lawsuits and dissuade businesses from hiring gig workers, say legal experts interviewed by human resources nonprofit SHRM.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, independent contractors aren’t entitled to minimum wage, overtime pay and other benefits enjoyed by employees, notes SHRM. However, independent contractors enjoy greater flexibility and can set their own schedules.

Under the rescinded 2021 rule, two core factors – control over work and opportunity for profit and loss – carried enhanced weight. The new rule requires employers to use a “totality-of-the-circumstances” analysis in which no factor has enhanced weight, according to SHRM.

Critics of the new rule, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that it pushes employers to classify more independent contractors as employees. This shift, says the chamber, “will decrease flexibility and opportunity and result in lost earning opportunities for millions of Americans.”

The Small Business Legal Center of the National Federation of Independent Businesses believes that the revised classification test will produce more frequent worker misclassifications, leading to frivolous lawsuits.

SHRM, meanwhile, believes that the new test will require more time and resources to apply and create confusion for employers. It offers tips for human resources professionals in this article.

Jan. 31 Webinar: U.S. Chamber Small Business Update

On Wednesday, Jan. 31, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley will discuss the state of small business in 2024 and highlight topics and issues every small business owner should be aware of including:

  • regulatory issues affecting small businesses
  • 2024 economic outlook and trends
  • updates on ongoing challenges and issues affecting small businesses
  • the thriving startup boom and how entrepreneurs can leverage resources available to help start, run and grow their businesses.

The webinar will begin at 9 a.m. PST. Go here to register.

OBI Member Rogers Machinery Company Celebrates 75th Anniversary

Congratulations to OBI member Rogers Machinery Company, Inc., which is celebrating its 75th year in business. Rogers Machinery Company is a pioneer in the manufacture of compressor and vacuum systems.

The Portland-based company was founded in 1949 by Ned Rogers and Walter Novak, who served together aboard the U.S.S. Reno during World War II. It manufactures its own oil-free and oil-lubricated compressor lines and offers products and services from many other recognized names in the compressed air, vacuum and pumping industries.

The Rogers Machinery Company has branches in 13 states.

Learn more here.

Check Out OBI’s Member Benefits

OBI offers members a range of programs that can save money or help small businesses offer benefits normally available only to much larger companies. Benefit programs include:

  • HR Compliance Manuals: Help members comply with the rapidly changing world of employment laws and regulations through our partnership with hrsimple.
  • HealthChoice: Helps businesses with fewer than 100 employees offer comprehensive health-care benefits through our partnership with Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon.
  • CompSAFE: Helps eligible companies enjoy workers’ compensation discounts through SAIF Corporation.
  • Fuel Program: Helps members save fuel costs through our partnership with Ed Staub & Sons.
  • ODP Business Solutions: Helps OBI members save money on office furniture, supplies and other services.
  • LegalPLUS: OBI members receive 15 minutes of free legal consulting per month from Innova Legal Advisors.

Go here to learn about all of OBI’s member benefits.