Oregon Legislative Session Starts… Dems Have Control, Plans

On Tuesday, The Oregon Legislature began it’s five month session at the capitol in Salem. Oregon’s Democratic Party high-stepped into the chamber with a three fifths supermajority in both houses, which basically allows them to paper airplane legislation over the Republican’s heads directly to Kate Brown’s desk, as this majority is required to pass new taxes. During campaign season, the Dems were intently focused on gaining this advantage, telling voters that significant improvements on issues like education funding, housing affordability, and health care were en route. Here’s a breakdown on some of the problems that Gov. Brown and her party intends to address.

Funding Education

Won’t somebody please think of the children? Oregon consistently ranks in the bottom third of states in education, which may explain why Kate Brown made this concern a highlight of her campaign, and why my neighbor’s kid keeps licking my screen door. Gross. We actually have the third worst high school graduation rate in the country. Also gross.

Brown’s 2017-19 budget proposal calls for nearly two billion extra dollars to be invested in Oregon schools. “Oregon is at a turning point for our education system,” said Brown in the proposal. “The current economy and work of the legislature’s Student Success Committee offers a historic opportunity to repair the damage done by more than 20 years of disinvestment in our children’s educational opportunities.”

These dollars will be allocated toward deficiencies such as graduation rates, large class sizes, and previously cut programs and services in higher education. Gov. Brown would like $133.2 million to fund Measure 98, the High School Success Fund, which supports dropout prevention, college-level courses, and career technical training for students. The Dems also hope to strengthen preschool opportunities, as well as expand the public school year. Sorry kids, get smarter. A not-super-small chunk of these dollars would also go toward PERS, as the state’s pension program is experiencing a deficit.

Climate Change

Climate change is real, it’s urgent, and the greenhouse gasses that we pump into the atmosphere are intensifying it. Any media outlet that still frames this as a debate is doing you a disservice; the debate is over. Oregon’s Democratic Party has been attempting to pass a carbon cap and trade bill for some time now, and many legislators believe that 2019 is the year.

Cap and trade works like this: there’s a limit, or a cap, on the amount of carbon emissions a company can emit, and they can buy and sell carbon allowances, or trade them. A scheme like this might encourage larger entities to find cost effective ways to limit their emissions, and would incentivize smaller businesses to sell their allowed emissions to larger companies.

While some companies like Nike and Adidas have spoken up in support of climate legislation, Oregon’s traditional business lobby can be expected to oppose the legislation in force. Even some Republican lawmakers have resigned to the fact that a bill will pass, however, including State Senator Cliff Bentz of Ontario. At a recent Oregon Cattleman’s Association convention, Bentz addressed a crowd of angry ranchers: “You can stand and yell, but it’s not going to stop cap and trade from passing.” The reason why Bentz did not expect hootin’ and hollerin’ from cowboys remains to be seen.

Gun Control

With the U.S. having become a veritable shooting gallery, lawmakers across the country have struggled to effectively address the problem. In part, their lack of understanding is thanks to the Dickey Amendment, a rider in a 1996 federal spending bill which stated “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

Many new regulations have been proposed, the most dramatic of which being SB 501 which we outlined last week. While some lawmakers have been dismissive of the bill’s harsher regulations, like outlawing revolvers via a five-round magazine limit, and capping ammunition purchases to 20 rounds a month, some parts of 501 align more closely with Brown and party’s gun control targets. Lawmakers aim to require safe storage of firearms with devices like trigger locks, and make it easier for shooting victims to sue negligent gun owners.

Additionally, House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson of Portland has said, “We have some major retailers who want us to take up the issue of whether they can deny sales to folks under 21.”

Other Stuff

Medicaid helps 100 million Oregonians with health care, and it’s on the fritz with an $800 million gap in funding. Browns solution? Tax two bucks a pack extra for smokes, and lucky me, I just quit last week. My hand hurts from punching my computer. She has also called for taxing hospitals and health insurers, whom I won’t have to deal with if I stop punching stuff. And stop smoking.

Workers rights, specifically paid family and medical leave, are also on the table, and a bipartisan work group has been sorting out the details. According to House Majority Leader Williamson, “The question is, what’s the best fit for Oregon? I’d like it to pass.”

Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem has been pondering the ol’ drinky-drivey, proposing that Oregon should join Utah in making the legal driving limit 0.5 rather than 1.5. Scratch that — rather than 0.8, I confused that with the legal writing-this-article limit.

The Dems are also exploring rent control, an issue we’re addressing in this week’s Weekly Churn, so please have a look. On the subject of housing costs, House Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland is proposing that the state allows duplexes, triplexes, and four-plexes on single-family lots in cities with 10,000 residents or more, which would include Corvallis. NIMBYs may not be happy with this proposal, so it’s fortunate for us that NIMBYs don’t exist in Corvallis.

-By Jay Sharpe