Democratic allies win some, lose some on the Senate floor last week
Monday, June 10, 2019
A pair of bills that started the session as top priorities for traditional Democratic Party allies suffered different fates last week.
House Bill 2016 was brought by a broad coalition of labor association groups, including the Oregon Education Association; Service Employees International Union; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and the AFL-CIO. The bill is a response to the 2018 United States Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME.
The Janus decision limited some labor organization abilities, and HB 2016 would put into statute some of the rights that were eroded. OSBA was one of many bill opponents with concerns the bill could potentially increase costs to schools and reduce services to students. Despite strong opposition, last Thursday the bill easily passed the Oregon Senate. It now heads to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk for an expected signing. The bill’s proponents are among her strongest supporters.
That same day, however, another group of traditional Democratic allies suffered an unusual defeat on the Senate floor. HB 2014, which would have raised existing caps on damages calculations in some civil lawsuits, was a major priority of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association. Despite a rousing speech by Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, citing the constitutional implications of limiting juries, the bill failed 14-15, with all 11 Republicans and four Democrats voting no. Strong interest groups, including some representing business and health care interests, staunchly opposed the bill.
Typically with an issue that has competing interest groups, when a bill does not have enough votes on the floor, it stays in committee and the interested groups work on a compromise for the next session. A failed chamber vote, though, is unusual, and it is not clear how that will affect future negotiations.
The bill is dead for this session, but lawyers have long fought limits on tort claims and they have significant influence in the Capitol. This vote could have ramifications for the next legislative session and even the 2020 election cycle.