A significant deadline passed on March 17, though it was fairly anti-climactic. This was the date by which bills in policy committees needed to be scheduled for a vote in those committees to stay alive. Unfortunately, the practice has been to simply schedule things to meet this requirement. Thus, not much actually dies with the deadline. The next deadline is April 4, which is the date by which the vote to get bills out of committee needs to occur.
SB 4, the semiconductor and advanced manufacturing investment bill, passed out of the Joint Semiconductor Committee on a 12-2 vote on March 15. The bill now goes to the Joint Ways and Means Economic Development Subcommittee, and then to the full Ways and Means Committee before heading to the House and Senate floors for full chamber votes. This bill would provide $200 million in loans and grants to semiconductor and advanced manufacturing applicants through Business Oregon, the state’s economic development department. The bill also would also create new authorities for the governor to expedite zoning and land use decisions related to the industry. Unfortunately, the bill is not enough, and many members of the committee acknowledged this on the record. A robust and successful package would include appropriate tax credits; enterprise zone, strategic investment and gain share incentives; and a plan (with resources) to accelerate industrial site readiness. OBI will keep working other facets of the package. A story in The Oregonian last week captured some of the frustration around missing elements, and an editorial March 19 spoke to key arguments as well.
HB 2396, which would regulate indirect sources of emissions, is effectively dead. OBI, in conjunction with a broad coalition, was successful in killing a nearly identical bill in the 2021 session and we provided opposition testimony at last month’s public hearing. This has now become a perennial conversation, and we expect it to return in a future session.
There is a new push to require product labels to indicate the recyclability of packaging. This so-called “truth in labeling” law, which would be amended into SB 123, would require QR codes on packaging to provide recycling information to consumers. The bill presents immense logistical issues. Further, it would create an Oregon-only situation that is not conducive to a market of the state’s modest size. California passed a truth in labeling law in 2021 with compliance to begin in July 2025. New Jersey and New York have followed suit. With these much larger economies out front, it is far more prudent to see where their rulemaking and compliance end up rather than creating a unique set of standards in Oregon.
Housing and Homelessness
Last week, the House passed two bills, HB 2001 and HB 5019, that would direct approximately $200 million to build more affordable housing and fund expansion of homeless services. HB 2001 would give local governments some expanded land use authority for housing but falls well short of the systemic land use reform necessary to create enough supply to effectively drive down housing costs. The bills also would do little to address much-needed permitting and regulatory improvements that would reduce costs and development time.
Regarding housing capacity, OBI testified in support of HB 3302, which would create a low-income housing tax credit designed to incentivize the construction and maintenance of affordable multifamily housing. The relative scarcity and high cost of land, coupled with regulatory and systemic cost drivers, leads to prohibitively high costs for development. There is little to no incentive to build affordable housing. Credits available through HB 3302 would allow developers and investors to mitigate a portion of such costs in return for building high-quality multifamily housing. The bill is scheduled for a work session on March 30. OBI would also like to see a tax credit or other incentives for investment in middle-market housing, as this is a significant workforce issue.
Nonroad Engine Emissions
A public hearing and work session are scheduled March 30 for SB 525, which would prohibit engine exhaust from new nonroad engines of 25 horsepower or less. By 2026, only zero-emitting engines would be sold in Oregon. This would apply to equipment such as leaf blowers, some construction equipment, lawn mowers and even some small tractors. There has been no discussion to date about this bill, so the upcoming public hearing will be informative. OBI will engage with retailers and others to understand the bill’s implications.
Hiring and Retention Bonuses
On March 13, the House Committee on Business and Labor heard HB 3205, which would exempt hiring and retention bonuses from Oregon’s equal pay statute. This is a priority for OBI. Reps. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, and Hai Pham, D-Portland, who are House sponsors of the bill, along with a panel of public- and private-sector employers emphasized the need for hiring and retention bonuses to combat workforce shortages. Oregon is the only state with such restrictions on these bonuses. The bill is scheduled for a committee vote on March 27.
The House Climate, Energy and Environment Committee has scheduled a public hearing March 20 on HB 2816. A vote is scheduled for March 27. The bill targets data centers in eastern Oregon, requiring them to meet a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for the electricity they consume. There are many problems with the bill, including its targeting of a specific economic sector, its potential to deprive eastern Oregon communities of economic opportunity and its proposal to require an energy consumer, rather than an energy producer, to meet an RPS.
OBI has testified in opposition to three bills that would place substantial additional substantial burdens on employers. SB 851, which would hold employers liable for everything from poor performance reviews to disagreements between employees, and SB 907, which would allow employees to refuse work they deem too dangerous and take paid sick leave when they do so, were both heard by the Senate Committee on Labor and Business. Meanwhile, the House Committee on Business and Labor heard HB 3471, which would prohibit no-rehire provisions in workers’ compensation settlements. All are scheduled for committee votes in the coming weeks.