The Oregon Senate began passing legislation this week. But it’s not yet time for Oregonians to worry. Or applaud.
Although committees in the Senate and House are considering countless contentious bills, it will be a while before those items reach the floor for votes.
Among those upcoming issues: What to do with the extra millions and millions of dollars that the Legislature unexpectedly has available to spend. State revenues are doing so well despite the pandemic that an income tax “kicker” refund appears headed for taxpayers. Gov. Kate Brown and legislative leaders also continue advocating for more coronavirus-related federal aid for states, including Oregon. Meanwhile, Oregon has not spent all the federal aid it already has received.
Given the unexpected revenue, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said she doesn’t anticipate needing to pass major tax increases to balance the 2021-23 state budget. However, legislators may pass bills that make the tax system more fair – fair at least in the eyes of the advocates.
The Legislature also will decide whether to make the federal stimulus checks exempt from Oregon’s personal income taxes, as they are for federal taxes. After being contacted by many “confused and angry” constituents, Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Fourth District, wrote to Brown, Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and asked that Oregon stop taxing the federal payments. State Sen. Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City, and Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod of Lyons have introduced such legislation, but their Senate Bill 842 has not scheduled for a hearing.
Passing bills: On Thursday, the Oregon Senate passed eight bills – the first of this year’s legislative session. None was memorable.
But the tradition of initiating new legislators was. New Sen. Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, was assigned to carry Senate Bill 37, which regulates real estate appraisal companies. Several colleagues peppered her with frivolous questions, including Sen. James Manning Jr., D-Eugene, asked whether someone would have to pay fees on a pet duck.
A majority of senators then joined in appearing to defeat the bill before changing their votes. SB 37 passed 26-1. Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Myrtle Creek, who also is the new chair of the Oregon Republican Party, voted against all eight bills on the agenda.
Like its predecessors, the 2021 Legislature has started with routine bills, ones that make slight, technical fixes in current laws or had overwhelming bipartisan support in the 2020 Legislature but died when that session collapsed In fact, most bills that become law are bipartisan.
However, bipartisanship alone doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing. House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby and Democratic Rep. David Gomberg of Otis, are sponsoring House Bill 2638. The bill has been a priority of House Republicans. Ten have signed as co-sponsors. Democrats are not keen on it, making Gomberg an anomaly but he is one of the few legislative Democrats with an extensive business background.
The bill would limit the liability of businesses and individuals for actions during the ongoing COVID-19 emergency period so long as they had reasonably followed government guidance. The House Subcommittee on Civil Law, chaired by Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie, held a video hearing last week.
Drazan, Gomberg and a lobbyist testified in favor. Four opponents then spoke.
One of the co-sponsors, Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, R-Salem, took to the House floor this week to complain that the time for testimony ended before nine supporters could speak, including Tom Hoffert, CEO of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce.
Three opponents who signed up to testify also were unable to do so. As of Thursday afternoon, the bill had not been scheduled for additional testimony or work.
Good-bye, Rep. Hernandez: Speaker Kotek this week stripped Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, of his committee assignments. Hernandez has resigned, effective March 15, instead of facing a House vote on whether to expel him over allegations of sexual harassment and creating a hostile workplace.
The House had been scheduled to vote Tuesday on that measure, HR 1. With Hernandez’s resignation now irrevocable, action on the measure was delayed to March 16, when the measure will be tabled indefinitely.
Alas for the Round-Up: Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, pointed out that none of the contestants on a recent episode of “Jeopardy” answered this question: “September is when thousands of rodeo fans are driven into northeast Oregon for the annual Pendleton …”
The answer, of course, is the world-famous Pendleton Round-Up.
Sock it to ’em: Hansell is someone who brings the real world into the State Capitol. On Wednesday, he showed off the “Mandalorian” socks given him by his 10-year-old grandson and which he was wearing on the Senate floor as promised.
Socks must be an Oregon thing. The Capitol Store sells socks that have the carpet design from the House chamber, Senate chamber or Governor’s Ceremonial Office, as well as socks with the state seal.
Congressman DeFazio wore his Route 66 socks when he met Thursday with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and others to discuss federal infrastructure legislation. DeFazio chairs the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
“I made sure to point out to the President that I was wearing my Route 66 socks as [a] reminder we are still living off the legacy of President Eisenhower to the detriment of our safety, our economy, our communities, and our environment,” DeFazio said in a statement after what he said was a bipartisan meeting in the Oval Office.
“It is time to get out of the 1950s and move forward on a transformational infrastructure bill that puts millions of people to work building the infrastructure of the 21st century and beyond all while putting our country on a path toward zero pollution.”
Oregon led the way: Seniors criticized Gov. Brown for making educators a higher priority for receiving the coronavirus vaccine. But this week Biden followed suit, directing states to vaccinate educators.
Meanwhile, confusion continues in Oregon’s vaccination rollout. The state switched to a lottery system for the mass vaccination site at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. Yet this week the vaccination site at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem was accepting walk-ins along with people who had appointments.
An oddity of the fairgrounds site is that to reach the parking area, motorists traverse a long, serpentine route that includes driving inside an immense livestock building.