Editor’s Note: The 2020 Oregon Legislative ‘Short Session’ began today. The article below from “The Oregonian” gives a good summary of what to expect over the next 35 days. Over the past 6 months since the end of the 2019 Oregon Legislative Session, MHCO worked to minimize the number of legislative proposals in the ‘short’ 2020 Legislative Session. That effort appears to have paid off – with over 200 legislative proposals – none directly impact manufactured home communities – a rare respite. That does not mean there won’t be significant – substantive proposals that will impact other concerns impacting you life.
Oregon Legislature readies for session of big money votes, possible boycotts
Republicans in both the House and Senate say they will flee the Capitol if necessary to stop a carbon cap-and-trade bill, just as Senate Republicans did in 2019. That could create an impasse from the get-go with supermajority Democrats, who have pledged to deliver the climate change bill this year.
Chief among those is Senate President Peter Courtney, who promised after he failed to lock down enough votes in his own caucus last year that he would largely to see through the “unfinished business” of the climate bill in 2020.
Lawmakers now appear likely to start work without Courtney, who is still recovering from . Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a Multnomah County Democrat and co-chair of the Ways and Means Committee, said budget writers and the rest of the Senate are nonetheless well positioned going into the session thanks to Courtney’s work “putting people in the right (leadership) positions.”
Once again, Republican walkouts could also jeopardize other important legislative business. This time the central question is how to allocate roughly $490 million in windfall tax revenue state economists pinpointed after lawmakers wrote the 2019-21 budget, plus potentially more than $300 million in state bonding debt that public university leaders want for on campuses around the state.
Steiner Hayward and the two other leaders of the Ways and Means committee said the additional revenue is all but spoken for, due to dire needs at the state’s child welfare agency, psychiatric hospital, forestry department and parole and probation programs.
In Salem, Mayor Chuck Bennett, who spent decades as a Capitol lobbyist, said he would prefer Democrats pick the latter strategy. “I would hope, I guess because it’s the first issue on our agenda and our community’s agenda dealing with homelessness and unsheltered individuals in the community, they would take this up first or very early,” Bennett said.
The capital city is hoping the state will supply several million dollars to help open a shelter, homeless navigation center and supportive shelter for people with serious mental illnesses. Bennett pointed out Salem is represented by lawmakers from both parties. “We would hate to see something like this get caught up in an unrelated issue or blocked by activities around an unrelated issue.”
Key deadlines to pass bills in the short session already loom: To stay alive, most bills must be scheduled for a work session by the end of the first week. A revenue forecast on Feb. 12 will inform budget choices, telling lawmakers whether they have more or less tax money to work with.
In a search for leverage against a shutdown, Democrats’ public employee union allies point to poll results that show a majority of likely voters oppose Senate Republicans’ two walkouts last year. On the strength of those statewide poll results, the unions are funding two ballot initiative campaigns to expel or fine lawmakers who shut down business at the Capitol for an extended period by walking out and denying a quorum.
Other highly charged issues could also fuel partisan tensions. For example, Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, has introduced a bill to ban coyote hunting contests. A similar proposal last year largely divided the Senate along partisan lines, with a couple Democrats joining all but one Republican in voting “no” before it died in the House. Two gun control bills have also been filed this session. One would require owners to lock up their guns when they’re not in use and another would allow local governments to forbid people with concealed-carry licenses to carry guns in public buildings, including the Capitol, schools and hospitals.
Democrats’ top priority this session, the cap and trade climate bill, has a few new wrinkles designed to keep Republicans in the building.
The carbon pricing framework in last year’s House Bill 2020, known as the Clean Energy Jobs bill, would remain largely intact. It would limit greenhouse gas emissions and require most big polluters including gas and diesel sellers and manufacturers to buy increasingly scarce “allowances” to emit carbon, giving them an incentive to choose greener options.
But backers say they’ve made significant changes to lessen the impact on rural Oregonians and industrial firms – two sources of loud opposition in 2019.
The first is a geographic phase-in of carbon pricing for gas and diesel. It would hit the Portland area in 2022 and smaller metro areas in 2025 but exempt more rural areas until at least 19 counties opt into the program, which may never happen.
Industrial companies, meanwhile, would only be regulated on the emissions generated by their industrial processes, not the natural gas they burn, cutting the number of firms directly affected from 30 to about 11.
Backers added other enticements, including using a significant chunk of the money from the sale of allowances for forest restoration efforts, a potential source of jobs and capital in rural areas.
Whether these tweaks are enough to bring reluctant Democrats aboard, much less keep Republicans in the Capitol, remains to be seen. The changes were enough to win the support of Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, a holdout last time around. And the new bill makes a specific accommodation for Boeing, which may win the vote of Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, whose last-minute flip-flopping helped kill the bill last year.
Republicans and some industrial lobbyists have nonetheless reprised their sky is falling rhetoric, and the prospect of a walkout to prevent passage of this bill is very much on the table.
Vaping will also be on the legislative docket, with bills that would ban all flavored products and a bill that would ban internet e-cigarette sales. The bills are intended to curb youth addiction to nicotine and come in the wake of a national vaping-related lung illness epidemic that has killed 60 people nationally and two in Oregon. The vast majority of the lung illnesses nationally are connected to illegal marijuana products, but nicotine vape liquids are still considered a possible culprit in some cases.
That hasn’t stopped Oregon leaders from amassing a wealth of ideas for how to spend the money mid-budget cycle. Gov. Kate Brown wants additional money for earthquake preparedness and $40 million for international track and field championships set to take place in Eugene in 2021. House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Portland Democrat, wants $120 million to pay for shelters and other services to address the state’s homelessness crisis, including some of the state’s borrowing capacity to pay for affordable housing preservation and construction.
Lawmakers must also decide whether to guarantee K-12 schools and early childhood education programs will receive their full $1 billion from a new business tax. That would require the state to spend more income tax money on schools if proceeds from the new business tax falls short of state economists’ predictions.
Sen. Betsy Johnson, a Scappoose Democrat and co-chair of the Ways and Means Committee, described the teachers’ pitch only as a “request.” But Kotek described it as a done deal, saying lawmakers will set aside $50 million from the general fund for lawmakers to dispense if the business tax comes up short.
Another priority for Brown is to pass legislation to bolster the state’s wildfire preparedness. She is looking for a significant chunk of money - as much as $200 million annually to fund forest restoration on 5.6 million acres over the next 20 years. That’s 10 percent of the state’s land.
Brown is also backing a recommendation from her wildfire council to add 68 new positions at the forestry department and the state fire marshal’s office at cost of $40 million per biennium to modernize suppression efforts.
Lawmakers acknowledge they must move at breakneck speed to resolve all the requests.
“Everybody’s going to be hoppin,’” Kotek said. “I’m optimistic we can get a lot of work done.”