Senator’s flip allows marijuana bill to move forward
The first major committee deadline, April 9, left dozens of business-impacting bills dead in the water.
Although stakeholders celebrated the death of many of these bills, the enduring legislation will keep lobbyists busy as they monitor and negotiate the high-priority issues. Bills related to marijuana, workplace harassment, business tax proposals, carbon reduction and tobacco taxes stand out as some of the higher priority issues, and these concepts will dominate business conversations as we head into the second half of the session.
Senate Bill 379, which would prohibit employers from implementing workplace policies related to marijuana, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with amendments, in a surprising turn of events.
Business stakeholders ranging from education to construction have worked tirelessly with legislators to raise awareness of the significant safety concerns related to the bill. Opponents had the votes to kill the bill in committee, but in a last-minute flip, Sen. James Manning Jr., D-Eugene, voted to support the bill, allowing it to move to the Senate floor. Opponents still expect the bill to die, but it’s unclear whether Senate leadership will let a floor fight happen or will just send it back to committee, effectively killing it.
SB 726, the much-debated workplace harassment bill, passed out of the Senate Workforce Committee with unanimous support. This bill has stirred up significant concerns from businesses, as it would lengthen the statute of limitations from 1 year for filing a harassment complaint and place personal liability on business owners and managers if they should have known about harassment.
The bill passed out of committee with modifications that lowered the proposed statute of limitations change to 5 years and removed the personal liability aspect from the language. Although the amendments have improved the bill, there are still outstanding concerns about the intricacies of the legislation and the potential unintended consequences this would have on businesses. There is also concern that proponents will work to add back the individual liability in the House chamber. The bill now moves to the Senate floor.
While employment issues remain at the forefront of conversations, momentum around the costly “cap and trade” proposal to limit carbon emissions has slowed as legislators turn their focus to the education funding package.
Key members are beginning to voice their frustrations with the cap and trade bill, HB 2020, and the potential cost it would place on businesses and individuals. There is concern about whether the Legislature can pass both a costly cap and trade bill and a revenue bill in the same session. Some members are beginning to express a resistance to voting for both and are arguing the education funding package is a more important and feasible issue to focus on.
There was little movement on cap and trade, but SB 928, a bill to establish the Oregon Climate Authority, had its first public hearing. The Oregon Climate Authority, if implemented, would be the oversight body of the cap and trade program and would be run by a governor-appointed director who would have the power to change the rate of carbon allowances.
Republican committee members Sens. Alan Olsen and Cliff Bentz expressed serious concerns about giving so much power to an appointed director. Interestingly, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the AFL-CIO also opposed the bill, citing concerns for their Department of Environmental Quality union members. The bill passed out of committee and will move to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
The House Revenue committee held two public hearings last week on bills related to tobacco taxation.
Opponents of HB 2270, the high-priority tobacco tax bill, argued against the taxation of vaping products, stating they are an effective tobacco cessation technique. Proponents argued that the increased tax would reduce smoking and help fund crucial Medicaid services for vulnerable Oregonians.
The tobacco tax is part of Gov. Kate Brown’s proposal to fill the Medicaid funding gap. The discussion has been primarily party line and will likely see combative debate if it moves to the floor.
If the second half of the session is anything like the first half, we are in for a wild ride.