Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021
In a rare move, legislative leaders called off all floor sessions and committee hearings for Monday and Tuesday, as thousands of people across the state – including many lawmakers – found themselves without electricity and internet in the wake of this weekend’s winter storms.

Utility crews are working around the clock to restore power and internet in the affected areas. Salem, including the Capitol grounds, was particularly hard hit by the weekend ice storm, which downed trees and wreaked havoc. The 2021 legislative session is primarily virtual, which means internet connectivity is critical to the public process.

On Saturday, Feb. 13, Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency, which authorized the Oregon Office of Emergency Management to activate the state’s emergency operations plan and utilize personnel, equipment, and facilities of other state agencies in order to respond to this current situation.

OBI sends sincere gratitude to the crews working to restore power and cable, as well as the people cleaning up debris.
Four weeks into the legislative session, bills continue to be introduced weekly. Many are being scheduled for public hearings, and in some cases, work sessions. Currently, more than 2,000 bills have been introduced and we expect that could rise to nearly 4,000 in the weeks to come. Technical issues with the virtual legislative process continue to arise occasionally.

The OBI website includes timely and in-depth updates on bills, which you can find here, but here is a short summary of what’s going on at the Capitol:

  • OBI is working with partners to raise concerns about two employment-related bills that have hearings this week. The first would create a presumption that an employer retaliated against an employee if the employee is disciplined or terminated within 60 days of engaging in a protected activity, even if the employer was not aware of a complaint. The second is the controversial “Right to Repair” bill that would require businesses to release proprietary information.
  • OBI will testify this week in opposition to several retail-related bills that would broaden regulations around hazardous waste, plastics stewardship, packaging and paper, and recycling labeling.
  • On the tax front, OBI testified last week in opposition to a corporate tax disclosure bill that would create significant disadvantages for Oregon-based corporations, and the House version of the federal disconnect bill that would remove tax relief provided by the CARES Act. OBI testified in opposition to the Senate disconnect bill the week prior.
  • We are monitoring several education and health care bills that will have impacts on Oregon’s workforce and business environment.

You can find links to the bills and more information on our website.
Last Friday, the House Conduct Committee passed a measure recommending the expulsion of Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, following a months-long investigation that found he created a hostile work environment in the Capitol. The measure will go to the House floor for a vote, where it will need 40 representatives (two-thirds majority) to vote in favor of expulsion. (The vote was expected Tuesday, but was delayed due to the severe weather closure of the Capitol.) If this moves forward, it would be the first time in state history that a member of the Legislature has been expelled. His seat would remain vacant for the duration of the session.
If have questions or comments about a bill, or would like to be involved in a policy committee, contact us at communications@oregonbusinessindustry.com.
Indoor Facilities in 12 Counties Can Reopen with Limitations
Effective Feb. 12-25, certain businesses across Oregon can reopen to limited indoor activity. Gov. Kate Brown announced that 12 counties improved in risk level, with 10 improving from "Extreme Risk" to "High Risk" for the first time since November. The Oregon Health Authority and Gov. Brown will evaluate the risk indicators again on Feb. 23.

The 10 counties now labeled high risk include Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas in the Portland-metro area, as well as a handful of coastal, central and southern Oregon counties. Find the full list here.

This means thousands of businesses in hard-hit industries like restaurants, lodging, and gyms, can reopen to customers, if they follow the associated guidance:

  • Indoor dining allowed, although takeout is highly recommended.
  • Indoor capacity: not to exceed 25% maximum occupancy or 50 people, whichever is smaller.
  • Outdoor capacity: 75 people maximum.
  • Indoor and outdoor seating: 6 people per party and per table maximum, limit 2 households.
  • 11:00 p.m. closing time
You can find full guidance, for all industries, on the state's coronavirus website. There are now 14 counties in the extreme risk level, 11 at high risk, three at moderate risk, and eight at lower risk.
Inclement Weather Delays Vaccinations for Thousands; Seniors Over 75 Now Eligible
Due to icy conditions throughout the Portland-metro and Salem areas, mass vaccination sites like the Oregon Convention Center were closed through the weekend. As of yesterday, Feb. 15, some are reopened for scheduled appointments. Health care providers are calling impacted Oregonians to reschedule missed appointments due to the weather closures.

Oregon seniors over the age of 75 are also now eligible for the vaccine. 80+ Oregonians have been eligible since last Monday.  Those 70 years and older will become eligible on Feb. 22, and people 65+ on March 1. The governor told OBI last week that she expects all Oregon seniors to be vaccinated by the end of March.

Doses were sent by the federal government to pharmacies last week, which have been working with eligible Oregonians to schedule vaccinations.

After that, we expect Oregonians with underlying health conditions and frontline workers to become eligible. It’s not clear yet which industries will go first, but it is likely to be based on incidences of COVID outbreaks. OBI is working with our partners at the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, and with the governor’s office, to assist as more frontline workers become eligible. 
Oregon Department of Education Releases New Interactive Site to Check School Reopening Status
In partnership with the Oregon Health Authority, the Oregon Department of Education last week introduced a new, interactive website for the public to check on the reopening status for individual schools.

As of today, there are 292 schools with on-site learning, 1,017 using comprehensive distance learning, and 262 using a hybrid approach. 

Gov. Brown has prioritized educators in the vaccine rollout, in an effort to increase public confidence in a return to on-site learning. Last week, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed this approach, although said that prioritizing teachers was not a prerequisite for reopening schools as long as other safety measures are in place.

You can find the new tool and check your local school’s status here.
OBI Comments on Cleaner Air Oregon Community Engagement Toolkit
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is creating a new Community Engagement Toolkit that would establish new public engagement requirements in addition to the existing Cleaner Air Oregon rules. The DEQ guidance document is a significant expansion of the process, in which they would assign community engagement tiers of “minimal,” “moderate,” or “high” for each facility prior to assessing any actual environmental risk to the public.

OBI submitted comments that outlined our concerns with this proposal. You can find them here.
Oregon lawmakers are on track to introduce the highest number of bills in a decade, suggesting the overwhelming majority of them won’t get even a momentary hearing as the Legislature operates mostly online until at least April due to the pandemic.”
“A vote on whether to expel Rep. Diego Hernandez from the Oregon House, scheduled for Tuesday, has been delayed due to widespread power outages in Salem and bad weather forecast for the Salem area and elsewhere in the state, legislative officials announced Sunday.”
“Snowy and icy conditions across parts of Oregon sent the state’s coronavirus testing and case numbers plummeting Monday, with fewer than 200 daily new cases reported for the first time since Sept. 28.”
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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