Bills pit worker protections against employers’ hiring needs
Behind-the-scenes drama is competing with hard budget numbers for legislators’ attention.
The Joint Ways and Means Committee co-chairs released their budget framework March 7, adding focus to education and Oregon Health Plan funding debates. But the building is swirling with conversation regarding recent committee changes and the status of Sen. Peter Courtney as Senate president. He is currently on medical leave.
At the same time, many of the key bills prioritized this session are stalled in negotiations over language, causing a general feeling of a calm before the upcoming deadlines.
House Bill 2818 would clarify the meaning of “because of age” in employment discrimination law. The bill would prohibit employers from asking about the age of the applicant until after an offer of employment. Proponents of the bill discussed the pervasive issue of ageism and discrimination in the workplace. Opponents of the bill from the business community said that without being able to verify graduation dates, there would be no way to justify differing pay scales and qualifications for positions.
HB 2016, regarding collective bargaining agreements, brought many opponents and proponents to a House Business and Labor Committee hearing Monday, March 11. Representatives from Service Employees International Union and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees testified in support of the bill. They stated that the bill attempts to codify collective bargaining agreements and make technical changes to Oregon law, putting into law best practices that are already in effect. The bill would require employers to provide reasonable paid leave for employees to investigate workplace complaints and to attend investigatory and due process hearings, labor management meetings and legal procedure meetings.
OSBA, the League of Oregon Cities and private education attorney Nancy Hungerford opposed the bill. Public employers have bargained many times and have always been able to reach a satisfactory conclusion, thus there is no need for the bill, according to opponents.
OSBA cited concerns regarding disruptions to the classroom with teachers leaving during the school day, as well as budget concerns of having to hire substitutes and pay for time off. The League of Oregon Cities discussed concerns with being mandated to release personal information of police, corrections and probations officers.
Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove, said he was concerned about the increase in cost to the private sector as well as the monopoly of information that the union is afforded under the bill.
HB 3031, paid family leave, was moved to the House Business and Labor Committee, where it will have a hearing March 25. The bill envisions a state-run medical leave insurance package that would allow eligible employees to receive a percentage of their wages while on medical or military leave. The legislation was reprinted to require a three-fifths majority, and it is unclear how hard Democratic leadership will push to establish this program.
Opponents and proponents have flocked to the public hearings around the state on the cap and trade bill, HB 2020, to make sure their voices are heard. Both sides have been relatively respectful, but the number of people who oppose the bill has given legislators pause as they are now faced with making many hard decisions. Behind the scenes, amendments are being drafted to reflect changes necessary to gain support. A sign of the significance and necessity of this bill passing was highlighted with the failure to include funding for energy and environmental causes in the budget framework released in the co-chairs’ budget.
The Oregonian’s headline “Legislative leaders call for budget cuts, despite record revenue,” essentially sums up the framework released by the co-chairs. At $23.2 billion in general and lottery funds, this budget represents a 10 percent increase from the 2017-19 legislatively approved budget and does not rely on new taxes or fees.
Although this is encouraging, it is a 3.2 percent decrease from the current service level estimate, which creates a $362.6 million shortfall. In allocating resources, the co-chairs prioritized the State School Fund, investing an additional $100 million above the Legislative Fiscal Office current service level estimate. The Oregon Association of School Business Officials said that estimate was built on some flawed assumptions, though, and the real need is $9.13 billion for the next biennium.
The co-chairs also prioritized the Oregon Health Plan, ensuring that there will be no cuts to eligibility or benefits for Oregonians reliant on the health plan.
As we move forward, the age-old debate of revenue reform versus cost savings will heat up.