Legislative Session Seeks Groove
The Legislature got into full swing during its second week. Daily schedules have been packed, owing to a combination of limited committee room space (due to the ongoing Capitol construction project) and a proliferation of committees in recent sessions.
So far, more than 2,000 bills have been introduced, of which OBI is currently monitoring over 800. We expect many more to be introduced.
With so many new legislative members this session and a new governor, there isn’t yet a groove to the work, but the general mood remains hopeful … for now. Legislators are generally aligned in focusing on a few major themes, including housing, child care, behavioral health, governance and support for the semiconductor industry. Looming over all of this are significant budget concerns related to a flattening of state revenues and the payout in 2024 of more than $3 billion in kicker refunds. Budget and policy priority conversations will be significantly influenced this week with the coming release of the governor’s recommended budget.
OBI’s Legislative Package
One of OBI’s regulatory reform concepts received a hearing in the Senate Labor and Business Committee on Jan. 24. SB 44 would create the Office of Business Ombuds, a new resource to help businesses navigate myriad challenges within Oregon’s regulatory and permitting environment. Similar in concept to the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate, which OBI worked to pass in 2021, the Office of Business Ombuds would help Oregon businesses that struggle in good faith to understand or meet the state’s complicated regulatory requirements. The office would guide businesses toward compliance and exercise authority to waive penalties. The office would be required to submit biennial reports to the Legislature outlining the state’s most prevalent regulatory compliance challenges and offering recommendations for improvement. Read Scott Bruun’s testimony in support of this bill here.
Key Employment Bill Improvements
Fortunately, this session has not yet included the big, sweeping employment and labor bills that have become commonplace in recent sessions. OBI, however, is working to make two such bills from the past work better for businesses. Sen. Kathleen Taylor, chair of the Senate Labor and Business Committee, pulled together a workgroup (that includes OBI) to work on aligning OFLA and Paid Leave Oregon. Ensuring these laws work well together and that there are appropriate requirements to have programs run concurrently is a top priority for OBI. This work is in its early stages. Another of OBI’s top priorities a permanent exemption for hiring and retention bonuses from Oregon’s equal pay law to ensure employers can hire the workers they need and keep high performing employees. This is a significant issue for employers in a host of industries, including the public sector. A bill will be introduced in the House, and work is under way to strengthen support.
Universal Health Care
SB 704 was scheduled for a hearing Feb. 1 in the Senate Committee on Health Care. However, it was pulled from the agenda late Friday afternoon. Following recommendations from the Universal Health Care (UHC) Task Force, SB 704 would establish a UHC Governing Board. Although it was pulled from this week’s agenda, we expect to see it scheduled again.
RPS for Data Centers/High Electricity Users
This week the House Climate, Energy & Environment Committee will hold a public hearing on HB 2816, setting a renewable portfolio standard specifically for data centers and other high electricity consumers. This bill is problematic for a few reasons: Data centers are not regulated entities that can control the source of the electricity they consume, targeting data centers would compromise economic development in rural communities, and the proposed requirements would hinder implementation of HB 2021, the 100% clean electricity bill passed in the 2021 legislative session.
The House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care will hear bills about opioids on Jan. 30. The opioid epidemic has been considered a federal health emergency since 2017. HB 2833 is included on the agenda and would direct the Oregon Health Authority to develop and maintain an electronic system to collect information about the administration of opioid overdose reversal drugs and opioid overdose deaths. According to the CDC, only one opioid reversal drug is administered for every 70 high dose opioid prescriptions, with rural counties ranking three times lower than metropolitan areas.
Time Off for Public Service
This week the House Business and Labor committee will hear HB 3028, which prohibits an employer from requiring an employee to use paid time off (e.g. vacation time or annual leave) for time the employee spends “in service as an appointed member of a board, commission, council or committee created by statute.” It further states that employers must allow an employee the opportunity to use leave without pay and may not discharge, threaten or coerce an employee who does. The bill contains no sideboards on overall length or what “in service” means. The bill also creates a private right of action.
More than a dozen bills have been introduced (so far) that would reduce or eliminate Oregon’s estate tax. Oregon is one of only 12 states with an estate tax and is tied with Massachusetts for the lowest exemption level ($1 million). OBI has long supported efforts to reduce or eliminate the state’s estate tax burden to ensure the long-term viability of family businesses, mitigate financial impacts on grieving families and slow or stop the exodus of capital. OBI testified in support of SB 498, one such bill and the first to have a hearing this session and will continue to fight for this relief.
Statewide Tolling RAC
Last Friday, ODOT held its inaugural meeting of the Statewide Tolling Rulemaking Advisory Committee. The meeting was largely an introduction to tolling and provided information on tolling authorities established by the Legislature and the intent of the rulemaking. Sharla Moffett sits on this RAC and will advocate for OBI’s position, which is that tolling must be project-specific and result in a tangible expansion or improvement of transportation infrastructure.
Third Party Food Delivery
There is an effort to permanently regulate how food delivery companies operate statewide. Following the city of Portland’s lead, HB 2536 would reinstate the now-defunct statewide cap on the delivery fees third party delivery companies may charge at 15% and create a private right of action. The bill currently sits in House Business and Labor.
On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee heard SB 424, which would prohibit colleges and universities based in Oregon from refusing to provide transcripts to current or former students because they owe money to the institutions. We submitted comments in support of the bill.
The Joint Committee on Semiconductors met Wednesday evening. OBI’s Scott Bruun testified in support of critical incentives contained in OBI’s Growth and Innovation Roadmap, including a research and development tax credit. OBI board member Mariah Robbins of A-dec also testified, emphasizing the value of tax incentives to all manufacturers. Bruun’s testimony begins at 1:15:40 on this recording, and Robbins’ begins at 1:11:20.