SALEM — Oregon legislative leaders Saturday celebrated a 28-day policymaking session marked by some bipartisan legislation.
Democratic leaders launched the session Feb. 5 with lofty ambitions of universal health care and a cap-and-invest program. Adjourning Saturday lawmakers left the state Capitol having passed smaller policy advancements with consensus from the Republican minority in many instances.
“This session surprised me,” said state Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. “I was worried that we were overcommitted, doing too much, but we just adjourned eight days before the constitutional deadline.”
Lawmakers made a fix to the state’s domestic violence gun laws, passed some measures to push back on Trump administration policies and made changes to help fund affordable housing and shed light on pharmaceutical drug prices.
The Legislature’s short session — held in even-numbered years — was sold to voters in 2010 as a time to fix laws and adjust the state budget. In 2016, the Legislature used the short session to pass major policies such as an increase in minimum wage and limits on the use of coal power.
This time, lawmakers showed restraint as many of them prepared for re-election bids this year. The filing deadline for the May 15 primary is Tuesday.
“Really, the session worked the way it should,” said House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland. “There were emerging issues. We dealt with them, and we did strategic investments for communities that needed some things. We balanced the budget. We also were able to take on some of the bigger issues facing the state.”
Republican leaders Rep. Mike McLane of Powell Butte, and Sen. Jackie Winters of Salem said the short session remains “broken.”
“Oregonians sent us here to adjust budgets, make minor policy tweaks, and respond to emergencies. Instead, the majority party introduced significant partisan policy changes that were impossible to properly vet in such a short amount of time,” they said in a joint statement. “While thankfully many of these bills failed to make it to the governor’s desk, it’s hard to escape the reality that the short session is increasingly becoming more about political posturing than good policy making.”
Lawmakers passed two bills aimed at understanding the high price of prescription drugs and shining light on coordinated care organizations, which provide government-subsidized health care to low-income Oregonians through the state’s version of Medicaid.
House Bill 4005 requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to disclose reasons for increases in the price of prescription drugs when the increase exceeds 10 percent.
House Bill 4018 makes public the meetings of the state’s 15 CCOs and requires the organizations to give at least three months’ notice before ending a contract with the state, an effort to stabilize the health care system.
A bill to strip gun rights from convicted stalkers and intimate partners convicted of abuse passed both chambers. Known as closure of the “boyfriend loophole,” the fix was a priority of Gov. Kate Brown for this session.
Lawmakers boosted revenue to fund affordable housing by raising the real estate document recording fee from $20 to $60. The fee is the state’s only source of revenue dedicated to paying for affordable housing.
The increase is projected to generate an additional $60 million every two years
Lawmakers eliminated a federal deduction for businesses on state tax returns.
While the state’s income tax code is largely tied to federal code, business owners with “pass-through” income on their personal income taxes will not be allowed to deduct up to 20 percent of their income in 2018.
It was unclear Saturday whether the governor plans on vetoing the bill. She raised some concerns during session over the impact it would have on the state’s small businesses.
The bill was intended to stem state revenue losses from federal tax reform late last year. The change is expected to result in $244 million in tax dollars in the existing two-year budget than if the state had allowed the deduction.
State lawmakers have no authority to regulate internet companies. However, they can pass laws to use the state’s buying power to encourage certain business practices.
In this case, they required that internet providers that contract with government entities in the state abide by the principles of net neutrality. That means contractors may not block, slow down or charge more for certain content.
An ambitious proposal to enact a cap-and-invest program this year moved through the session without legislative action.
The program would have charged companies for emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and invested the proceeds into projects designed to offset global warming.
Kotek and Courtney said they want to pass the legislation next year during the Legislature’s longer session. They also announced the creation of a new Joint Legislative Committee on Carbon Reduction.
Lawmakers also added $1.4 million to the state budget as part of the budget reconciliation bill to create a carbon policy office in the state Department of Administrative Services.
Portland Rep. Mitch Greenlick’s third try to refer a constitutional amendment to voters to make access to affordable and effective health care a fundamental right was blocked in the Senate. Opponents were concerned about potential cost and litigation that could result from the constitutional provision.
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.