Like clockwork, temperaments in the legislature are beginning to sour as committees start working on controversial measures. Republicans in the Senate are requiring the chamber to read the entirety of bills before their final vote. Notably, House Republicans are allowing the chamber to proceed without bill readings, but it is perhaps only a matter of time before the long slog of a computer voice reads a bill word-for-word before consideration.
This session is notably different than previous years, where delay tactics and threats of a walkout were featured from the very beginning of the session. Until now, Democrats and Republicans have played well together, even finding middle ground on issues that used to be political hotbeds—like industrial policy and housing. The chamber of origin deadline requires the committees to address complicated and controversial measures. To remain in play for the session, the policy committees must advance them to the floor, budget, tax, or rules committee to stay alive.
In previous sessions, the deadline drove activity on bills that were nowhere near ready for primetime and, in some cases, breathed inevitable life into bills thought to be dead. While that is still the case for a handful of measures this session, it is not happening as regularly. Part of this is due to budget leadership signaling that bills creating new spending programs are generally off the table unless lawmakers and advocates can find a dedicated funding source. The challenge of funding new programs seems to be stopping many proposals. Of course, some bills find ways to come back from the dead.
The list of bills slated for third readings (votes) on the floor is growing quickly and will consume a significant amount of the legislature’s time in the weeks ahead. In past years, the presiding officers regularly scheduled extended floor sessions in the evenings and weekends to work through the list. A new bargaining chip has emerged this session—Fridays. Thus far in the session, the legislature has not scheduled any floor sessions and only a few committee hearings on Fridays, allowing lawmakers to return to their districts and spend time with constituents and their families. For many legislators, Fridays in their districts have become sacred, and the thought of giving them up is painful. Perhaps leveraging the shared interest in a long weekend can rally the partisan forces to continue working together, even if they cannot agree on all of the politics.
Governor Signs Housing Package, Legislature Closes In On Semiconductors
On Wednesday, Gov. Tina Kotek (D) signed the legislature’s housing and homelessness package, which lawmakers prioritized in the opening weeks of the session. The package is the state’s initial step towards increasing the available land supply for new residential homes and increasing services to move people out of homelessness. The package is notable for its speed through the legislature and for setting a tone where partisans work together to solve a pressing problem.
Similarly, the Senate approved the legislative package to attract large investments from semiconductor manufacturers. Besides housing, the initiative to lure investments from chipmakers is driving the session. On Wednesday, the Senate made it a special order of business to approve the initial package of regulatory and land incentives, passing the bill with a robust and bipartisan vote of 21 to 8. The House is expected to vote on the package as early as Tuesday, sending it to the governor for her signing before U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo visits Oregon in a few weeks as part of a tour supporting the industry.
Both the housing and semiconductor packages enjoy robust and bipartisan support from lawmakers. They also share a general understanding among the parties that they are initial steps at long-term priorities for the legislature. And soon enough, additional proposals, such as land use and tax incentives, will return to the forefront of lawmakers’ attention. The legislature is taking small but meaningful steps in the first half of the session to prioritize growth and prosperity.
Data Suggests Oregon’s Population Slowdown Is Persisting
On Thursday, the U.S. Census Bureau released its county-level population estimates, a dataset that had been delayed due to administrative issues with the census itself. The data paint a troubling picture for Oregon, particularly the Portland metropolitan area. Multnomah County, Oregon’s largest county, lost 2.5 percent of its population between 2020 and 2022. The Portland area’s suburban counties, namely Clackamas and Washington counties, remained relatively unchanged. Notably, Clark County, Washington, which includes Vancouver, experienced the fastest growth out of the state’s larger counties, adding 2.27 percent to its population. Although we cannot say for sure that Clark County’s growth is fueled by people fleeing Portland until the Internal Revenue Service releases its migration dataset, it seems to be a likely candidate.
What We’re Reading This Week
- The Oregon Government Ethics Commission, the state’s watchdog over public officials and lobbyists, is opening an investigation into the scandal at the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, whose leadership set aside rare bourbons for themselves and other officials.
- A new proposal in the Senate seeks to enact a sweeping gun control law that opponents say would usurp an ongoing lawsuit over an initiative voters approved in the general election.
- While conservatives and progressives agree that housing is a paramount issue of the session, the same cannot be said about a controversial proposal to tamp down the state’s rent control law.
- The legislature approved $7.5 million for the Oregon Food Bank as part of a recent budget reconciliation. Although local food banks enjoy bipartisan support, the statewide organization has recently upset Republicans by engaging in social politics and taking a public position on the 2019 and 2020 legislative walkouts.
- A pair of state representatives are working to craft a robust drought mitigation and water resiliency package. However, the signal from budget leaders to scale back spending on new programs may get in the way.
- Spring break did not stop Josh Lehner with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis from sharing his insights on the population trends from the U.S. Census Bureau.