In This Issue
By Peggy Lynch, Natural Resources Coordinator
From Climate Change to Land Use and Transportation to Water, we have provided a voice for members this session. We followed Natural Resource agency budget adjustments. Local leagues participated in specific legislation.
HB 4126 (LWVLC testimony here), with LWV Lane County’s support, passed. It confirms that the new Urban Growth Boundary rules (http://www.oregon.gov/LCD/docs/rulemaking/UGB_RAC/OAR660-038.pdf) passed in December of 2015 will not stop Bend, Eugene, Springfield and other cities which are already well into their expansion plans under former rules to complete their work.
The League opposed SB 1548 , which would have allowed urban growth boundary expansions with few controls, that died after a courtesy hearing, as did SB 1588 (LWVOR testimony here) that would have allowed some rural counties not to comply with our statewide land use planning program. However, HB 4079 , a bill that would allow 2 pilot projects for 50 acres each, even if the city still has its 20-year land supply, did pass as part of the affordable housing package of bills. The League opposed and, instead, provided a list of development code changes that could help provide affordable housing INSIDE cities. The bill was amended to include a requirement that, before a city can apply for the pilot, it must show that it has used tools to increase affordable housing inside its current boundary. With a $100,000 General Fund allocation, the Dept. of Land Use and Conservation will hire a consultant to provide research for the rulemaking to take place this coming year to implement the bill.
An obscure land use policy (inclusionary zoning) used in 48 other states to add affordable housing in communities, was lifted, but at a cost. Stringent sideboards were added so that the policy may only be of use to the cities of Portland and Eugene. SB 1533 as passed was substantially weakened and narrowed in scope to focus on large rental developments and for those at 80% of median income. Added to the bill is an opportunity for local governments to add a Construction Excise Tax to help pay for the developer perks, or in some way help fund affordable housing projects. We are members of the Housing Alliance and Debbie Aiona of the Portland League provided LWVOR testimony on SB 1533 and an accompanying House bill HB 4001 in support of lifting the inclusionary zoning ban. We opposed SB 1575, which contained many of those perks. It did not pass. We will continue our relationship with the Housing Alliance as we continue to support housing for all, both funding and policies.
Although SB 1573 is technically a governance issue, the bill was part of the affordable housing package on the theory that voter annexations reduce land available in a city’s Urban Growth Boundary. The League opposed the bill; it was amended in such a manner that it is unclear if a city can reject an annexation petition, yet a city CANNOT send a property owner annexation request out for a vote.
The League continues to follow the work of the Land Conservation and Development Commission and will participate in rulemaking on HB 4079 above, as well as unfinished work on Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) rulemaking to link current requirements under Periodic Review to the new UGB rules.
The League will also follow rulemaking to set new targets for Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation arena. Metro has developed a Climate Smart plan, but the other Oregon MPOs need to move from conceptual planning to real targets and implementation.
HB 4078, a bill to create a new transit grant fund, received a public hearing but no further action. Marion-Polk League members Sandra Gangle and Janet Adkins wrote testimony in support. The testimony from communities around Oregon has started a conversation that may continue in 2017.
HB 4113 establishes a short term Task Force on Drought. The group is to report in time for budget requests in 2017 on how to help small communities deal with water shortages and recommend other short term tools to address future droughts. The Water Resources Dept. was authorized $25,000 to help with staff and expenses. For more information on Oregon’s drought situation, see http://www.oregon.gov/owrd/pages/wr/drought.aspx .
The League supported SB 1529 that allows a homeowners association to set aside their rules during a drought so that homeowners can allow their lawns to “go brown”. It is a narrow policy and the League noted that we need to be more aggressive to find ways to conserve water. Water use doubles during the summer in Oregon, mostly due to watering. The Legislature also authorized $100,000 General Fund to study harmful algae blooms, an increasing problem with higher temperatures and lower stream flows.
The League has put a priority on groundwater studies since applications for groundwater rights now exceed surface water applications. We supported the Water Resources Department request for additional funds for groundwater studies in the Greater Harney Basin. Over $700,000 was approved.
With support from the state League and Curry and Clackamas Leagues, reaches of the Chetco and the Molalla Rivers were officially designated by the Governor as the first Scenic Waterways since the 1980s.
The Integrated Water Resources Strategy (http://www.oregon.gov/owrd/Pages/law/integrated_water_supply_strategy.aspx) will be updated this year and will focus on both longer term solutions to future droughts, climate change while continuing to suggest policies to assure abundant clean water for all. A League member is again a member of the Policy Advisory Group to update this important document.
The League joined with a broad group of local governments and other non-profits to oppose SB 1517, a bill that would weaken the ability to regulate and restore wetlands. A compromise between wetlands proponents and the agricultural community was passed that creates a pilot process in Tillamook County. The League raised the flag on the original bill, but then allowed others to settle on a narrow compromise.
SB 1530, related to suction dredge mining, died in Ways and Means. So the moratorium in effect after SB 830 (2015) was passed in 2015 stands. Rules developed by the Dept. of State Lands, Dept. of Environmental Quality and Dept. of Geology and Mineral Industries are either adopted or in process to implement the 2015 legislation. We supported the Safe Well Water bill, HB 4125, requiring additional testing of residential wells. It passed the House, but did not leave Ways and Means. We hope to see this bill in 2017.
SB 1563 (LWVOR testimony here), a loan program for low income Oregonians and small businesses with failing septic systems passed! The League has worked on this concept since 2007. Funded with only $250,000 this session ($200,000 to be distributed as loans), it calls for the Dept. of Environmental Quality to contract with a private company to set up the program.
The League continues to work with others to encourage the U.S. Department of State to update the Columbia River Treaty with the help of Phillip Thor, a Portland League volunteer.
Last session we worked with others to increase public notification of forestry projects, especially aerial spraying. The Dept. of Forestry received additional funding to continue to upgrade their computer systems. Full public notice access is expected by April of 2017. Jennifer Haynes continues to follow the potential sale of the Elliott State Forest under a State Land Board “protocol” (http://www.oregon.gov/dsl/Common_School_Fund_Property/Pages/Elliott-Opportunity—Project.aspx) . The assessed value will be revealed in July and any official offers are due in November. The State Land Board will consider the recommendations of staff should there be qualified offers. The League continues to hope that much of the forest will be in public hands or at least preserved for environmental and public benefit.
The 2015 fire season was less severe than 2014, but affected homes in or near forested areas. As a result, over $56 million in federal and other funds were allocated to the Dept. of Forestry while over $23 million was allocated from the General Fund.
With the exposure of air quality issues in the Portland area, League members are following actions of the Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Local league members are reviewing issues in Corvallis and considering a proposal for Metro to send its trash to the Covanta plant in Keizer to burn. There are questions regarding air quality, but also tradeoffs with shipping Metro’s trash up the Columbia River Gorge to Arlington. DEQ received $2.5 million in General Funds to expand its Oregon Air Toxics Program for additional testing, equipment and to do rulemaking to develop a risk-based approach to air permitting for industrial sources.
There were a few budget adjustments in the Natural Resource agencies during this session. Budget adjustments occurred in SB 5701 for agency budget reconciliation; SB 5702 for bond and fee authorizations, and SB 1597 on program changes. During session, reports were received related to “budget notes”—directions to agencies to address issues that the Legislature felt should be examined during the interim from the 2015 session. The Department of Geology and Mineral Industries’ business practices are being reviewed (https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2016R1/Downloads/CommitteeMeetingDocument/84421) .
The Task Force on Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Funding (HB 2402 (2015) https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2015I1/Committees/JTFFFW/Overview) is working to suggest new sources of revenue to pay for the myriad of services provided by the department. As fishing and hunting licenses decrease or remain only stable and Oregonians expect the agency to increase their focus on conservation issues, new sources of funding are needed.
The League is working with the Oregon Conservation Network and with individual natural resource agencies on development of their budgets and Policy Option Package (POP) proposals for the 2017 session. First cut on POPs were due to the Dept. of Administrative Services by April 15 and first cut on budget requests are due June 30. Final agency requests are due to the Governor’s Office by the end of August so that the current Governor can develop a complete state budget by Dec. 2nd. If a new Governor is elected in November, the new Governor’s proposed budget is due February 2nd, 2017.
By Claudia Keith and Cathy Frischmann, Climate Change Portfolio
Our focus was on HB 4036 and SB 1547, duplicate filings of the same bill in the House and Senate. Known as the Clean Energy & Coal Transition bill, the Senate version, SB 1547, passed with significant amendments. This bill had momentum because environmental groups and LWVOR worked with the Renew Oregon Coalition to negotiate a bill proposal with PGE and Pacific Corp last fall in response to an initiative petition threat. Public Utility Commission (PUC) involvement happened during session, which ensured an affirmative outcome. With this historic leadership, Oregon rate payers will be off coal by 2030 and renewable energy use will increase to 50% by 2040. This bill, given economic/financial aspects, ensures natural gas will not be added for utility grid base load needs; however, there could be natural gas facilities added for peak grid requirements. “This historic step forward is the most significant legislative action the US has taken since the Paris climate agreement,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “Oregon’s climate leadership is an example for states across the country.”(http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/03/oregon-coal-climate-law-kate-brown)
The Healthy Climate bill, SB 1574, evolved from HB 3470 (2015) and is the cornerstone of a comprehensive climate policy framework based on a Cap and Invest program that moved to Joint Ways & Means and died. However, in the State Budget, SB 5701, approved $230,000 from the General Fund, on a one-time basis to provide information for the 2017 legislative session on how a market-based carbon reduction system would work in Oregon. The money would be used to hire a full time limited duration Operations and Policy Analyst. In addition, $50,000 is to cover costs for an economic consultant to assist with research data and analysis. More info here.
The Oregon’s climate coalition, Renew Oregon, which LWVOR joined and endorsed, is in the process of communicating with all the stakeholders for pre-2017 session next steps. This price on carbon bill ensures justice by investing a percentage of the funds into disadvantaged and rural communities. League testimony at https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2016R1/Downloads/CommitteeMeetingDocument/83728
Bill facts are summarized at http://www.reneworegon.org/healthy climate bill
By Karen Nibler, Social Policy Coordinator
Antipoverty legislation this session was the strongest boost to adults and families who are living on the edge. The minimum wage increase, earned income tax credits, and general assistance benefits will help low wage workers, parents and disabled adults. The League commends the legislative leaders’ efforts to improve the economic situation for these citizens.
The minimum wage bill SB 1532 will raise workers’ incomes over the next few years. The first increase will be in July on a 3 tier level for metro, urban, and rural areas. The increases will be from $9.75 to 12.50 over 6 years for urban counties.
Earned income tax credits for parents of children under 3 were increased from 8 to 11% in HB 4110 which will provide a rebate in end of year tax filings. HB 4144 set up a Task Force to assist parents to file for tax rebates and to determine the rate of utilization of this benefit.
The General Assistance benefit for adults filing disability claims was passed in HB 4042. The Department of Human Services will recover some costs in the lump sum award when disability benefits are granted. The League submitted a letter in support for this added assistance program.
The State of Oregon negotiated wage increases for employees in facilities serving DHS clients or under contract for providing services to clients in their own homes. This raise will help workers who earn minimal incomes and qualified for food and/or medical benefits. However, the increase in worker’ salaries will add to a deficit in funds for all the DHS programs. Read more in Budgets.
Housing shortages for low come residents was a major concern for this short session. The end results were a renters protection bill and an increase in funds for low income housing projects through Oregon Housing and Community Services. In addition, the OHCS Budget was increased by $8 million for Emergency Housing Assistance and $2 million for Shelter Housing Assistance Programs., which should provide relief for homeless adults and families.
House Human Services provided tenant protections from rent increases for one year with a 90 day prior notice requirement for a subsequent increase. HB 4143 was pared down from its initial form which included other protections, but this protection will provide some stability for renters in a tight market.
The Oregon Housing and Community Services Department had been granted $40 million in Q bonds for Local Innovation and Fast Track Housing in 2015, but the bonds had not yet been sold. The implementation in SB 1582 directs grants to community applicants for housing projects for diverse populations and projects in rural areas. The League supported this expenditure in 2015.
Health Care Committees heard reports on the Coordinated Care Organizations operations in 16 regions of the state. HB 4141 was passed to protect CCOs from changes in their territories, which the Oregon Health Authority had permitted in its regulations. CCOs asked for stability for their programs and their Medicaid patients. The Oregon Health Plan had 781,837 enrollees in January. HB 4030 requested payment for Emergency transportation with Medicaid funds. Although the bill passed, payment will be determined by the federal Center for Medicaid Services.
The Basic Health Plan in HB 4017 will continue to be developed with a blueprint for the inclusion of 138 to 200% of the federal poverty level into the Medicaid population. The 2017 Legislative Session will consider the report from the study bill HB 2828 (2015) in the financing options for health care prior to the expansion of the population under the Affordable Care Act. Read more…
The Department of Consumer and Business Services reported on the insurance exchange applications; 134,649 citizens were enrolled through the federal healthcare.gov portal by January 2016, which represents one of the highest enrollments in the country. HB 4071 will provide premium assistance for medical coverage for the Citizens of the Pacific Islands; many have medical problems as a result of chemicals used at the US airbase in their country of origin. There was non-partisan support for this bill. The DCBS – Insurance Division will be the administrator of program.
Public Safety Bills HB 4074 (LWVOR testimony here) passed giving those convicted of sex offenses as juveniles, who did well in treatment at the Oregon Youth Authority, the chance to be excused from sex offender registration. HB 4075 (LWVOR testimony here) established a tipline to receive information on school or individual safety threats, which will be answered by the Oregon State Police.
HB 4093 allowed counties to establish additional court fees to pay for courthouse construction, which passed with a few objections to increasing court fines. HB 4145 that increased judges’ salaries passed quickly to the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety. Read more in Budgets.
HB 4116 attempted to set up a workgroup on mental health care in jail facilities; but the bill did not pass the House Judiciary Committee, even though almost all who testified supported mental health and addictions care for jail inmates. Multnomah County pointed out that the county was the source of funds for care in the jail or community programs. The request may reappear in 2017.
Budget Reconciliation for agency budget adjustments was combined in SB 5701. During the 2015 Session the League testified on agency budgets bills separately in each Ways and Means Subcommittee, but in the short session the reconciliation was presented in one bill in the Capital Construction Committee. Only one day’s notice was given, so there was little time to respond.
The Rebalance included additions to the OHCS budget for $2.7 million for foreclosure assistance and $2.55 for affordable housing preservation. Other rebalance entries were for salary adjustments for judges and defense attorneys, deficit reductions in the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Human Services and expanded population needs in the Department of Corrections.
One budget item of note was the amount of $900,000 for children not eligible for Medicaid, with a report and recommendations to cover all children due in the 2017 Session. A pilot project for prevention of youth marijuana use was passed in HB 4014, which is expected to be funded from marijuana revenues in 2017-19. OHA will continue to administer the medical marijuana program in SB 1511. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will assume administration of the recreational marijuana sales as it does for alcohol. The League has not taken a position on marijuana legalization.
The 2015 Total Budget allocated $17.7 billion in General Funds and the 2016 Session added another $64 million in General Funds for the remainder of the biennium. $32 million was reserved for future E Board emergency needs. The Oregon Health Authority had a deficit of $37.6 million before the 2016 Session due to an increase in caseloads and program costs. Physical Health and Mental Health and Addictions were combined into the Health Services Division and Public Health is undergoing a transformation process. $40 million in reserves before 2016 will continue to be held for OHA/DHS needs. A deficit of $17 million remains in the contract with Oracle, which is due to expire in March 2016.
Rural Health Care got a boost from OHA allocation of hospital assessment funds of $10 million to transfer patients from urban hospitals to rural hospitals for recovery near homes, and $1.5 million for graduate medical student placements in rural hospitals. The Transformation plan includes staff training for staff and managers, teleconference capacity for virtual clinics, and community education on the social determinants of health.
The Oregon State Hospital has reduced its population and has developed community residential options, which are less expensive. However, workers in mental health facilities have requested increases in pay due to stress and injuries. Additional staff may be needed if the population of forensic patients continues to increase. Those are patients committed for evaluations by the courts to determine their ability to aid and assist in their own defense.
The Department of Human Services had a budget deficit of $71.7 million before the 2016 Session due to the expansion of the Aging and Disability populations. The nursing homes, long term care facilities, and adult foster home costs are higher. In-home costs increased per hour and higher acuity requires more hours of care. Oregon Project Independence and case management helps cost management.
A Lewin Group consultant recommended changes in eligibility criteria, modification of services and increases in cost-sharing with clients. The Budget was increased, but a deficit of $8.7 million will remain and require a review of eligibility tools to stay within its allotment. The K Plan waiver for services to Developmentally Delayed requires that the agency service all eligible applicants and meet all assessed needs with no cap on costs. The work training program will be transferred to Vocational Rehabilitation. The costs are up due to a lawsuit about placements in sheltered workshops.
Public Safety Budget The Oregon Judicial Department and the Department of Corrections requested additions to their budget allocations. The OJD has scheduled a $5,000 yearly increase in judicial salaries on 1-1-16 and $5.3 million for e-court costs for filing documents. Courthouse projects approved earlier for 3 counties will proceed as planned. Lane County received funds for planning a courthouse project, but with no commitment for funds in the next biennium. The Chief Justice was requested to submit a schedule for courthouse projects over the next 12 years in order to stabilize the budgeted amounts over 10 years starting in 2019-21. Other rebalance entries were for salary adjustments for judges and defense attorneys and expanded population needs in the Department of Corrections.
The Department of Corrections male population continues to increase and accommodation will be made at the Deer Ridge facility in Madras at a cost of $2.5 million. Additional funds will be reserved for DOC staff for the increased population. At the recommendation of Disability Rights Oregon, a new Behavioral Health unit will be constructed on the Oregon State Penitentiary property at a cost of $2 million plus $1.03 million for 6 staff, specifically for that unit.
Technology Projects: The Department of Justice is planning a new Child Support Enforcement Automated System, which has been reviewed by the Legislative Fiscal Office and the Technology Committee. Since the Oracle debacle, the state has been stipulating deliverables and time lines in technology projects. The LFO staff is exercising its oversight function.
Another project is the DHS/OHA “One” system for eligibility for federal programs in SNAP, TANF, ERDC and Medicaid. OHA has been working on this system, which was piloted 12-15-2015 after 18 months of planning and will continue to receive ACA funds until 12-31-2018.
Children at Risk and Education
By Chris Vogel, Children at Risk/Education Portfolio
During this “short” session, very few budget actions were taken. Biennium budgets are developed in the “long” sessions on odd number years. Generally, state departments do not submit bills during “short” sessions but typically link departmental legislative concepts or bills to budget requests during the “long” sessions. Having said that, there was a long list of rebalancing and release of funds held back in 2015 awaiting revenue projections. That included these released funds:
- $5.4 million to ensure young Oregon children with developmental delays get the help and services they need, due to increased early identification and early intervention efforts with increased “any door” access for coordinated services and cooperation between the Early Learning Division, Department of Education, Oregon Health Authority (and CCOs), and with the Department of Human Services. These “early intervention, early childhood special education funds (EI/ECSE) often help young children address needs before they enter kindergarten.
- $17.5 million allocated in the 2015 Legislature for the Preschool Promise program for children from low-income Oregon families (HB 3380 in 2015). Grants for mixed delivery preschools were awarded through the Early Learning Division in the Department of Education to five grant-selected regional HUBs: Marion & Polk Early Learning Hub Inc., Lane Early Learning Alliance, Southern Oregon Early Learning Hub, Northwest Regional Hubs (Northwest Early Learning Hub, Early Learning Multnomah, Early Learning Washington County, Clackamas Early Learning Hub http://oregonearlylearning.com/
- $5.3 million to fund the Early Head Start slots the 2015 Oregon Legislature intended. This is state-funded Head Start coverage in addition to the usual pass-through funding from the federal government.
The Oregon Department of Human Services was in the public spotlight in late 2015 due to adverse developments at a Portland based child-caring agency with numerous violations and issues. SB 1515 established standards and criteria for mandatory licensing, certification or authorization of child-caring agencies by the Department of Human Services, yet this does not include standards for home-based foster homes (probably to be addressed in 2017). In an effort to be proactive and identify problems, cultural changes within DHS, and needed policy changes HB 4080 (LWVOR testimony here) established a new Governor’s Foster Care Advisory Commission to advise Governor and Director of Human Services regarding foster care system in this state.
Several bills mandated studies or reports to identify best practices across the state and share information. HB 4057 directs the Department of Education to prepare a report related to educational performance of students from families in poverty. HB 4002 directs the Department of Education to develop and implement a statewide education plan to address chronic absences of students in public schools. HB 4076 directs the Office of Student Access and Completion to provide support services to enable students to be successful in the Oregon Promise program. SB 1564 transfers reporting requirements related to English language learner programs from school districts to the Department of Education.
In the flurry of deadlines, it is sometimes difficult to fully understand a bill (especially with substantial amendments that sometimes change the entire meaning or purpose of the proposed legislation). So, your LWVOR ACTION TEAM lobbyists watch for these amendments and sometimes reverse our support/oppose testimony based on day to day developments. One example was a bill designed to encourage high school students with high “risk” factors and low GPA’s in their first few years of high school, but better grades as they finished high school to succeed in a local community college. With additional “side bars” and amendments LWVOR supported SB 1537 to establish criteria by which a school district may continue to fund these programs. During the 2017 session the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Committee (HECC) will suggest other funding sources outside of the basic K-12 budget for this innovative program.
LWVOR Action takes place year-round through committee work, interaction with agencies, cooperation with other advocates. If you have an interest in working on specific aspects of Foster Care, Children at Risk, Early Learning and Education please contact me at ChrisVogelVolunteerlLWVOR@gmail.com. We are able to educate, advocate and lobby in more depth with your active involvement and participation.
By Marge Easley, Gun Safety Portfolio
Although the “Charleston Loophole” bill (HB 4147) stalled in the Senate in the final days of the session, there were some significant victories and encouraging signs for future legislative and executive actions related to gun safety.
The League and other members of the Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety were disappointed that the “Charleston Loophole” bill (HB 4147) (LWVOR testimony here) failed to get a hearing in the Senate in the waning days of the session. Named after the 2015 mass shooting at a South Carolina church, the bill would have closed the “default proceed” loophole that allows a buyer to take possession of a firearm after three business days without a background check. The bill did have flaws, however, and we’re hopeful an improved version will be one of several promising gun safety bills in the works for 2017.
In the win column this session was the passage of HB 4075 (LWVOR testimony here), establishing a statewide school safety hotline to allow anonymous tips either by phone, text, or electronic format. The hotline is the first of four recommendations presented by the School Safety Task Force, created by the Legislature in 2014.
There were two other recent bright spots, too. Rep. Jennifer Williamson, a champion of gun violence prevention, was able to insert a one-million-dollar allocation in the 2017-19 budget to strengthen enforcement of the 2015 firearm background check law. And post-session, Governor Brown announced that she remains committed to the issue and will work to develop legislation for the 2017 session, as well as explore the idea of executive actions.
By Kappy Eaton, Governance Coordinator
While the 35 day, short, even-year legislative session passed several important bills, there was not enough time to carefully consider the many issues which were brought forward by policy committees and individual lawmakers.
Public Records Recommendations Rejected
Recommendations from the Secretary of State’s audit of Public Records (HB 4130) (LWVOR testimony here) requiring faster responses to records requests within five days, or estimates of time needed to respond, and fees up to $30 died in the Ways and Means committee. Improvements to regulations and procedures are badly needed, so consideration during the 2017 longer legislative session will be on the table.
Voter Access at Public Higher Education Institutions Mandated
Voter Access at public and private institutions of higher education around the state will increase with the passage of SB 1586A. Ballot drop boxes must be within one mile of campuses, and opportunities for ballot issues discussions through forums, classroom discussions, and voter registration must be provided. The Senate passed the proposal 19-9, the House, 51-6, in a bi-partisan agreement.
Campaign Finance Reform Rejected
Neither of the Campaign Finance bills passed. HB 4085A (LWVOR testimony here), which mandated transparency about Independent Expenditures for candidates and issues through ORSTAR, died in Ways and Means after referrals from House and Senate Rules committees. HJR 205, a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature or a citizen initiative to set political campaign contribution limits, did not receive a hearing. Both issues are expected to be brought forward in 2017.
New Legislative Permanent Research Committee Approved
The Legislature established a permanent Legislative Policy and Research committee, SB 1569A. It passed by 26-4 in the Senate, and 58-2 in the House, clearly bi-partisan in support. There is a fiscal impact with the appointment of a director and up to 11 staff members. The committee membership will be appointed by the House Speaker and Senate President with equal numbers of majority and minority political party members. The purpose is to provide legislators with long-term state goals and regular legislative review through non-partisan, independent research reports.
Low Income Families Given Raise in Earned Income Tax Credit
The Earned Income Tax Credit (HB 4110B) was passed 54-4 in the House, and 26-2 in the Senate with bi-partisan support. The credit increases from 8% to 11% of the federal credit for low-income families with at least one dependent three years old or younger. The increase is estimated to rise from $229 to $315.
Lobbyist Reporting Requirements Tightened
HB 3134A requires lobbyists to report changes in clients, either new or dropped, within five days to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. It easily passed both chambers – House 56-1, and Senate 28-0.
Sexual Assault Prosecution Improves with New Rape Laws
Two important rape protection bills passed with bi-partisan support. SB 1571 requires that sexual assault kits be tested in a timely manner. Currently there are thousands of kits being held in storage areas. The backlog is not only an Oregon problem, but also exists across the country. The Oregon Legislature now has appropriated $1.5 million to speed up the analysis process, and Congress also has appropriated new funding for states. SB 1600 removes the 12 year statute of limitations for first degree sex crimes if new evidence becomes available. This would include physical evidence such as texts or emails, corroborating testimony by someone other than the victim, other victim reports, or a confession by the defendant.
By Paula Krane, Public Access Coordinator
Since this was the short session, and since things moved very quickly after the first week, we could not advocate for more advance notice of hearings. Members were given the opportunity to access their Legislators, and with even more and better technology we can be part of the process from our homes. One improvement with the hearing process that made this part of the process easier was that all amendments now must contain the name of the requesting legislator or the source of the amendment. And amendments must be posted at least one hour before being considered during a committee hearing (House Rule 8.23 and Senate Rule 12.03). Over all, since the last few sessions when we have been putting a lot of time and effort into making sure we all have access to the legislative political process, we are continuing to benefit (success continues to be ours) even though it was a quick short session.
However, there were two political maneuvers that seemed to make everything run less smoothly and harder for legislation to pass and the public to testify. First in the House, a little used rule was imposed that on the third reading of a bill, the bill must be read in its entirety. Because of this, the House did not get the opportunity to vote on all the bills sent to them from committees, and some issues of importance to us did not get a vote – a lot of wasted time this session.
Next, some Legislators were requiring that some people had to be SWORN IN before they could testify. This was selectively used for bills that a particular legislator disagreed with. This is not illegal and it is in fact is part of ORS 171.505 and ORS 40.320 that if your testimony is false, it is a class C Felony and carries a fine. This was used by some legislators to intimidate the public. There was also concern about those oaths, which include the phrase “so help you god,” have given pause to members of religious sects whose beliefs allow legal oaths, but not promises that invoke the name of God. There is now a law on the books that lets lawmakers administer oaths without the phrase. Oaths and swearing in is used by other states in various ways. The most common is to have you sign in to testify and that constitutes a form of swearing in. We will have to see whether these two practices are used in the future or fade with the end of this session.