What’s Happening (OSCC Political Observations)
The legislature is a very tumultuous and uncertain place right now. The issues of workplace harassment and a constant string of lawsuits and news stories targeting legislative leadership for inadequately addressing sexual harassment complaints is taking a toll. People are on edge.
Last week, Representative Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) lost his chairmanship of the House Health Care Committee over his public berating of a lobbyist who was testifying on a drug pricing issues.
It is also widely known that Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) is taking a beating, both legally and politically, for his alleged mishandling of numerous sexual harassment complaints. Rumors abound that he is losing his grip on his role as Senate President which would trigger a leadership shakeup in the Senate with real policy implications.
This is the most unique and uncertain environment we’ve operated in since early 2015 when Governor Kitzhaber was on the verge of resigning the Governorship.
Activity on Major Issues
- Cap & Trade roadshow continues. Members of the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction hit the road this past weekend to hear from the communities of Springfield and Medford about the impacts of House Bill 2020. Hundreds of Oregonians showed up at each hearing to express their support or opposition to the legislation, including the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. Of note, many retired individuals and small businesses expressed concern over out-of-control heating and transportation costs under the bill, as drafted.
The Cap & Trade roadshow continues this week with remote testimony (via live video) on Monday, February 25, at the following times and locations:
- Baker City: 5pm – 6pm – Baker County Fairgrounds, Event Center
- Newport: 6pm – 7pm – OSU Lincoln County Extension Office, Thompson Conference Room
Also, we encourage local chambers and businesses to attend the public hearings at the next two stops. OSCC recommends you get there early to sign up.
- The Dalles: Friday, March 1 at The Dalles Civic Auditorium, Community Room; 12pm – 3pm
- Bend: Saturday, March 2 at Central Oregon Community College, Cascade Hall, Room 246-248; 9am – 12pm
- Medicaid taxes. We expect to see final passage of the first major Medicaid funding bill, HB 2010. This bill will raise over $500 million and will go a long way to closing the state’s $623 million budget gap. OSCC issued a floor letter on HB 2010. Our intention is to make sure that legislators understand that HB 2010 will raise over $291 million per biennium from local businesses! It is the first major business cost increase from the 2019 session.
- Rent control. We also expect to see the statewide rent control bill, SB 608, pass the House and become law. It passed the Senate last week 17-11 and is expected to pass the House comfortably later this week.
- OSCC will oppose potential SAIF raid. Last week news broke that Governor Kate Brown is considering selling the state’s workers’ compensation insurance corporation (i.e. SAIF) or sweeping its capital reserves to pay down the PERS unfunded liability, which currently stands at $26.6 billion. Oregon has some of the lowest workers’ compensation rates in the country, and policyholders often receive annual dividends from investment earnings. Transferring that surplus or selling the company would destabilize Oregon’s workers’ compensation insurance market and likely raise costs for workers’ compensation, eliminating one of the few competitive advantages that Oregon offers its businesses. OSCC is a coalition partner to oppose this raid.
Other Key Issues Coming up This Week
- March Revenue Forecast. This Wednesday, the state economist will issue the quarterly revenue forecast. OSCC will be paying close attention to the anticipated revenues for the 2019-21 biennium. To date, there is an anticipated $623 million budget deficit for the 2019-21 session. Any upward revision of the forecast will close this gap.
- Workers Compensation Rewrite. HB 3022 is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee on Business and Labor this Thursday. HB 3022 would make significant changes to Oregon’s Workers’ Compensation system, negating many of the 1990 Workers’ Compensation reforms that brought Oregon’s system out of crisis. Before 1990, Oregon had the highest frequency of workplace injury claims, third highest medical costs, and sixth highest premium costs. Today, we have some of the lowest rates in the country and safety programs that help reduce workplace injuries. This bill is being introduced by the trial lawyers and makes changes to the program that could have sweeping and negative ramifications for employers.
- Transient Lodging Taxes for workforce housing. (SB 595) This may clear its first hurdle this week in the Senate Housing Committee. SB 595 would allow local governments to use previously dedicated TLT funds and apply them to local workforce housing development. Currently, 70% of these revenues are statutorily dedicated to tourism and tourism promotion. If the committee approves the bill, it will be forwarded to the Senate Finance & Revenue Committee.
- Broadband Deployment / Cell Phone Taxes. (HB 2173, HB 2184) The House Economic Development Committee appears poised to approve these bills and send them to the House Revenue Committee. HB 2173 would establish an Office of Broadband in state government to deploy broadband infrastructure while HB 2184 would implement a ‘cell phone tax’ to fund the broadband deployment. This is definitely a pair of bills that OSCC is watching closely.
- Bans on single-use straws. (SB 90) The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee appears poised to pass legislation this week that would ban single-use plastic straws except upon customer request. It appeared momentarily that this legislation might be sidelined, but it resurfaced again and appears ready to pass.
- OSCC has issued an ACTION ALERT for HB 2020 (Cap & Trade) for all legislators. PLEASE RESPOND ASAP WITH YOUR MESSAGE. To date, OSCC has generated 156 letters to legislators on this bill, well short of our goal of 1,000.
- OSCC has issued an ACTION ALERT for SB 379 (Workplace Marijuana Accommodation) in the Senate. PLEASE RESPOND ASAP WITH YOUR MESSAGE TO SENATORS! (Senators only) To date, OSCC has generated 60 letters to Senators on this legislation, well short of our goal of 250.
Special thanks to the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce for their efforts in getting these Action Alerts out to their membership. This area has generated the most messages to legislators on both issues.
OSCC continues to ask for your assistance to shine a light on the negative impacts of cap-and-trade! Individual chambers can start by joining the Partnership for Oregon Communities. The Partnership will coordinate grassroots voices with concerns about the rising costs of fuel and energy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to join the coalition. OSCC will follow up as we learn of opportunities for public testimony and engagement with the legislature.