Legislature’s Short Session Ends Early – Sine Die

Oregon’s State Legislative short session ended on Thursday sine die ahead of its scheduled close on March 10. During their time in session the legislature considered a total of 291 bills. Of those bills 180 were House bills with 111 being Senate bills. The total number of bills passed during this session were 135. Bills that have passed have moved to Governor Tina Kotek’s desk for signature.

“Sine die (adjourned with no appointed date for resumption.) usually brings a mix of emotions, as the clock has run out to pass some great legislation, but also on some bad legislation. And this year was no different,” Jami Cate, R–Lebanon said.

Oregon’s Drug Crisis:

Passage of HB 4002 and Funding Approved

In a 21-8 vote on Friday, March 2, the Oregon Senate passed House Bill 4002 (HB 4002), garnering bipartisan support. The bill, now awaiting Kotek’s decision, proposes penalties of up to six months in jail for possession of small amounts of drugs such as meth or fentanyl.

Additionally, HB 4002 expands opioid withdrawal treatment access, establishes new addiction services facilities and facilitates harsher penalties for drug dealers. Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber emphasized the bill’s intent to enhance Oregonians’ access to necessary treatment.

The bill’s approval was widely anticipated following its amendment to address concerns from republicans and law enforcement. The 51-7 House vote and the subsequent 27-3 Senate vote on a $211 million funding package aligned with HB 4002 signaled strong legislative support.

“Finally, reforms to Measure 110 will start to take shape, as I intend to sign HB 4002 and the related prevention and treatment investments within the next 30 days,” Kotek said. “As governor, my focus is on implementation. My office will work closely with each implementing authority to set expectations, specifically in response to the Criminal Justice Center’s Racial Equity Impact Statement, which projected disproportionate impacts to communities of color and the accompanying concerns raised by advocates. HB 4002 will require persistent action and commitment from state and local government to uphold the intent that the legislature put forward: to balance treatment for individuals struggling with addiction and accountability.”

Oregon’s Housing Crisis: Passage of Senate Bill 1537 and House Bill 4134

A legislative housing package aimed at addressing Oregon’s housing crisis by increasing affordable housing units for essential workers such as teachers, nurses and firefighters was approved by the state house and awaits the governor’s signature.

The package, consisting of Senate Bill 1537 (SB 1537), Senate Bill 1530 (SB 1530) and House Bill 4134 (HB 4134), marks a significant achievement for Kotek, who prioritized these measures for the 2024 legislative session. Garnering bipartisan backing, the bills will allocate $376 million towards various initiatives, including bolstering housing production, funding infrastructure projects like roads and land acquisition, and providing support for renters.

Kotek praised the passage of the two bills.

“Oregon will now have more tools to meet the urgent demand for all types of housing, in all parts of the state,” she said. “Senate Bill 1537 will help stabilize housing costs by increasing housing production through cutting red tape in permitting processes, establishing some of the strongest affordability standards for new construction in the country, and other critical reforms. Combined with investments in Senate Bill 1530, I look forward to ensuring that every dollar advances housing production.”

Kotek’s administration set an ambitious statewide housing production goal of 36,000 new units annually, surpassing the previous rate of approximately 22,000 units. Building upon prior funding efforts, this latest package includes a $75 million revolving loan fund to assist cities in expanding affordable housing options. It introduces a program enabling local governments to offer interest-free loans for moderate and affordable housing projects, empowering jurisdictions to select and fund local developments.

The bills allocate funds across various initiatives, including $131 million for housing and homelessness projects like Project Turnkey, aimed at repurposing hotels into emergency housing. An additional $123.5 million supports counties in acquiring land and developing properties for housing production.

Furthermore, $24.5 million has been earmarked for emergency air conditioning and air filter provisions, warming and cooling shelters, and home energy efficiency improvements.

While initial discussions regarding the housing package included exemptions allowing cities to circumvent certain state land-use laws, ultimately the bills passed with bipartisan backing, marking a significant step towards addressing Oregon’s housing challenges.

Campaign Contributions Passage of House Bill 4024 

In an historic vote that could significantly alter campaign practices within the state, the Senate easily passed a bill aimed at capping political contributions.

Campaign finance reform is on the horizon for Oregon in 2027 pending Kotek’s approval of the Senate’s passage of House Bill 4024 (HB 4024) on Wednesday.

The House overwhelmingly supported the bill with a 52-5 vote, while the Senate endorsed it with a 22-6 vote.

With a decisive vote, senators forwarded HB 4024 to Kotek, who has signaled her intent to sign it into law.

“This session also marks the historical passage of campaign finance reform with strong bipartisan support,” Kotek said. “I applaud all those who came to the table to find compromise and deliver a policy that will strengthen transparency and confidence in Oregon’s elections. I want to thank legislative leadership for their commitment and urgency in getting it done this session.”

Upon full enactment, the legislation will establish limitations on contributions from individuals, businesses, labor organizations and other entities to candidates. These limitations will vary, contingent upon the entity making the contributions.

Fundamentally, the bill imposes a cap of $3,300 on individual contributions, mirroring federal restrictions. However, committees affiliated with labor unions and non-profit organizations associated with business and advocacy groups would be subject to significantly higher limits.

Furthermore, the bill introduces a novel mechanism for mandating the disclosure of “independent expenditures,” referring to funds expended in support of a candidate without the candidate’s awareness or consent. The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that such expenditures constitute protected free speech and cannot be restricted.

“Book Ban” Bill – Fails To Pass Senate

Senate Bill 1583 (SB 1583), aiming to prevent the removal of library books based on the perspective or authorship related to protected classes faced opposition and ultimately failed to advance to the senate.

“One of the more notable casualties of the clock running out was SB 1583, which would have limited our elected school boards’ ability to decide what course materials and even library books are appropriate and inappropriate for students,” Cate said. “This is a conversation that a lot of people feel has been overblown by conservatives and is discriminatory in nature, but some of the materials being found in some classrooms is truly beyond the pale to show to young school kids, and I’m glad our school boards, who are held accountable by local parents, will still retain the local control to evaluate what is most appropriate for our students.”

Wildfire Protections and Property Tax Proposals

Three measures aimed at increasing funding for wildfires this legislative session failed to pass, but a bill concerning protection for wildfire survivors’ settlements will go to Kotek’s desk. This session sought to address gaps in wildfire funding through bills addressing various aspects of wildfire prevention and response, including landowner fees, home protection and survivor compensation.

The legislature unanimously passed two bills this week aimed at providing financial assistance to survivors of wildfires. Of the proposed bills, only Senate Bill 1520 (SB 1520) was successful, ensuring that wildfire survivors are not taxed on compensation and settlements.

“One of the greatest victories of the session, passing with just a day to spare, was some long overdue tax relief for wildfire victims. The state and counties should not get more in taxes from victims because of the fire, and SB 1545 and SB 1520 (also HB 4007) achieve that,” Cate said.

“There was an amazing team working on these concepts, and to have both pass unanimously speaks volumes at how much this tax relief was the right thing to do for victims. We still have a long way to go to make sure every victim who wants to rebuild has that opportunity, but little by little, we’re making it more of a reality, and achieving the very unpopular thing for the legislature’s majority of passing actual tax relief. And that makes me very happy.”

The first bill, SB 1520, sponsored by Sen. Brian Boquist, I-Dallas, establishes a tax exemption for awards resulting from lawsuits related to wildfires. This move addresses concerns that survivors were receiving only a fraction of their lawsuit payouts due to state and federal tax laws. The legislation ensures that survivors will not be subject to state taxes on any awards or judgments. Boquist hailed the bill as a bipartisan effort to offer financial relief to wildfire victims, particularly those affected by the 2020 Labor Day wildfires, which resulted in numerous lawsuits and settlements.

The second bill, SB 1545, sponsored by Cate and Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, focuses on reducing property taxes for homeowners rebuilding their homes after the 2020 wildfires. This legislation allows counties to grant property tax breaks to homeowners who are reconstructing homes lost in the wildfires. Homeowners will be able to pay property taxes based on pre-fire assessed values, easing the financial burden of rebuilding.

Both bills reflect bipartisan efforts to support wildfire survivors in their recovery efforts. They now await Kotek’s signature to become law.

The failed proposals, which were a response to the 40% cut in funding to state fire agencies in 2023, aimed to reduce landowner fees and secure additional funding from taxpayers or the timber industry. Democratic lawmakers were divided on whether funding should come from all taxpayers or predominantly from private property and business owners who benefit from state protection of natural resources.

Kotek supported a bill to increase the timber harvest tax and lower wildfire protection fees for ranch and timber landowners, contingent on a long-term funding solution by 2025. However, the bill was shelved due to last-minute fiscal concerns.

Additionally, two bills proposing ballot measures to raise property taxes or reinstate a severance tax on timber harvests for wildfire funding were unsuccessful. One remaining proposal suggests studying the potential reinstatement of a severance tax, but faced opposition from the timber industry.

Last Day Brings More Changes

In a pivotal moment during the 2024 legislative session, a significant shift in leadership took place.

Representative Rayfield, D-Corvallis, opted to step down from the position of speaker to concentrate on a candidacy for attorney general. This decision opened the pathway for representative Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, to be elected as the incoming House Speaker.

Announced during this transition was the retirement of representative Paul Holvey, a long-standing Eugene democrat who has been a prominent figure in the state legislature for two decades. Holvey, despite facing a recall attempt last fall, emerged with overwhelming support.

The session also witnessed the departure of several senators, with some exits not being by choice.

The Oregon Supreme Court’s ruling in early February had determined that 10 republican lawmakers were ineligible for reelection. This occurred due to their refusal to attend Senate floor sessions for six weeks the previous year. It was reiterated by the federal court on March 6.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an updated federal case filing regarding a dispute involving three state senators, Sens. Brian Boquist, Cedric Hayden and Dennis Linthicum, who stated they were exercising their first amendment rights by partaking in the walkout.

In the filing, the court reiterated the characterization of freedom of speech under the First Amendment as a privilege or immunity, rather than a right. The case centered on a federal injunction sought by the senators against Oregon Senate President Rob Wagner and Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade to prevent their disqualification for reelection due to legislative absences.

The Ninth Circuit upheld a lower court ruling denying the senators’ injunction, stating that legislative walkouts to deny a quorum are not protected under the First Amendment.

Among those affected, senators Knopp, Art Robinson of Cave Junction, Dennis Linthicum of Beatty, Bill Hansell of Athena, Lynn Findley of Vale, and Brian Boquist of Dallas are concluding their legislative tenure. Additionally, four other republicans will vacate their seats as their terms expire.

No Change to Daylight

Saving Time

The push to end daylight saving time in Oregon failed to reach the governor’s desk this session. Despite narrowly passing the Senate, the measure that would have put the state on permanent standard time ironically ran out of time to become law due to the end of the 2024 short session.