The Oregon Legislature was well on its way Friday to conclude its term before the constitutional deadline and pass dozens of laws as politics and compromise continued into the final hours.
A number of the top legislative priorities included bills passed by the Senate or House of Representatives, including bills on: forest fire resilience; Clean energy requirements; Property tax exemptions; Health insurance; and budget allocations.
In the afternoon, it was unclear whether lawmakers would try to fulfill all of their duties on Friday – even at the risk of working until the wee hours of Saturday morning – or whether they would return on Saturday to finish work.
The Oregon Constitution requires the legislature to adjourn through June 27 at 11:59 p.m.
Regardless of when the legislature ends the session, it will be the first time since 2018 that the legislature has closed in the past few weeks without a lengthy Republican strike.
In both the long 2019 legislature and the short 2020 session, Republicans went out for days in protest against the laws limiting greenhouse gas emissions. This allowed Republicans to deny Democrats the opportunity to pass the bills.
In 2019, Senate Republicans returned with less than two days left, allowing lawmakers to pass more than 100 bills before the constitutional deadline. In 2020, Republicans did not return and the legislature chairs prematurely ended the session, killing more than 250 laws.
Delayed amendment to the Forest Fire Act
By comparison, the biggest legislative hurdle in the last few days of the 2021 session was Senate Law 762, which pays millions on forest fire resilience and sets requirements that proponents say will save lives and property as forest fires are expected to be more frequent and the effects of climate change are becoming more dangerous.
At least two Democrats – along with all Republicans – in the Senate spoke out against the bill as it was on its way to the final vote.
The legislature tried on Thursday evening in a special committee to change the law.
The amendment they pass gives the State Board of Forestry the power to define the “wildland-urban interface,” a critical definition in the bill that triggers who must meet certain forest fire protection requirements, particularly the creation of defensible space around buildings.
The opponents of the bill considered the previous definition to be too broad.
The change, previously proposed in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, was seen by proponents as an easy way to get bipartisan support for one of the key bills of 2021.
The Senate passed it on Friday, July 22nd, with the support of several Republicans and all Democrats. It hadn’t been picked up in the house by afternoon.
No harvest tax
In a two-chamber democratic disagreement, the Democrats in the House of Representatives shot down a bill that had been amended in the Senate on Friday, which would have renewed a long-term timber industry tax.
The change – introduced by Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem – added forest products crop tax to House Act 2434, which removes sunset on a 2015 tax hike on kerosene and aviation fuel.
The Forest Products Harvest Tax supports several budgets: forest research at Oregon State University; Administration of the Oregon Forest Practices Act; the Oregon Forestland Protection Fund; and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.
The tax is calculated according to a formula and borne by the industry; this year the tax would have been $ 4.93 per 1,000 board feet. It ends every two years, which means that the legislature has to renew the tax every odd year.
The Democrats in the House of Representatives supported the underlying aviation law; it passed through lower chamber 53-6 on June 17th. However, the inclusion of crop tax was viewed as a non-starter.
Talks among Democrats in the House of Representatives earlier this year focused on reforming the harvest tax, which is seen as too industry-friendly and too complicated. However, these discussions did not lead to any result.
The Senate found the continuation of the tax important to fund these services, which will not be topped up with general funds at this session. They were shocked when the House of Representatives voted on Friday not to approve the amendment.
A conference committee was convened and the Senate withdrew from its amendment, ruling that aviation funding was too important to be lost.
“I am disappointed that we were unable to reach an agreement on a meaningful reform of the crop tax at this meeting,” said Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, MP, who led the action against the change. “But the suspension of the tax in its current form signals that the industry-driven status quo is no longer acceptable.”
The bill should be submitted to the Senate for a vote; that hadn’t happened until Friday afternoon that afternoon.
House Democrats hoped to reform this tax during the brief February legislature next year.
Some top bills from the meeting
Hundreds of laws passed during the 2021 legislature; Here are some that ranked Republican or Democratic legislatures among the most important, and where they stood at 3:30 p.m. on June 25:
- House Bill 2021 (pending Senate vote) – requires electricity providers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for electricity sold in Oregon by 100% by 2040.
- House Bill 3352 (pending Senate vote) – renames the Health Care for All Oregon Children program and extends eligibility to adults who would qualify for Medicaid without immigrant status
- Senate Act 464 (both chambers passed) – allows counties affected by forest fires in 2020 to proportionately or remove property taxes on properties that have suffered depreciation as a result of forest fires
- Senate Law 649 (entered into force) – increases penalties for criminal sexual contact with minors if the perpetrator is the victim’s teacher
- Senate Act 554 (signed into Act) – sets requirements for the storage of firearms and allows certain public institutions to ban firearms in their buildings. Prohibition of firearms from the Oregon State Capitol.
There were also a number of bills and budget allocations on issues such as police reform, housing, eviction protection and psychiatric care.
Reporter Connor Radnovich covers the Legislature and State Government of Oregon. Contact him at [email protected] or 503-399-6864 or follow him on Twitter at @CDRadnovich.
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