Hiring, Retention Bonuses
On March 13, the House Committee on Business and Labor will hear testimony from a coalition of employers – both public and private – in support of HB 3205, OBI’s proposal to exempt hiring and retention bonuses from Oregon’s Equal Pay Act. Due to the restrictions imposed by the Equal Pay Act, Oregon employers are struggling to recruit employees and keep their current employees from accepting jobs in other states – especially Washington. Oregon is the only state with these types of restrictions. Employers need the flexibility to offer hiring and retention bonuses, especially given workforce shortages.\
Beer, Wine Tax Hike
OBI has been advised that an amendment to HB 3312 is forthcoming. The base bill is a placeholder “study bill,” and the purported amendment would impose an approximately 1,200% increase in beer and cider taxes and a more than a 500% increase in wine taxes. The increases would reach those levels over five years. The bill is the House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care, where it likely has the votes to pass. From there, it has a subsequent referral to the House Revenue Committee, where its path is much less certain. Given the extraordinary damage these tax increases would do to Oregon’s beer and wine producers, distributors, bars and restaurants, OBI will strongly oppose the bill. Such increases would require a three-fifths vote of both legislative chambers, so the ultimate chance of passage is minimal.
The Senate Committee on Judiciary heard testimony on the organized retail crime package on March 8. This package would establish and fund new tools for law enforcement, prosecutors and private loss prevention units to combat organized retail crime throughout the state. The bills – SB 318 and SB 340 – were well received, and there was no opposition testimony submitted to the record. Another part of that package, SB 900, which would provide $5 million to bolster local retail theft enforcement operations, will have a public hearing March 15.
SB 85 was introduced as a placeholder. The substance has now been issued through the -1 amendment, which would prohibit the renewal or issuance of permits for confined animal feeding operations of a certain size. This, again, targets an important economic sector in Oregon and would cause greater reliance of various animal products from outside the state. It would also leave small producers without a place to send their livestock for processing or finishing. The agriculture sector is heavily reliant on selling seed, feed and processing services to one another. OBI will provide opposition testimony.
OBI is watching the housing conversation closely. Housing is a priority of Gov. Kotek and all four caucuses in the Legislature. HB 2001 A, a broad housing bill focused on housing production, youth homelessness, agricultural workforce housing and modular housing, is working through the system. This bill is currently in the final stages of work in the Joint Ways and Means Committee. A recent amendment added $12.3 million in funding to the bill. That supplements the $155 million proposed in HB 5019, a related budget bill. Costs notwithstanding, the challenge at this point with the package is that little is being done about overall workforce housing. Nor is there any substantive language addressing the state land use or regulatory hurdles that drive up housing costs. OBI will continue to focus on this as session continues.
An informational hearing and public hearings will be held on SB 868, SB 869, SB 870 and SB 871 in Senate Energy and Environment this week. The genesis of these bills was the Reach Code legislation considered in the 2021 session, which, rather than passing a bill of high concern, established the Resilient Efficient Buildings (REBuild) Task Force. REBuild met for a year and provided recommendations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in residential and commercial buildings. The bills would enact a variety of provisions, including requiring the installation of 500,000 residential heat pumps by 2030, authorizing additional rulemaking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, and adopting new energy efficiency standards and water conservation measures for existing large commercial buildings, among other provisions. Amendments were posted March 10, and OBI is evaluating those to determine a response.
HB 3179 will receive a public hearing March 16 in the House Agriculture, Land Use, Natural Resources and Water Committee. The bill seeks to speed up permitting for renewable energy facilities and eliminate review processes that repeat federal or other state review processes. OBI will offer testimony noting that permitting processes across many sectors and permit types need improvement, including the permitting challenges identified in the semiconductor task force report.
The House Revenue Committee held another hearing March 7 on HB 2624, which would increase Oregon’s estate tax exemption from $1 million to $2 million and index it for inflation going forward. While the committee is looking at this bill seriously, its actual prospects will likely come down to the end of session and resource availability after the May 17 revenue forecast. Of note, Oregon is now tied with Massachusetts for the lowest (worst) estate tax exemption level in the nation, but it looks like the Massachusetts Legislature is poised to raise its exemption to $3 million during its session this year. Oregon then would stand alone.
Mandate Review Proposal
On March 6, OBI testified in support of HB 3157, which would establish a Health Insurance Mandate Review Advisory Committee to review proposed legislation that would expand mandated coverage for specified procedures or by specified providers. New coverage mandates are frequently proposed, and each is reviewed on its own rather than in the context of other proposals or the entire system. Further, all analyses of fiscal impacts focus solely on the mandates’ effects on the state. Assessments of the cost of premiums to employers and employees are not required. That would change under the proposed bill. The advisory committee would help establish a more holistic review for new mandates.