Week 2 is of the 2019 legislature is in the books.
What’s Happening (OSCC Political Observations)
Very few new bills were introduced this past week….maybe another 100 or so, which is well under the pace we would have expected. We suspect that Legislative Counsel is having difficulty keeping up with the workload.
After two weeks, we are growing more and more concerned that the Oregon Senate may not be the backstop on bad, aggressive bills that we had hoped. Both the Senate Democratic and Republican caucuses are fractured at this point, but Republicans appear to be the more fractured caucus of the two. We don’t completely have our arms around the political dynamics of the Senate, which is disappointing. The House is not in question. The House will push for progressive legislation that will have tremendous cost and regulatory impacts on business because there are clearly 31 votes for each and every issue.
Activity on Major Issues
We are expecting to see additional early activity on a handful of key policy and budget items that Democratic legislative leaders have identified as key priorities, including:
- Medicaid Funding. The first major Medicaid funding bill – House Bill 2010 – was introduced last week. This bill will implement the first stages of Medicaid funding proposed by the Governor – the Hospital provider tax ($98 million) and the insurance tax ($410 million). These are the least controversial items of the Medicaid funding package, and therefore, will move first.
- Cap & Trade legislation has now arrived. Late last week, legislators introduced the Cap & Trade bill – House Bill 2020. The bill is 98 pages long, and OSCC is still reviewing to determine the impacts. Of note:
– Transportation fuels are considered “covered emissions,” meaning there will be fuel cost increases;
– Residential, commercial, and industrial natural gas rates will increase under the bill and ratepayer assistance options are limited; and
– Legislative counsel has determined that cap-and-trade is not a tax and is, therefore, exempt from Constitutional requirements for a 3/5th supermajority vote.
- Business taxes. The Joint Student Success Committee has initiated its Revenue Subcommittee hearings on a potential tax plan that will meet the Governor’s objective of raising business taxes by $2 billion for K-12, Pre-K, and higher education. The subcommittee is now meeting every Tuesday and Thursday evening.
Key Issues Coming up This Week
- Rent Control and Tenant Protections. Senate Bill 608 will limit rent increases to 7% per year in buildings over 15 years old and also prohibits no cause evictions for tenants after one year of tenancy. This is likely the first key priority for Democratic leadership that will start moving. The first public hearings is today in the Senate Housing Committee.
- Penalties for Oregon Retirement Savings Program Non-Compliance. Senate Bill 164 would add penalties if a business fails to comply with the Oregon Savings Retirement Program requirements. OSCC and other business advocacy groups are working with the Treasurer’s Office to ensure that penalties are not triggered before the program is fully adopted and that education is the first step to compliance. A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in the Senate Workforce Committee.
- Codification of Obama-Era Environmental Laws. House Bill 2250 would require Oregon’s natural resources agencies to compare any changes to federal regulations under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, or Safe Drinking Water Act to “baseline” standards-defined as standards in place on the last day of the Obama Administration. Oregon already has water quality and air quality programs that operate independently of federal law and often go further. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday in the House Energy & Environment Committee.
- Marijuana Accommodation. Senate Bill 379 would make it an unlawful employment action to condition employment based on refraining from the off-duty use of cannabis or any legal substance. While the bill contains an exception for jobs where the work cannot be performed while impaired, there is currently no easy test to determine if someone is impaired while at the workplace. OSCC has opposed this legislation in past legislative sessions because it is a direct affront on an employer’s ability to enforce a workplace drug-free policy. A hearing and potential work session is posted on the bill this Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- Single use straw ban. Senate Bill 90 would ban the use of single use straws unless specifically requested by the customer. It is posted for a work session in the Senate Environment & Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, and we anticipate a series of amendments to the legislation.