Legislative Crossroads: Kumbaya or Kumbaygone?
Oregon lawmakers have spent the last eight weeks largely focusing on the shared priorities of Democrats and Republicans. These include some of the early initiatives to jump-start the state’s efforts to boost housing production and attract investments from semiconductor firms. The collegiality between the parties has been a pleasant change of pace from previous sessions, where the parties started on a collision course. It remains to be seen if that continues to be the case as we move into the more contentious periods of the session.
Today concludes the biggest week of the session. The House passed a package of bills comprising the legislature’s initiative to build more affordable housing and support the homeless population with a strong bipartisan vote. The Joint Committee on Semiconductors also advanced its early regulatory and grant package for the industry. Although the measure is a crucial first step to position the state for these investments, the policy disappointed all sides. For conservationists, the bill goes too far in providing extraordinary authority for the governor to designate rural lands for industrial development. And, for industry, it falls short of making those lands usable because they are likely to wind up in a costly and lengthy appeals process.
While the legislature is making significant progress toward its early priorities, it is also falling short. A crucial component to lure semiconductor and advanced manufacturing investments includes a slate of tax incentives, including restoring Oregon’s expired tax credit for research and development, to improve the state’s competitive position. Lawmakers punted on those components until later in the session. Deferring those critical elements likely increases the state of play in the Joint Committee on Tax Expenditures, a committee comprised of the tax-writing committees from each chamber, as they work to craft an omnibus tax policy and spending budget in the final weeks of the session.
At the close of business today, the legislature will meet its first major milestone of the session—the chamber of origin deadline—where any bill in a policy committee not scheduled for a work session (vote) by April 4 effectively dies. The self-imposed deadline is a way to help the legislature keep the pace of the session moving and to narrow the focus of legislators and advocates on the measures leadership intends to move forward. It’s a painful day for some rushing to save measures or put them on life support but also a day of glee for those seeking to stop problematic ideas from advancing in the process.
The chamber of origin also forces the legislature to tackle controversial issues sure to rile up partisan flames. In the next two weeks, the House intends to move legislation requiring health insurance companies to cover reproductive and gender-affirming treatments and make it a crime for anyone to prevent access to these services, punishable with up to a year in prison. The House is also preparing to advance a series of gun control measures, including banning “ghost” guns, increasing the age to buy a firearm, and allowing local governments to restrict concealed handgun licenses on public property. These and other measures are likely to test the collegiality that has so far defined the session.
What We're Reading This Week
- Despite voters regularly saying they want lawmakers to address housing and homelessness, a DHM Research poll commissioned by The Oregonian says only 25 percent of residents want construction to occur in their communities.
- Federal regulators and the US Coast Guard are directing Oregon and Washington transportation officials to study a drawbridge option for a potential replacement of the Interstate Bridge, which could add substantial costs to the already controversial effort.
- The legislature spent the last few years rolling out a new pay equity program designed to eliminate pay discrepancies in the state's workforce. However, an audit from the Secretary of State finds the equity gap largely remained the same and even grew in some cases.
- Lawmakers might consider another delay in the state's rollout of the new paid family medical leave insurance program, possibly until March 2024, due to a large number of employers opting out of the program.
- Multnomah County activists seeking voter support for a measure imposing a second capital gains tax seem to be confused about the requirements of their own proposal.
- The leaders of two semiconductor firms write an opinion article in The Oregonian about the importance of improving the state's tax and regulatory competitiveness for luring investment to the state.
- Gary Conkling, in a submission in The Oregon Way, writes about the importance of looking beyond semiconductors as the legislature considers incentives to lure investment, saying "Oregon should put chips in more than one basket."