Good morning everyone – here is the latest CFM Legislative Report…
It’s the first of March and, right on cue, the sun was shining in Salem as legislators put another week in the rearview mirror. Work continues on myriad policy issues, lawmakers received the final revenue forecast before the end of the biennium, and there was some sad news to report as two longtime public servants passed away.
Secretaries of State Dennis Richardson and Norma Paulus Pass Away
The state of Oregon awoke Wednesday to the news that Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, the only current Republican to hold statewide office, lost his battle with brain cancer. Politics took a back seat as tributes poured in from dignitaries on both sides of the political aisle. A combat helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, Richardson was elected to the House of Representatives in 2002 and served six terms, serving as co-chair of the budget-writing Ways & Means Committee when the House was split 30-30 in 2011. Governor Kate Brown will appoint a replacement from the same political party in the coming weeks.
Richardson will lie in state at the Capitol on Wednesday, after which there will be a memorial service in the House chambers.
Norma Paulus, Oregon’s first female Secretary of State, also passed away this week from complications related to dementia. She served in the role between 1977 and 1985 and was a candidate for governor in 1986. As Secretary, she worked to protect Oregonians against election fraud from the Rajneeshees in the mid-80’s and was an ardent environmental supporter.
Updated Revenue Forecast
Analysts in the Legislative Revenue Office unveiled the state’s revenue forecast Wednesday. By all metrics, Oregon’s economic outlook is strong and we will continue to see steady growth into the future. Even though growth has slowed somewhat in the past few years, the state still outpaces national growth rates. Unemployment is near historic lows, even as job growth has tapered (as was projected). Wages also continue to grow at a steady pace as the job market tightens. General Fund revenue for the final months of the 2017-2019 biennium is still uncertain, since tax season just began. Overall, tax refunds are down an average of eleven percent. Since those who pay more taxes generally file later than those receiving refunds, we will likely not have firm numbers until late April.
We will have one final forecast, due in May, that will set the stage for end of session budget negotiations.
HB 2010 – Medicaid Budget
This week, the Senate passed HB 2010, the 2019 Medicaid Funding Package, 23-7. The bill extends the sunset dates for Oregon’s hospital assessment to 2025, Oregon’s reinsurance program until 2028 and Oregon’s insurance premium assessment to 2026. It also increases the premium assessment for 1.5 to 2 percent. In the Joint Ways and Means Committee, Republican members expressed concerns over raising the insurance premium assessment, though it passed out of committee with only two ‘No’ votes. It now heads to the Governor’s desk, where Brown is expected to sign it into law without delay.
HB 3063 – Removal of Non-Medical Vaccine Exemptions
Amidst the ongoing measles outbreak in Clark County Washington and today’s notice of exposure by Salem residents to an infected individual, the House Healthcare Committee heard public testimony on HB 3063, which would remove Oregon’s non-medical exemptions to immunizations required for school students.
Unsurprisingly, this was one of the most contentious hearings of the 2019 session thus far. Hundreds of opponents turned out to express concerns of rising autism rates (despite scientific evidence to the contrary) if the bill passes. They also worry that they will be forced to choose between immunizations and quality education for their children. Proponents from hospitals and health advocacy groups warned that, without high population immunity, vulnerable populations are put at risk. Dr. Dana Hargunani, Chief Medical Officer for the Oregon Health Authority, also noted in her testimony in support of the bill that momentum on this issue often fades after an outbreak and Oregonians should not rely on the ebb and flow of public opinion to craft good public policy.