With several major issues up for debate, discussion is only just beginning as the third week of the 2019 Legislative Session comes to a close. While the Capitol traditionally stays open for business during snow days, if inclement weather closes the building next week, expect the political temperature of legislators to skyrocket as already overloaded committee schedules lead to anger and frustration.
The Student Success Committee on Revenue is meeting on Tuesday and Thursday evenings to attempt to reform corporate taxes. This week the Committee examined and discussed many options for taxing businesses in the state, while also looking at the principles the committee wants to consider as they determine which type of proposal to proceed with. On Thursday, Oregon Business and Industries (OBI), Oregon’s largest business association, gave a presentation on a Business Activities Tax they have been investigating. There was no rate given but the proposal would tax all businesses at the same rate, with exemptions only for businesses making under $500,000 in revenue, government services, charities, public and non-profit universities, financial and insurance companies (would remain under the current corporate income tax), and business with a negative business activities tax. While OBI would not go so far as to endorse the tax option they presented, they wanted to show the committee they want to be part of the conversation and are willing to come to the table with ideas to be considered. The committee embraced the effort, but had many questions.
SB 608, introduced at the beginning of the session, was discussed at-length in the Senate Committee on Housing during a four-hour public hearing and work session Monday. The legislation prohibits landlords from terminating month-to-month tenancy without cause after 12 months of occupancy and restricts rent increases to 7% (plus inflation) per year. After a everyone had been heard, with testimony ranging from local residents to Speaker of the House Tina Kotek (D-Portland), the Democrats of the committee voted the bill out without Republican support.
Thursday evening, the House Health Care Committee heard testimony from OHA Director Pat Allen on provider assessments and the 2019-2021 biennium Medicaid budget before taking up HB 2010. This legislation continues successful and industry-supported hospital and insurer provider assessments that help pay for Medicaid services for the most vulnerable populations in Oregon. Developed over the last year with a wide range of stakeholders, the bill saw some drama when Republican Vice-Chair Rep. Cedric Hayden (R-Cottage Grove) attempted to attach amendments to the bill without Democrat support. Ultimately, the bill moved out of the committee with two Republican supporters and is heading to the Ways and Means Committee for further vetting.
Cap & Trade
The Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction cancelled a meeting scheduled for this past Monday to give the public more time to consider the implications of HB 2020. The committee instead met today and received an economic impact report from an independent consulting firm outlining anticipated effects of a cap-and-trade program in Oregon. The committee was spend the majority of the hearing on testimony from electric, natural gas and environmental justice panels but instead spent most of the hearing debating the merits of the report. Panelists were given three minutes apiece, and will likely be called back at a later date. Another meeting with invited testimony from manufacturers and industry scheduled for Monday, February 11. Two public hearings are scheduled for Friday, February 15 and Monday, February 18, 2019 to give enough time for the public to weigh in. After pressure from the right to do a statewide tour on cap and trade, Democrats are putting one together. The committee will be spending some weekends in March on the road to hear from areas outside Salem.
Wednesday evening, the Committee on Capitol Culture met for a public hearing on SB 744 and HB 2859. The bills contain proposals from an Oregon Law Commission workgroup that convened through the interim to find ways to improve the harassment reporting and investigation process at the Capitol. The bills would establish a Joint Committee on Conduct and a Legislative Equity Office (SB 744) and create a special exemption from disclosure requirements for the Legislative Equity Office principal outreach officer to help encourage victims to come forward and feel protected by confidentiality (HB 2859). Even with the concepts coming from a varied group of stakeholders with deep legal knowledge they faced serious opposition from those that had been victims of harassment in the Capitol and elsewhere. Concerns arose about a potential conflict of interest for the legislature to have oversight over the main investigator who would be investigating accusations and that the system for confidentiality outlined in the bills may go too far as to disable reports like the one recently released by BOLI. The emotional hearing gave many pause; Reflection and new considerations are expected before moving these bills forward.
On Monday, affordable housing advocates, business leaders, and local elected officials from around the state testified in favor of a series of House Bills aimed at increasing affordable housing, with a particular focus on rural communities. HB 2055 and HB 2056 expand upon a successful pilot program in five cities which provided funds for workforce housing—affordable units close to individuals’ workplaces. The bills are structured to facilitate collaboration among employers, local governments, and developers, all of whom lauded the pilot program as a major step in providing better, more affordable housing for workers and their families. This hearing stood in stark contrast to the contentious debate over the proposed rent stabilization bill (SB 608) in the Senate.