Gomberg: The roller coaster picks up speed | Opinion

Late last week, I described the short legislative session as a roller coaster. You start by slowly and steadily climbing. And then you come over the peak and start downhill at a dizzying speed accompanied with a lot of screaming and arm waving.

We’re headed through the final twists and turns of that roller coaster ride now. This week, floor sessions are scheduled for extended hours during the day and into the evening. Policy committees and soon budget sub-committees will be shutting down. Final Ways and Means consideration of proposals still alive that have a fiscal impact are increasing.

Most media attention, and certainly most of my mail this session have been about policy. How do we pay agricultural workers? Should we add a sales tax to luxury products? Should we allow more self-service gas? But I believe the lasting effect of the 2022 session will be not about policy, but about money.

We are now looking at investments that will create jobs, reduce taxes, improve lives, save people money and ultimately transform our state. We are looking at one-time commitments to building new housing, replacing old sewers, improving ports, and creating new parks. Our water systems, buildings and bridges are aging. Replacing them would cost local taxpayers more than they can afford. But state help with federal money will change everything.

I’ll have news about these advances soon. But today I want to return to those policy bills and an update on where some of them seem to be going as the roller coaster ride continues.

Gomberg column

Agricultural Overtime: Certainly the most contentious bill of the session is HB 4002 which would mandate overtime pay for most farmworkers in Oregon, as California and Washington State have done. Agricultural workers have traditionally been exempted from mandatory overtime. Some say that’s simply the reality of farm work, which often demands more than 40 hours a week for harvest and other seasonal functions. Others argue farms should pay workers just like any other industry and see a strong thread of racism in the mix. Some worry that increased farm costs will increase food costs. In any case, this bill has emerged as the session’s main lighting rod, an intense battle between social justice advocates and the corporate farm lobby. Details are still being negotiated in the House Committee on Revenue of what hours qualify for overtime pay, implementing the change over several years, and assisting small farms with state tax credits to offset costs.

Private Forest Accord: The two historic forestry bills I wrote about recently, both products of intense negotiation between the timber industry and environmentalists, are steaming along. SB 1501 widens streamside buffer zones and lays the foundation for habitat conservation plans. SB 1546 creates the Elliott State Research Forest, resolving a long, long battle over the future of the crown jewel of Oregon’s state forests. Both advanced from the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery and are now in Ways and Means. I’m confident both will get across the finish line.

Deadly Heat: SB 1536 responds to last summer’s deadly heat dome by overcoming obstacles to installation of air conditioning in rental housing and supporting the purchase of heat pump units by qualified buyers. Legislators have come to see this as the life-or-death issue that it is. The bill passed out of Senate Housing and Development and is now in Ways and Means.

Legislative Compensation: Representatives and Senators now earn about $33,000 a year – roughly the same as fast food workers and a third of what County Commissioners are paid. SB 1566 would raise legislators’ compensation to $57,000, keyed to the average compensation of Oregonians. We hear all the time of talented, dedicated people who can’t afford to run, and accomplished legislators forced to leave service to meet their obligations. The current salary effectively excludes a lot of people from the legislature and the result is a legislature that largely doesn’t look like Oregon. That’s a problem for representative democracy. My own view is that public service is not supposed to be easy, convenient, or lucrative. An increase may be warranted but should be approved by the voters first. Meanwhile, SB 1566 remains in Senate Rules.

Pump Your Own Gas: Another proposal generating a lot of discussion is HB 4151. We currently have self-service in our district – in the evenings in Tillamook County and at the Casino in Grand Ronde. This measure would allow all stations to offer self-serve at half of their pumps but ensure full-service was available at the same price. The bill requires that an attendant still be on duty for those who do not wish to pump their own gas. It simply offers a choice, very similar to the option to self-checkout in a store or go through a cashier’s line. Gas stations are facing the same workforce issues that all sectors are facing right now and have had to close pumps due to not having enough attendants. Additionally, this bill will reduce the amount of cars sitting in line waiting for an attendant and releasing exhaust into the air while they idle. But I’ve heard from many people with concerns for those that are physically unable to pump their own gas. The bill remains in the Joint Committee on Transportation.

School District Oversight: SB 1521 authorizes a school district board to terminate the superintendent without cause only if certain conditions are met. This bill still retains local control for our school board members but states that a superintendent cannot be fired for following federal and/or state law. The measure is in the House Education committee with a work session scheduled Tuesday. You can read more here.

Expanding Affordable Home Options: The House passed House Bill 4064 A and has sent it to the Senate. The measure will streamline local regulations on manufactured housing and clarify that Oregonians can place prefabricated homes in mobile home parks, breaking down a barrier to more innovative housing options. The bill will also help Oregonians in manufactured housing parks rebuild from the 2020 Labor Day wildfires. The bill also expands the use of Oregon’s manufactured dwelling replacement loan program, giving Oregonians whose manufactured homes were destroyed by wildfire the option of using the loan to rebuild outside the natural disaster area.

Unclaimed Veteran Cremains: HB 4082 ensures interment and proper burial for unclaimed veteran cremains. There have been instances, both in Oregon and elsewhere, of the cremated remains of veterans being discovered and unclaimed, lying on a shelf in a funeral home for many years. The bill directs counties to designate one or more “veterans remains coordinators” to work in a volunteer capacity to identify unclaimed cremated or reduced remains located within the county, establish the eligibility of the individual for interment in a national cemetery, and arrange for the interment of the remains. The bill passed unanimously in the House and is on its way to the Senate for consideration.

Volunteer Firefighter Tax Credit: HB 4097 creates a $1,000 tax credit for active volunteer firefighters to help aid in recruitment and retention. Volunteer firefighters are vital for community safety, especially in our rural departments. The bill has strong bipartisan support. It received a public hearing in the House Committee on Revenue, which is not subject to the policy committee deadlines. I am hopeful the bill will move forward this session.

Future Ready Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown’s $200 million workforce development plan seeks to expand recruitment and training in the construction, health care and manufacturing sectors. It focuses on training, workforce engagement and removing employment barriers to solve the state’s growing labor supply shortage. SB 1545 is a big bill that passed out of Senate Labor and Business unanimously and is now in Ways and Means.

Salmon Incubation Nurseries: HB 4145 establishes a fish incubation program through the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. This legislation will help to create instream wild salmon in our watersheds and provide shelter for newly hatched eggs where they can remain safe from predators, allowing them to grow and thrive in Oregon’s waterways. The measure was referred to the House Committee On Environment and Natural Resources. It did not receive a hearing to move forward this session.

One Day Fishing Licenses: It now costs nearly twice as much to go recreational fishing out of Oregon ports as it does in California or Washington. Coastal legislators have been trying to fix this for years. My Bill, HB 4072 was approved in House Environment and Natural Resources and is on the move in Ways and Means.

Terminates State of Emergency Relating to COVID-19: Another hot button issue is HJR 201, a resolution that would terminate the state of emergency declared by the Governor in Executive Order 20-03 on March 8, 2020, relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure is sitting in the House Committee on Rules and no action has been taken.

Sales Tax on Luxury Goods: HB 4079 proposed to enact a sales tax on a variety of consumer goods. The bill went to the House Committee On Human Services, never received a hearing, and died early in the session.

Open Meeting Enforcement: House Bill 4140 created penalties for violating Oregon’s public meetings law and gave the Oregon Government Ethics Commission the authority to investigate and fine individuals for those violations. The House Committee on Rules held a hearing on the measure but no further action is presently scheduled.

Voting in Prison: HB 4147 would allow people serving time for felony convictions to vote, using their address prior to incarceration as their residence address. The bill was referred to the House Rules Committee, but no hearing was scheduled.

Campaign Finance Limits: SB 1526 establishes limits on campaign contributions that may be accepted by candidates and political committees. A public hearing held in the Senate Committee on Rules. Another is expected but not been scheduled yet.

Instant Firearm Background Checks: Let’s make sure background checks can be done quickly, conveniently, and effectively. SB 1540 appropriates $2.6 million to the Oregon State Police to fund the Firearms Instant Check System. It passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with bi-partisan support and is now in Ways and Means.

Seismic Assessments for Fuel Terminals: A cluster of fuel storage tanks in a seismically vulnerable area next to a major river is a recipe for a major natural disaster. SB 1567 requires owners or operators of oil and liquid fuel terminals in Columbia, Multnomah and Lane counties to conduct and submit seismic vulnerability assessment to the Department of Environmental Quality. I’m a co-sponsor. The bill passed out of the Senate Committee on Energy and the Environment with bi-partisan support. It is now in Ways and Means.

The Reach Code: One of the environmental community’s top priorities for the session was to see passage of what’s known as “the Reach Code,” a statewide building code for new building construction that’s more environmentally ambitious with more energy efficiency and lower emissions than the standard statewide code. With negotiated amendments, SB 1518 was approved unanimously in Senate Energy and Environment and is now in Ways and Means.

How a bill becomes a law

Roughly two hundred bills were introduced for the 2022 session. Back at the start, I cautioned readers not to become too concerned about any they had read about unless and until they began to move and then to check how they may have changed.

Not one single bill has made it entirely through the process yet. That’s to be expected. Time is needed for hearings, time for the public to comment, and time for proper public notice each step of the way. Bills are being read aloud in both the Senate and the House in their entirety. This is an option the minority party has to delay the process and express their disappointment with some bills. That right is being exercised and respected. But it takes more time. Meanwhile measures sent to Ways and Means are being heard in subcommittees and if approved, sent to both chambers for a vote. The combined result is that after four weeks, everything is coming to a head. So now we are scheduled to meet days, nights, and weekends to finish the session’s work.

I’m looking for results that create housing, improve schools, create good jobs and reduce the cost of living. I’m also looking to invest in Oregon and continue to replace or improve aging water and sewer systems, bridges, port facilities, and public buildings across our district. As I said earlier, I believe the lasting effect of the 2022 session will be not about policy, but about money.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned as we work toward adjournment in early March.

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