The Oregon State Legislature is moving quickly through its short session. This digest has some of the highlights from last week, as well as bills to keep an eye on this week. Upcoming bills are listed in order of their next scheduled hearing or work session.
Last week’s highlights
Multiple bills have passed through committee consideration and will be debated by either the full state senate or the full house of representatives before going to a vote. As a result, these bills are much closer to becoming laws. Some bills have already made it through one legislative chamber or another. They could become law if they make it through another vote with no amendments and are signed by Governor Kate Brown. One example is HB 4133, which improves Oregon’s online voter registration system, especially for those voters who do not have a state-issued ID and is scheduled for a second reading in the state house of representatives today.
House Bill 4079, which would have provided former foster youth and low-income pregnant parents with a guaranteed income, will not be up for a vote. State Representative Anna Williams, who chairs the House Committee on Human Services, pulled the bill from the committee’s agenda. Williams told The Statesman Journal, “The bill faced a difficult path out of our committee and we had limited time to address concerns in a five-week session.”
State Senator Dallas Heard refused to wear a mask on the Oregon Senate floor yet again on Wednesday. Heard was removed from the chamber during the special legislative session held in December 2021 for the same reason. He also drew national attention during a special session in December 2020 for ripping off his mask in the Senate chamber and quoting scripture.
During last week’s public hearing, supporters and opponents of the bill testified for more than three hours. While extending a basic labor right to a class of workers and addressing almost 85 years of systematic racial injustice seems like an obvious step for Oregon’s legislators, farm owners have persuaded many legislators from rural districts that keeping agricultural workers below the poverty line is important. Republicans in the state house have hinted at a walkout during negotiations. HB 4002 in its original form offered farm owners credits to reduce the burden of paying their employees, as well as gradual phase-in. Amendments already on the table would set higher limits for overtime and would only allow overtime outside of “peak labor periods” which cover almost six months of the year. PCUN, the union representing farmworkers in Oregon, has called for a ‘day without immigrants,’ asking immigrants in Oregon to stay home today to show support for the bill.
Environmental racism can include a variety of systemic injustices, from the higher numbers of toxic polluters around neighborhoods with more residents of color to decades-long failures to address failing infrastructure in communities of color. While Oregon has an Environmental Justice Task Force that is responsible for providing guidance to the governor and state agencies, that task force doesn’t have the resources it needs to provide accurate guidance — to the point that it’s difficult assess the differences between harms faced by one location in the state to another. HB 4077 addresses these problems by providing resources to a reformed version of the EJTF.
When Oregon is next hit with a major earthquake, rupturing fuel tanks will be one of our biggest problems. Bulk fuel storage, like the tanks in Portland’s Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub along U.S. Route 30, will likely spill up to 200 million gallons of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel into the Willamette River and on surrounding land. Preventing this potential disaster will require a variety of tactics — in an ideal world, the facilities within the CEI Hub would be decommissioned and removed immediately. However, since we don’t live in an ideal world, individual steps are important. SB 1567 would require the various owners of bulk fuel tanks to assess their vulnerability to earthquakes and put risk mitigation plans in place, as well as requiring the Oregon Department of Energy to develop a statewide energy security plan. While testimony is heavily in favor of the bill so far, companies like Zenith Energy routinely play by different rules than the average voter.
SB 1536 — Limits restrictions landlords, home owners associations, and others can impose on air conditioners and other cooling devices in residences
In an effort to prevent future deaths from heat waves, the Oregon state senate is considering requiring cooling systems in new rental units, as well as preventing landlords from restricting tenants’ cooling options. This bill’s work session on February 9 was carried over to today. HB 4058, which also addresses heat relief, is also working its way through the committee process and has been referred to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means for further consideration.