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Legislative Update

By: Mark Landauer, SDAO Government Affairs

As the 81st legislative assembly enters its ninth week, one important deadline has passed and another one is quickly approaching making a fast-paced session even more so.  February 23rd was the last day bills could be introduced and as of March 15th, 2,437 bills and measures have been proposed.  By close of business on Friday, March 19th, bills will need to posted for a work session in order for them to remain alive and will need to be approved and moved out of the originating policy committee by April 13th to advance through the legislative process.

Until recently, both chambers were meeting only once per week in order to introduce bills and get them referred to the appropriate committees.  However, two weeks ago, the Senate Republicans denied a quorum, thereby preventing any bill introductions for that week.  The stated purpose of the walkout was to protest the Governor’s 60-day extension of her state of emergency which Republicans have bristled over since the beginning of the pandemic.  As a result, President Courtney announced that the Senate would meet twice a week to ensure that timely conduct of the Senate’s business could occur.  The House moved to two-day a week floor sessions as well.

Three weeks ago, the Legislature received the latest revenue forecast.  The news was actually good – at least from a revenue standpoint.  Despite the fact that about 160,000 Oregonians are unemployed, the federal government’s relief packages have played a critical role in the state’s ability to maintain services.  In fact, the revenue forecast showed the state has an additional $800 million available to spend this biennium and next.  And with the state expecting over $4 billion in additional relief from the federal government in the coming months, the state’s finances appear to be on stable ground.  The Office of Economic Analysis also now predicts that the personal income tax kicker will kick to the tune of about $570 million and the corporate tax kicker will also kick – thereby providing our K-12 education system additional resources for the upcoming biennium.  This new influx of federal funds may also help the state avoid having to tap into over $3 billion in reserves that the state has been able to save over the last several years.

Several recent developments are worth noting.  One is that the Governor Brown recently issued Executive Order 21-06 which requires schools to reopen to in-person classroom instruction.  This is welcome news to many parents who have endured nearly a year of in-home schooling while also trying to fulfill their work duties.  Another encouraging development is that President Biden recently announced that vaccines should be available to all adults by May 1st.  Whether Oregon will be able to open up eligibility to all adults by that time remains to be seen considering many seniors who have been eligible for weeks still have yet to receive a shot. 

Another notable development is that the US Census will be unable to provide the necessary data to the Legislative Assembly for them to conduct redistricting.  If the assembly is unable to pass a redistricting plan by July 1st, Oregon’s Secretary of State is required to do it.  But even then, the necessary data to conduct redistricting is not expected until the fall.  As a result, the legislative leadership recently petitioned the Oregon State Supreme Court asking their guidance on whether redistricting could be done in 2022 rather than this year.  Meanwhile, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan has raised several concerns about this approach and its impacts on the 2022 elections.

In other developments, the Governor recently announced a $250 million funding package for summer learning and childcare to support Oregon’s kids and families as Oregon continues to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Speaker Kotek also recently announced a set of proposals related to housing that would include $535 million in new state investments for increasing affordable housing, addressing homelessness and supporting homeownership.  

Meanwhile the Governor’s Rules Advisory Committee on Green House Gas Reduction continues its work in the background.  As you will recall, cap-and-trade legislation in the previous two legislative sessions resulted in Republican walkouts, thereby denying quorums to conduct business.  Those walkouts were successful in stopping those bills.  However, as a result of Governor Brown’s Executive Order 20-04, the Department of Environmental Quality has been given a short timeline to produce rules for consideration by the Environment Quality Commission this fall. 

Please watch for more legislative updates as this session continues and we learn about potential impacts to special districts.

This article was written on March 15, 2021 prior to publishing.