GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
Two bills that comprise Oregon’s response to recent changes in the federal tax code are inching closer to passage, having passed out of the House Revenue Committee on a party-line vote Wednesday. They are scheduled to go next to the full House of Representatives for debate. Oregon’s income tax code is largely based on the federal code. Tax deductions created by federal tax law are available on state tax returns unless those provisions are specifically disconnected from Oregon law.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Oregon Democratic legislators moved forward on two business tax measures Wednesday over the objections of Republicans. The fight in the House Revenue Committee was also a confrontation in some ways between Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, and Republican Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend. He’s hoping to win the Republican primary in May so he can run against Brown in the fall. The two tax bills were drafted in reaction to the sweeping new federal tax law passed by congressional Republicans in Washington. Oregon automatically connects to several federal tax definitions that affect how much people and businesses pay in income taxes.
Many of Oregon’s existing air polluters would be allowed to create up to a 200-in-a-million cancer risk under a compromise toxic air plan moving forward in the Legislature, a new analysis by an influential environmental attorney says. It’s enough of a deal-breaker that seven environmental groups say they’re opposing the bill. But Senate Bill 1541, which unanimously passed the key Joint Ways and Means Committee Wednesday, appears likely to win full legislative approval after environmental advocates won other concessions this week.
Rep. Ron Noble, a McMinnville Republican, said that he generally supports the free market when it comes to prices, but “it’s been a long time since health care has been an open market.” Noble described his experience as a public safety officer at Linfield College, where he saw the cost of an old product, EpiPens, which are used for severe allergic reactions, soar “for no apparent reason.” “My constituents, regardless of where they land on the political spectrum, care about the cost of prescription drugs,” he said. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Opponents said the bill would be ineffective at curbing drug costs, stifle incentives for medical innovation and require drug companies to reveal sensitive business information.
“This legislation will help us take the first step, a step we need to take to begin to get at the fastest growing expense we have in health care — prescription drug costs,” Nosse said. “Oregonians deserve to have transparency in something as vital to good health as prescription drugs. My hope is that this legislation will set us down a path to making health care more affordable for everyone.”
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Rep. Margaret Doherty, D-Tigard, said she didn’t know who Kim Sordyl was and that the bill was not intended to push a particular person off the state ed board. Oregon legislators put the secretary of state and treasurer on the state board as ex-officio members in 2009. The law left flexibility for the elected officials to designate representatives if they weren’t going to attend board meetings themselves. At the recent committee hearing, Doherty said that legislators wanted to add expertise in civics and finance from the secretary of state and treasurer, respectively, when they added them to the board almost a decade ago. “When this bill was put in … the legislative intent is that the designee would be somebody from the office of the treasurer or the secretary of state,” Doherty said.
Drug transparency moved on while school class size and public pension reform bills stalled Wednesday as the short session increasingly took its toll on initiatives before the Legislature. Also notable: A key lawmaker’s strong statement in favor of OSU-Cascades funding, which is still on the table. The biggest debate of the day was in the House, which considered House Bill 4005, a bill to require pharmaceutical companies open their books on drug costs or face fines. It passed 46-14 on a bipartisan vote and now goes to the Senate.
The Lund Report
The Senate Health Committee cleared the CCO reform bill on party lines, setting up a vote in the full Senate to require the state’s 15 coordinated care organizations to meet more openly and spend excess reserves on reducing the social determinants of health. But at the last minute, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, ordered the bill sent to the Senate Rules Committee for a hearing Wednesday afternoon, for what appears to be a small technical change. A proposed amendment makes clear that most of the new law would take effect next year and clarifies that open meetings are only needed when “substantive” decisions are made.
An effort to insert an amendment in Oregon’s Constitution making health care a right died amid concerns by lawmakers that it would expose the state to lawsuits. Such an amendment would have been unprecedented among U.S. states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Democratic-controlled state House approved the measure 35-25 on Feb. 13, but it never reached the floor of the Democratic-controlled Senate for a vote.
Major changes are in the works for a controversial proposal that would have changed mandatory abuse reporting requirements in Oregon and would have allowed school officials and others not to report sex between under-age people they discovered. The measure followed controversy surrounding reports in 2017 that teachers in Oregon’s Salem-Keizer school district were instructed to report sexually active students to state authorities. Instead of putting the measure to a vote of the full House, representatives sent the proposal back to committee, where legislators amended it, stripping key provisions surrounding the age limits at the heart of the controversy. Representatives on the House Rules panel unanimously approved the amendment and sent the bill back to the full House. “It will be back on floor tomorrow without any language related to child abuse reporting,” said Sen. Sara Gelser, the measure’s sponsor.
Rep. Knute Buehler aims to become the first Republican in several decades to win the Oregon governor’s race. His biggest challenge is that he’s a GOP candidate in a blue state. His second biggest challenge? Making sure voters know who he is.
A school resource officer at La Pine High School, responding to a tip from a student at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, arrested a 15-year-old boy who reportedly made violent threats. The teenager is accused of threatening students and staff on three occasions over the past two months. The most recent threat occurred two days ago, involving the use of firearms, according to Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. William Bailey.
JOBS & ECONOMY
Morrow County Grain Growers, a farm supply and marketing cooperative based in northeast Oregon, broke ground Wednesday morning on a major expansion of its grain elevator and shipping terminal along the Columbia River in Boardman. With support from a $2.5 million state grant, the co-op plans to build a new rail unloading facility at the 35-year-old terminal, transferring grain from trains onto river barges en route to Portland for export.
Nearly all of Clatsop County’s more than 500 curb ramps on state roads do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But after an important legal settlement, the state Department of Transportation has committed to repairing all of them — and others across Oregon — in the next 15 years. Disability Rights Oregon, a Portland nonprofit, filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of people with disabilities and finalized a settlement with the state last year. Since1990, federal law has mandated that states must ensure all new or improved infrastructure — including areas where pedestrians enter sidewalks — be accessible to the disabled.
One piece of legislation missed a key deadline this week, and Senate Democrats killed a second bill by refusing to bring it to a vote. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in either case. Backers of a third bill that lacks wide support are trying to amend it to accomplish half of its purpose, leaving the other half to the 2019 Legislature. That measure, too, should be allowed to mercifully expire for now.
ODOT said in a statement this week: “ODOT has always taken concerns over the Connect Oregon-funded Sisters Airport projects very seriously. We’ve been operating in good faith to try to negotiate a settlement in this matter as quickly as reasonably possible, while also being thorough. While we can’t provide a specific timeline, we believe we will know the next step in this matter in the near future. We will issue a news release at that time.”
Vote fraud on the scale alleged by some members of the administration simply isn’t occurring — it’s “fake news,” in the term that the administration likes to use. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore real electoral threats. Oregon’s system may not necessarily be the solution for every state, but it could be one option to help protect the integrity of U.S. elections.