Monday, Feb. 22, 2021
CAPITOL CENTRAL
A potentially difficult and divisive issue in the Oregon House was averted Sunday, when Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, said he would resign  rather than face an expulsion vote in the House this week. Two weeks ago, the House Conduct Committee found that Hernandez had created a hostile work environment in conflict with House standards. Arguing that key evidence supporting his defense had been withheld from the Conduct Committee members, Hernandez had attempted to block the vote, filing for an injunction in U.S. District Court. That request was rejected this week. If the proposed expulsion had moved forward and been successful, it would have been the first time in Oregon history that a member of the Oregon Legislature was expelled.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is coming up on its first big deadline on Feb. 23, when all bills must be submitted for introduction. That deadline will effectively limit the number of bills up for consideration in this session.

The OBI website includes timely and in-depth updates on bills, which you can find here, but here are some highlights of issues we are watching:

  • On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hear HB 2205, the bill modeled after California’s Private Attorney General Act. This bill would allow an individual or organization to sue on behalf of the state for any violation that comes with a civil penalty. This could include any employment laws, environmental protections, or consumer protection laws to name just a few. Paloma Sparks plans to testify on behalf of OBI in opposition to the bill along with many other partners in the business community.
  • Also on Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee will hear HB 2638, the bill to provide liability protections for businesses and organizations. In a survey last fall, OBI’s members identified liability protection as a top priority issue, so we continue to pursue the issue. Paloma will testify in support of the bill. 
  • Three bills related to plastic and packaging are scheduled for hearings on Tuesday in Senate Energy and Environment. SB 14 establishes a stewardship program for plastic packaging and food containers. SB 581 would create Oregon-specific recyclability labeling requirements for all packaging sold in the state. SB 582 (with the -1 amendment) would create a sweeping new requirement that all producers and brands of any packaging materials participate in and fund a new recycling scheme. OBI plans to testify in opposition to all three bills.
  • On Monday, the Senate Revenue Committee will again consider the SB 137-1, which would disconnect Oregon from the tax benefit provisions of the federal CARES Act. The amendment was considered a few weeks ago, but advocates were upset that they failed to see it was posted for a hearing on the Legislature’s website and failed to show up. OBI testified against the bill at its first hearing, and we will continue to raise concerns that the bill would rob potentially thousands of small businesses experiencing losses due to COVID-19 from potential tax relief.
 
You can find links to these bills and many others that we are following on our website.
If have questions or comments about a bill, or would like to be involved in a policy committee, contact us at communications@oregonbusinessindustry.com.
POLICY UPDATES
Seniors 70 and Older Now Eligible for Vaccine in Oregon
As planned, Oregon seniors 70 and older are now eligible for the vaccine. Next week, Oregonians 65+ will become eligible. For more information on where to get a vaccine and the expected timeline, check out this new tool that was developed by the state in partnership with OBI member Google. You can always call 2-1-1 for information as well.

In a news conference on Friday, Feb. 19, the governor was joined by Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen and Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state’s epidemiologist. They announced that 12% of the Oregon population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, tying Oregon with 17 other states and the national average.

The governor was joined by representatives from the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Hillsboro, as well as former state Senator Margaret Carter, to provide their perspectives and experiences with the vaccine and encourage minority communities to get their shots as soon as they are eligible.

Finally, Director Allen also noted that the federal government announced that they will be increasing Oregon’s weekly doses of the vaccine from 83,000 to 107,000.

This week, the governor will announce which groups will follow Oregon seniors for vaccine prioritization. The Vaccine Advisory Committee has recommended that frontline workers and individuals with underlying conditions should be in the next groups, but no priorities were set within those groups. OBI, working with hospital partners, has told the governor’s office that Oregon employers are ready and able to assist with vaccine education and distribution as the effort reaches out to broader segments of the public.
19 Counties Now Meet Requirements for Onsite Learning, Gov. Brown Says
In her Friday news conference, Gov. Brown announced that 19 of Oregon’s 36 counties have met the requirements to reopen some onsite learning. Although the final decision still rests with individual districts, the governor has said her top priority is getting students back into classrooms. Last week, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the approach of prioritizing educators for the vaccine and confirmed that reopening schools is completely safe as long as strict public health protocol is followed.

Currently, about 20% of Oregon students (roughly 130,000) have some sort of onsite option. That number is more than double what it was back in December. You can check the status of your school on this new interactive tool from the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority.

You can find the new tool and check your local school district’s status here.
Oregon’s New Landlord Compensation Fund Now Accepting Applications
For landlords that have tenants behind on rent due to challenges with COVID, a new $150 million Landlord Compensation Fund might provide some relief. The Oregon Legislature approved the creation of the fund back in their December special session.

Through March 2, landlords can apply for relief to cover 80% of the rent they are owed from residential tenants dating back to April 2020. As a condition of approval, they must forgive 20% of unpaid rent and tenants will have those unpaid rent bills forgiven for the duration of the relief funding.

The Oregon Housing and Community Services division is implementing the fund, and has announced that $50 million will be available during the first round of funding. The agency expects to offer at least three rounds of funding before the end of June.
OBI Members Receive Update on Federal Infrastructure Legislation
Kathy Dedrick, staff director for the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, joined OBI’s Transportation Steering Committee last week to provide updates on federal transportation legislation.

She said, right now, the priority is moving the American Rescue Plan to address primarily COVID-related issues, but the bill also includes $30 billion for hard-hit transit agencies and other emergency transportation funding. House Democratic leaders are hoping to pass the COVID relief package soon so that it can be signed into law by mid-March.

According to Dedrick, House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio will once again introduce a major infrastructure investment package similar to the $1.5 trillion bill passed by the House in 2020. The surface transportation reauthorization expires in September, so moving the infrastructure investment package and reauthorization this summer are a high priority.
NEWS FOR OREGON BUSINESSES
By Hillary Borrud, The Oregonian/OregonLive

“The Oregon Legislature resumed business Wednesday, after virtual committee meetings and an in-person House floor session were canceled on Monday and Tuesday due to the winter storm that brought ice, snow and widespread power outages to the state over the weekend and into Monday.”
By Mike Rogoway, The Oregonian/OregonLive

“COVID-19 has had a vastly smaller impact on the health of people in the Portland area than in the nation as a whole, a finding Portland economists attribute to residents’ careful adherence to safety measures.”
By Kale Williams, The Oregonian/OregonLive

A week after frigid temperatures, ice and snow crippled utilities across northwest Oregon, more than 60,000 homes and businesses remained without power Friday morning.
CONNECT WITH US
The OBI team is always available to assist you. Please feel free to reach out to us at communications@oregonbusinessindustry.com. 
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