Emotional issues ignite Capitol debates
The pace in the Capitol has slowed, as committee agendas are no longer overflowing with bills. The focus has shifted to the House and Senate floor sessions as bills come up for votes.
Many bills with a revenue impact are waiting in committees as the revenue package in the Student Success Act takes center stage. The Joint Committee on Student Success conversation around raising $2 billion per biennium in additional resources for schools with a commercial activity tax of .49% on sales above $1 million has had impacts outside education. Legislators canceled hearings this past week on cap and trade as they worked feverishly behind the scenes to resolve technical challenges to get that legislation back on track and resume hearings next week.
House Bill 3063, which would remove the exemption for nonmedical vaccines for school children, stirred up heated debates. Hundreds of opponents protested on the Capitol steps Tuesday. Concerned citizens on both sides filled the Capitol last week to testify in hearings, meet with legislators and express opinions. The bill would prevent any student who is not vaccinated for nonmedical reasons from attending school or any school functions. The bill would give children until Aug. 1, 2020, to get their vaccinations.
The bill passed out of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means on Friday, April 26, and is on the way to the House floor. Senate President Peter Courtney has said that if the bill reaches the Senate he is supportive and will allow a vote.
This session has also seen a heightened awareness of the treatment of foster children. Sen. Kim Thatcher sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown demanding to know why the governor has not addressed the increasing number of foster children sent to out-of-state facilities, as well as the many children who are being housed in hotel rooms due to a lack of available homes.
Legal advocates filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court aimed at addressing the “overwhelmed” child welfare system. There are several bills this session that would establish a task force to address the issues of foster children aging out of the system, as well as direct the Department of Human Services to study ways to improve services.
The business community and those who represent workers’ rights groups have created a work group to negotiate the language of the paid family leave bill, HB 2005. This legislation would create a family and medical leave insurance program to provide employees with a portion of their wages while on family leave or medical leave. Discussions are focused on which portion of paid leave is appropriate for workers to pay and how many weeks is feasible for businesses to allow.
The discrimination in the workplace bill, Senate Bill 726, passed the Senate on Monday and is headed to the House. The bill would create a five-year statute of limitations for reporting harassment or inappropriate workplace conduct, and employees would be prohibited from entering into a non-disclosure agreement or re-hire agreement unless the employee specifically requests it. The bill is the result of months of negotiations between legislators and the business community.
SB 479, another workforce harassment bill, passed the Senate on Wednesday. The bill would prohibit an employer from entering into an agreement with an employee that would prevent the employee from disclosing or discussing any form of workplace harassment. The statute of limitations would be extended from one year to five, giving victims more time to file a lawsuit with the Bureau of Labor and Industries commissioner.