Abrupt session ending left pile of bills in its wake
Disagreement and stalemate over a single bill has killed upwards of 200 pieces of legislative and left more than $665 million in requested state money on the table as the clock officially struck midnight on Oregon's 2020 Legislative session Sunday night, March 8.
Bills representing solutions to a wide swath of problems facing everyday Oregonians, from curtailing the effects of harmful pesticides on farmworkers to bolstering State Police staffing will either have to wait another year or be taken up in special session.
The pile of dead legislation includes many Republican-sponsored proposals such as a bill that would have required schools to notify parents and guardians when their kids have been bullied or harassed, and another to freeze property taxes for seniors.
The end of the session leaves hundreds of millions of dollars sitting unused in the state's coffers while citizens, businesses, cities and counties grapple with issues that require the legislative help. That includes:
• $45 million to help more than 10,000 Oregonians struggling with housing insecurity and homelessness throughout the state (HB 4001), and $5 million to bolster home ownership among communities of color (HB 4003).
• $51 million expected to be allocated to the Oregon Department of Forestry to help stabilize operations and prepare for the wildfire season (HB 5204), as well as another $25 million specifically for projects to lessen fire and smoke impact on Oregon communities (SB 1536).
• $15 million to fund an ask from the Oregon Health Authority to support community-based behavioral health clinics, $13.4 million to address problems with the process for criminal defendants found unfit to stand trial, $600,000 to analyze supply and demand of behavioral health workers and another $300,000 to identify gaps in service and barriers for those seeking mental health treatment (HB 4031).
• $25 million for increased support of county parole offices, as well as another $20 million to help public defenders and $3 million for centers that advocate on behalf of abused children
• $7.5 million for the completion of Oregon's early earthquake warning system (HB 5204), and $12 million in flood relief for the Umatilla Basin, and $2 million to assess dam safety.
• $53 million in funding for local projects such as drinking water in Salem, a community center in Woodburn, creation of the Willamette Falls Locks commission, riverfront improvements in Eugene, rail line upgrades in Lake County, water district improvements in Lyons, a pedestrian bridge in Sherwood and highway planning in Tigard.
The session's end also blows up a landmark deal between timber and environmental interests. That deal relied on a bill that would have tightened how the logging industry sprays pesticides by air and required companies and landowners to notify neighbors through a new alert system.
Gov. Kate Brown brokered the historic deal, and, according to spokeswoman Kate Kondayen, she plans to seek other avenues to keep the deal alive and chart "a collaborative course towards meaningful, science-based forest management."
Lawmakers could convene later this year for a special session. A majority in each chamber is required to designate an emergency to convene a special session. The governor can also call to convene one. But Gov. Kate Brown is reluctant to do so unless legislative leaders come up with a "functioning" plan, she said Thursday, March 6.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said Thursday that he would want to wait at least a month before meeting in a special session. He and House Speaker Tina Kotek met Monday to dole out $24.2 million in emergency funding for various situations currently facing the state, including $11.5 million for flood relief in the Umatilla Basin and $5 million for the state's response efforts to the ongoing outbreak of Covid-19.
Here are key bills that got the shaft when the session ended:
The problem: The Governor's Council on Wildfire identified several key areas for investment and new policy to address the state's response, mitigation of wildfire. The council said it would take a $200 million per year investment to get the state where it needs to be to lessen the impact of catastrophic wildfires on Oregon's landscape and its citizens.
The solution offered in SB 1536: Changes to building code, reanalyzing community planning, establishing defensible space, creating smoke-adapted communities and reducing debris that fuels fires are just a few of the provisions packed into the omnibus wildfire bill. It included a $25 million allocation for fire mitigation efforts.
How far it went: The bill was passed by a wide margin on the Senate floor and received approval from the joint budget committee for a vote by the House.
The problem: Oregon is currently reeling from a major gap in access between those who need behavioral health treatment and what's currently available both at the state and community level.
The solution offered in SB 1553: The bill would have ordered the Oregon Health Authority to collaborate with stakeholder groups to identify barriers to timely treatment for behavioral health, particularly for those dealing with co-occurring disorders such as substance abuse. It would have allocated $653,000 this biennium to fund a new policy analyst position to create the report to the legislature, as well as an additional $87,000 for part-time work the following biennium.
How far it went: Passed out of Senate mental health committee and waiting a vote on the Senate floor.
The problem: Oregon's Public Record Advisory Council wants independence for the office of the Public Records Advocate following a sticky situation surrounding the exit of former Public Records Advocate Ginger McCall, who in September left her post citing efforts to influence her job by Misha Isaak, Gov. Kate Brown's top adviser.
The solution offered in SB 1506: This bill would have shored up independence for both the PRAC and advocate, allowing them to operate as their own agency within the executive department but free from influence by the governor's office. It solidified the PRAC and advocate's power to propose, support and oppose legislation, as well as authorizing the PRAC to hire a new advocate.
How far it went: Passed unanimously by the Senate, approved by House rules committee and awaiting a vote on the House floor.
The problem: Farm workers union Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) brought attention to the harmful effects of chemical chlorpyrifos, an ingredient in pesticides that combats a large list of insects but has been found particularly hazardous to young children and pregnant women.
The solution offered in HB 4109: A phase out and eventual ban on all products containing chlorpyrifos.
How far it went: Passed a party-line vote in the House, approved by Senate natural resources committee and awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
The problem: Kids, felons and other people who shouldn't be able to access guns are getting their hands on unsecured firearms. Critics say there isn't enough accountability for people who leave firearms unsecured.
The solution offered in HB 4005: Requires gun owners to keep their firearms secured with a trigger lock or locked up. They could face civil liabilities for not securing their guns.
How far it went: Passed out of committee but no vote was held by the House.
FIREARMS IN PUBLIC BUILDINGS
The problem: Local governments such as cities, schools and others can ban firearms from being brought into their buildings. However, it doesn't apply to concealed handgun license holders.
The solution offered in Senate Bill 1538: Give local governments the legal authority to prohibit firearms covered by a concealed carry license.
How far it went: Stuck in committee.
The problem: Last year, a man beat a conviction for DUII after the Oregon Supreme Court ruled the breathalyzer he was given two hours after he was pulled over didn't count. The court reasoned that the alcohol he ingested had time to work its way into his system pushing his blood alcohol level past the legal limit when he was no longer driving.
The solution offered in Senate Bill 1503: Specifies that someone can be charged with DUII if their blood alcohol level is above the legal level two hours after driving.
How far it went: Passed out of the Senate but stalled in a House committee.
STATE POLICE STAFFING
The problem: Oregon State Trooper staffing levels haven't kept pace with the state's rising population, leaving some areas with scant law enforcement presence.
The solution offered in Senate Bill 1545: Provides money to increase staffing and directs the state police to maintain staffing levels of at least 15 patrol troopers per 100,000 residents by 2030.
How far it went: Passed out of Senate Judiciary and stuck in Ways and Means.
UNPAID TRAFFIC FINES
The problem: People who lose their driver's license because of unpaid fines fall into a poverty trap as they struggle to get to work and take care of their families.
The solution offered in House Bill 4065: Would no longer allow courts to suspend licenses as a penalty for not paying fines.
How far it went: Passed out of the House and a Senate committee.
LAW ENFORCEMENT ACCOUNTABILITY
The problem: Police departments impose disciplinary actions on officers. But those actions are overruled by arbitrators who impose lighter penalties.
The solution offered in Senate Bill 1567: Would prohibit arbitrators from ordering different disciplinary action for officers than their police department when they agree that misconduct occurred.
How far it went: Passed out of the Senate and a House committee.
The problem: Students miss out on educational progress and nutrition over the summer.
The solution offered in Senate Bill 1520: The bill made a slew of changes to last year's student success act. It would have provided about 120,000 additional Oregon public school students with free breakfast and allowed public schools to get state dollars for summer programming in time for the summer term, rather than on July 1. That means small and rural schools may be hard pressed to have enough money for summer learning programs that start earlier than the beginning of July, according to the Oregon Department of Education.
How far it went: The bill passed in the Senate in mid-February but languished in the House Committee on Education.
The problem: Bullying and harassment in schools remains an issue despite other attempts to address it.
The solution offered in HB 4139: Require school districts to let parents know when their child has harassed, bullied, intimidated or cyberbullied. Sponsored by House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, and Sen. Denyc Boles, R-Salem, both of whom walked out on the 2020 legislature.
How far it went: The measure passed easily in the House Feb. 21 but had no movement since then.
The problem: Elderly people on fixed incomes can have trouble affording their property taxes.
The solution offered in SB 1541: Freeze property taxes for seniors -- people 68 and older. Sponsored by Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, and Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles. Both Knopp and Helt stayed behind while their Republican colleagues, including Bonham, walked out.
How far it went: The proposal received a public hearing and work session, but was sent to the legislative budget committee, where it stayed and languished now that the session is functionally over.