Monday, March 15, 2021
CAPITOL CENTRAL
The first big deadline of the legislative session is this Friday, March 19, when all bills must be scheduled for a work session (as opposed to just a public hearing) to continue moving through the legislative process (this does not apply to budget and tax bills). If behavior follows previous sessions, we will expect to see a spate of work sessions scheduled quickly in coming days.

OBI is tracking hundreds of bills, and our newly redesigned website includes timely and in-depth updates on bills, which you can find here. Here is a short summary of what’s going on at the Capitol:

  • On taxes: OBI testified in support of a bill that would raise the threshold for the estate tax from $1 million to $2.5 million. We continue to oppose the proposed increase in beer, wine and cider taxes, as well as new taxes on the retail sale of tires and other taxes.

  • On environmental regulations: We are opposing efforts from the Department of Environmental Quality to further regulate “indirect source” emissions because the proposed bill goes too far and would impact many small businesses, local governments and schools. We are also closely watching a bill that would ban the sale of petroleum diesel statewide by 2028.

  • On education funding: OBI is closely watching the Department of Education’s budget bill, in which Gov. Brown has requested $9.1 billion for the State School Fund. We’re also tracking use of Student Success Act funds. 
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
Vaccine Distribution Continues, Federal Relief Package Sending Billions to States
Last week, in his first prime time address to the nation, President Joe Biden urged states to make all adult Americans eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1. Because the timeline of when the additional shipments might arrive is unclear at this point, Gov. Brown announced on Friday that she has decided to stay steady with her distribution plan until the increase in doses is assured.

Until March 29, the focus is on Oregonians over 65, with the governor’s office reporting that about half of Oregon’s senior population has received the vaccine. Currently, 19% of the state’s overall population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and 11% are fully vaccinated.

OBI continues to talk to state leaders about how employers can assist with distribution as new supplies become available. We expect to soon be able to share an “employer toolkit,” which will provide information on how best to communicate with your employees the vaccine.

President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan – a $1.9 trillion stimulus package – into law last week. The package includes significant assistance to state and local governments, a new $28 billion relief fund for restaurants and bars, and direct $1,400 payments to qualifying Americans. Oregon is expected to receive $2.6 billion, plus $155 million for capital projects.

Read OBI’s summary of the bill on our website.

The deadline to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan was not extended, so businesses have until March 31 to submit their applications. Contact your financial institution immediately if you wish to apply. The PPP did receive an additional $7 billion in funds from the stimulus package.

The new funding from the federal government, combined with a very positive state economic forecast, reinforces OBI’s position that now is not the time for new taxes in Oregon. Next week, we will be joined by the chair of the House Revenue Committee, Rep. Nancy Nathanson (D-Eugene) and vice chair, Rep. E. Werner Reschke (R-Klamath Falls), to discuss the revenue outlook for the state. 
Gov. Brown Assigns New Risk Levels for Several Oregon Counties
Gov. Kate Brown last week announced that, effective March 12-25, there will be two counties in the Extreme Risk level, nine at High Risk, 12 at Moderate Risk, and 13 at Lower Risk. A complete list of counties and their associated risk levels is available here.

Jackson and Malheur counties were placed in a new “caution period,” which is a modification to the risk assignment process that signals to reopened businesses that they should plan ahead in case they need to curtail operations again. Beginning this week and continuing until further notice, counties that reduced their COVID-19 spread enough to move down in risk level in the previous two-week period, but then experience their numbers going back up in the next two-week period, will be given a two-week caution period to bring COVID-19 case rates back down again. Learn more here.

As counties see downward trends in COVID-19 spread, restrictions on businesses ease. Find more information on what each risk level means for businesses in your county here.
Redistricting Process Continues, Legislature Seeks Public Comment
Oregon is undertaking the once-a-decade redistricting process challenged by late U.S. Census data, which is now not expected before the fall. Typically, the responsibility of redrawing districts rests with the Legislature, but the late data is making it difficult to do during the current legislative session.

Last week, Senate President Peter Courtney and Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Oregon Legislature to compel Secretary of State Shemia Fagan to extend the redistricting deadline to as late as the end of this year. Currently, the legislative deadline is July 1; if the Legislature is unsuccessful, the redistricting responsibility goes to the secretary of state, who must complete a plan by Aug. 15, still a challenge with the late data.
 
If the Legislature’s lawsuit is successful, they would presumably need to come back in a special session later this year to complete redistricting. Secretary Fagan agrees that the Oregon Supreme Court should resolve the deadline issue but expressed concern that delaying the deadline too long could disrupt the 2022 election cycle. OBI’s position has been that the Legislature should establish a nonpartisan and non-elected citizen commission to handle the politically charged redistricting task. While many legislators support our position, it is not clear it will move forward for this redistricting effort. We will continue monitoring the process, which is particularly important this year because Oregon is expected to get a sixth congressional district.
 
Public hearings are taking place in the coming weeks. Find your hearing and more information on the state’s legislative redistricting website.
SAIF Declares Second Policyholder Dividend During Pandemic
Our partners at SAIF last week declared a $210 million dividend for policyholders, the second time they have done so during the pandemic. They returned a $100 million dividend last year.

"Oregon businesses continue to face tremendous uncertainty," said President and CEO Kerry Barnett. "When our financial position indicates we can issue a dividend, we do — it's the best way we can support our policyholders right now."

The dividend will be based on premium for policies whose term ended in 2020 and will be distributed in July. This is the 12th year in a row SAIF has been able to offer a dividend, and the 24th dividend since 1990. More information will be available on www.saif.com in June.

Last year, SAIF helped more than 3,400 businesses – many CompSAFE members – through the $25 million coronavirus worker safety fund. The fund helped employers quickly implement safety practices to protect workers against the virus. 
NEWS FOR OREGON BUSINESSES
By Todd Payne, guest columnist for The Oregonian/OregonLive

“The March 2 story ‘Oregon’s logging industry says it can’t afford new taxes’ misunderstands the market complexities of our state’s most iconic industry. The severance tax proposed by HB 2379 would not be paid by mills making short-term profits on high lumber prices driven by homeowner remodeling demands during stay-at-home orders. It would be paid by 65,000 private forestland owners in Oregon who collectively just lost over 400,000 acres to wildfires.”
By The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board

“At the heart of House Bill 3296 is a legitimate question deserving legislative attention: As alcohol addiction exacts an increasing toll on Oregon’s communities, should the state’s beer and wine industries contribute more for services that counter their products’ harmful – even deadly – downsides?

Unfortunately, any discussion over that reasonable premise gets quickly tanked by the particulars of the bill, which drops a massive tax proposal on the beer and wine industries.”
By Aimee Green, The Oregonian/OregonLive

“Gov. Kate Brown said Friday it was too soon to tell all Oregonian adults that they’ll be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations starting May 1 -- and that she won’t accelerate the current timeline for starting vaccinations despite President Joe Biden’s direction a day earlier that all states should do so.”
The Associated Press

“WASHINGTON (AP) — Along with daylight saving time, this weekend could bring some Americans fatter bank balances.

Officials at the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service said Friday that processing of the new round of stimulus payments has already begun, with the aim of having the first payments start showing up in bank accounts this weekend.”
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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