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  • NW Policy Advocates

Oregon Legislative Update – 2024 Session - Week 1

73 Hearings in Week One

Oregon's "short" Session kicked off this week with a long list of items to discuss.

73 hearings focused on close to 287 bills in less than five full days. More than 1,200 witnesses filled the Capitol's hallway and online witness portals. Over 100 witnesses testified in a single hearing (on BM110) on Wednesday night.

The Capitol was abuzz with activity well into the evenings as many hearings ran until 7:00 p.m. and one ended just before 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday

Why the rush? Committees have until Thursday, February 15 to pass bills out of their initial "Committee of Origin." So time is short and there is a lot left to do.

Revenue Forecast Up $560M

Oregon lawmakers have $560 million more than expected to spend this session. This should enable Legislators to invest in key priorities, such as Housing Infrastructure, Behavioral Health for adults and youth, Community Corrections, and even public safety infrastructure. Those decisions will be made towards the end of the month or in early March.

Behavioral Health

Among bills of interest, the House Committee on Behavioral Health & Health heard HB 4151 – the Youth Behavioral Health Task Force, which would task the state with improving licensure for youth behavioral health service professions. It was crafted by the Balmer Institute, which has already begun to train new providers - Child Behavioral Health Specialists - at the undergraduate level. The -3 amendment would move the task force from OHA to the System of Care Advisory Council.

The Balmer Institute’s Director testified that the task force will focus on:

  1. Identifying existing and emerging youth serving behavioral health professions that don’t have professional authorization

  2. Evaluating how these professions could help expand the workforce to meet increasing demand and make recommendations about how they can be supported by professional regulatory agencies

  3. Identify strategies to creating pathways to professions among underrepresented populations

At this point, interns would focus on school health opportunities, but the task force could recommend expanding that to areas of foster care, child welfare and residential programs.

Recriminalizing Drug Possession and Use

The Joint Addiction Committee's hearing on the three Ballot Measure 110 bills lasted nearly four hours Wednesday night. More than 100 people testified and several hundred written statements were submitted. The pro-M110 groups were very organized and flooded both the room and the online portals with testimony. Supporters of the reform bills were outnumbered, but also delivered passionate and persuasive testimony.

Max Williams, Chief Petitioner for the two main ballot measures this fall provided recommendations to the Legislators, indicating that his preference would be for the Legislature to take effective action (Class A misdemeanor), but that his coalition is prepared to continue gathering signatures and heading to the ballot if necessary. His testimony begins at the 20:01 minute mark below.

You can also review the written testimony here.

There will be funding included in the base bill (HB 4002), but possibly in the general Ways and Means process. Those funds will include sobering centers, Community Corrections, Aid & Assist, BH workforce initiatives, etc. That will likely be unveiled in 2-3 weeks.


Housing/Homeless A Key Priority

The Legislature continues to work with the Governor, who has proposed a $500 million package of investments in housing, infrastructure and state supports.

Housing and homelessness will play a major role this Session. Governor Kotek's goal of 36,000 homes per year is ambitious, and receiving priority attention this session. The bill:

  • Establishes the Housing Accountability and Production Office to support and enforce housing laws

  • Awards grants and loans to encourage home building;

  • Creates a fund for grants to developers of affordable housing;

  • Makes cities approve changes to housing rules

  • Makes cities expedite applications to build housing

  • Gives many cities a one time fast tracked UGB expansion tool

The Senate Housing and Development Committee introduced committee bills including:

  1. An omnibus bill which appropriates $189.5 million to four housing priorities: shelter operations, recovery housing, affordable housing land acquisition, and rental assistance

  2. $50 million to the middle-income housing Revolving Loan Fund.

The House Housing Committee has introduced HB4063 which includes other adjustments to Oregon Housing law, and may serve as a base for key housing concepts.

However, SB1537 is likely to be the foundation of a "package" considered by the body. Other individual bills of note include HB4134 a bi-partisan bill introduced by Rep. Lucetta Elmer. The bill identifies 13 projects that meet five criteria, including:

  • Already inside the UGB

  • Through the land use process

  • Infrastructure cost is preventing the development

  • Shovel ready almost immediately and completion within two years

  • Focused on workforce housing (130% of AMI).

Combined with longer-term funds through the agency process and an innovative long-term revolving loan fund, these efforts might actually jumpstart housing production.


Lobbying Toolkits and Survival Guides

The League of Oregon Cities released its Lobbying 101 Toolkit, including information on:

  • The basics of the Oregon Legislature, including how to find your legislator, track a bill, submit testimony, and read a bill, plus the official and unofficial rules of lobbying.

  • How to build relationships with legislators and key staff members.

  • The difference between lobbying for substantive policy reform, versus lobbying for needed supplemental revenue, and how to do both successfully.

It is freely available online and helpful to all advocates. Also check out the Legislative Policy and Research Office's Survival Guide:


Property Tax Foreclosures

The recent Supreme Court ruling Tyler v. Hennepin County, Minnesota, means that Oregon must change its process for property owners of tax-foreclosed properties to claim any possible surplus funds. Counties proposed LC107 in a joint Judiciary Committee meeting, which would create an orderly process to make sure people get their refunds.


Tolling Deep-Dive

ODOT and the engineering firm WSP USA gave the Transportation Planning Subcommittee a deep-dive on tolling’s expected impact on drivers and travel patterns. Tolling can be used to manage congestion and generate revenue. The best projects do both, the Subcommittee heard.

The I-205 toll is more focused on generating revenue, whereas the Regional Mobility Pricing Project’s main goal is to reduce congestion. ODOT plans to use variable pricing, not congestion pricing, in both projects. Tolls will cost different amounts at different times of the day, but these prices will be fixed ahead of time, and won’t “surge” to an unknown level during peak times.

When Rep. Maxine Dexter (D-Portland) pressed the presenters for expected toll prices, they responded they expect tolls to be less than $1 per trip. Yet documents uncovered by West Linn's Mayor indicate that the Department is proposing to raise 6X the amount needed for the Abernethy Bridge through its proposed tolling mechanism. This imbalanced financial model is generating significant concern from many legislators. Most of the committee discussion focused on the challenges of diverted traffic, especially in communities like West Linn, and equity concerns for people who must use the tolled roads to commute to work or school.


EMS Modernization

Rep. Dacia Grayber (D-Portland) introduced her EMS modernization concept in the House Behavioral Health and Health Care Committee. The bill organizes the state's patchwork EMS committee structure at the statewide level into a more unified, streamlined network of governance committees. 19 existing EMS state committees are preserved, but shifted into subcommittees under an EMS advisory board with a program director and staff. The bill would also:

  • Apply existing trauma region models (also called ATBS) to other time-sensitive emergencies (such as strokes and heart attacks), called EMS regions.

  • Integrate existing EMS data systems

  • Create a new, opt-in regulatory framework

  • Preserve local EMS control

The bigger policy proposal would come in the 2025 Session and include a workgroup to analyze workforce needs.

Access to emergency health care and innovation

Rep. Nancy Nathanson (D-Eugene) presented her access to care and innovation concept to the House Behavioral Health and Health Care Committee. The concept is a response to PeaceHealth’s closure of its Eugene hospital. In addition to Eugene-specific supports, the pilot project would: 

  • Set up an innovation fund with $3.2 million in one-time funding for ideas to increase access to same-day care while decreasing costs, such as a nurse call service linked to 911, a mobile nurse practitioner, a 24/7 nurse call line, alternative transportation to non-hospital ED locations, and a flexible EMS response unit

  • Create provisional licensing for nursing – allow employers to hire nurses licensed in good standing in another state while their Oregon license is being reviewed. This provisional license would be valid for 90-days

  • Review who is allowed to deliver what services, under what billing codes, and what reimbursement is given to deliver immediate care. It also directs OHA to review statutes that could be revised to improve emergency care delivery.  


Paid Leave Oregon Tweaks

Several bills aim to fix issues with Paid Leave Oregon:

  • Legislation in Senate Labor and Business would make technical fixes and align the program with the Oregon Family Leave Act

  • Another bill, also in Senate Labor and Business, aims to make the program sustainable long-term and would allow the Director of the Employment Department to change the program if the fund balance is lower than needed to make anticipated expenditures within the next 6 months

  • The House Business and Labor Committee would clarify how professional employer organizations (PEOs) deal with Paid Leave Oregon and Worker's Comp insurance for small businesses. Republicans on the Committee opposed adopting this measure as a committee bill


YOU Are the Best Lobbyist!

You can help us advocate for your issues by:

  1. Identifying your most important issues this Session

  2. Working to secure support from other organizations for your priorities

  3. Making time to reach out to/meet with legislators

During Session:

  1. Reviewing your bill tracking report each week (new bills are added regularly)

  2. Preparing letters or testimony to submit on priority bills

Find your legislator and their contact information

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