Halfway Through the 2021 Legislative Session: Status Report
With March Madness underway and all of us closely watching our brackets, I thought I would use a sports analogy to paint a picture of the state of affairs for OBI right now.
We have reached half time in the 2021 legislative session. Controlling the ball has not been easy, so for us this is a largely game of defense.
The clock runs out June 30, so there is a lot of game play left. But half time presented a picture of what’s ahead for the second half.
- Some 2,400 bills were introduced in the session, but only 1,500 remained in play after a significant deadline on March 19.
- Your OBI team started the session tracking 821 bills, and that number has now been reduced to 494. We continue to keep our eyes open for amendments that could take proposed legislation in unexpected directions.
- And legislative leaders are expecting to pick up the pace to move bills toward final passage. The House had expected four days of long floor sessions last week, but that was thwarted by a reported COVID-19 case.
It has been a legislative session like none we have ever experienced. Public hearings and committee work sessions have all been online. Conversations with legislators have taken place virtually or by telephone, email and text. The personal relationships so important during a session – the quick hallway conversations about the real-world impacts of a proposed law – just have not been possible with the public and the lobby unable to enter the Capitol.
The result is that we are working harder than ever before to make sure our members’ points of view get communicated. Kudos to our OBI team, and our partners in the business community, for working hard to stay in front of the issues during this difficult legislative session. And thank you to the many legislators, Democrat and Republican, who take the time to hear us out and really understand our point of view.
As I said above, this session is all about our defense. We reached out to members as we built our legislative principles for the year, and there was remarkable unity about what you wanted most from the 2021 session. You want a breather, a break from new taxes and regulations that are not critical to addressing the COVID crisis and the resulting persistent unemployment.
That’s been the message we constantly take to lawmakers. Oregon’s employers have endured the challenges of the pandemic, lost revenues, reduced workforces, and difficult new regulations. And, on top of it all, they have seen the state’s business tax burden go up a startling 41% in just three years. Now, they need the opportunity to focus on getting back on their feet without more burden from government.
With the second half still ahead of us, there is a lot that can happen. But we made some strong progress in the first half.
- Working with a broad coalition, OBI helped defeat Oregon’s version of the so-called Private Attorney General Act, which would allow anyone to sue on behalf of the state. This was one of OBI’s top priorities to defeat because we have seen the proliferation of lawsuits the California version of this law has created.
- We were also successful in defeating a bill which would have changed burden of proof standards in many discrimination claims. We heard from many members that this bill was a major concern, as it would have increased litigation and costs for employers.
- A bill that would have made COVID-19 a presumptive workers’ compensation claim will not move forward. Oregon’s employers presented a united front on this issue and made the case that our workers’ comp system is one of the best in the country – and is working as intended.
- On tax issues, big hikes seem to be off the table, but we are watching smaller, incremental proposals that could adversely impact Oregon’s employer community. This includes a proposal to tax forgiven Paycheck Protection Program loans, which, for now, appears stalled because of quick advocacy from OBI and our partners in the business lobby. Thank you to everyone who emailed the Legislature about this issue; your input made a difference. We don’t think this issue is totally off the table, so make sure you tell your local legislators it is unfair and counterproductive.
- Finally, it appears that the proposal to raise taxes on beer, wine and cider will not move forward. Proponents signaled they were pulling back when they asked for an amendment to the bill that would instead create an interim task force to evaluate how to raise taxes. OBI has worked with a coalition of partners on this effort as well.
Many issues remain unresolved, so we will continue to mount a strong defense. And we will be watching for opportunities to be on offense when it makes sense. The state is expecting to receive $2.6 billion from the federal government as part of the latest stimulus package. We are working with partners to identify ideas for how that money might be invested, not only to address short-term challenges but also to provide long-term returns through targeted investments that yield continued benefits to Oregonians. We will keep our members in the loop as these talks move forward.
It will be another three months before the Legislature gets to its version of the Final Four… those last bills that either live or die by the time this session adjourns no later than midnight June 30. We’ve learned a lot about adapting to a shift in how the game is played, and I am confident we will show well when the final buzzer is heard.
Thanks for all you do to support our team.
We are keeping our members updated weekly via our website and the Business Bulletin newsletter. If you aren’t already receiving our updates, contact Patti Winter.