Business advocates looking for wins as session winds down
Monday, June 10, 2019
As the session’s end draws closer, business stakeholders are playing a tense game of “hurry up and wait” as they anxiously listen to floor votes and watch for major legislation to be scheduled. Legislators, who are spending the majority of their time on the floor debating bills, are expressing frustration with the process as negotiations heat up and final budget decisions are made.
With target sine die only two weeks away, the pressure is mounting to finalize bill negotiations and solidify high-priority legislation. Republicans are desperately looking to make deals on their bills while Democrats attempt to push through the mounds of legislation they have remaining. Although committee work has slowed substantially during these final weeks, business lobbyists managed to keep themselves busy monitoring the movements of major issues related to cap and trade, workers’ compensation and damage caps.
The highly debated cap-and-trade bill, House Bill 2020, saw significant movement last week as it passed out of the Joint Ways and Means Natural Resources Subcommittee. HB 2020 was scheduled in the full Ways and Means Committee on Friday but got pulled from the agenda late Thursday afternoon. There are omnibus “business” amendments to the bill that are gaining traction and creating uncertainty about the bill’s next action.
HB 3022, which would change Oregon workers’ compensation laws, has shifted following weeks of negotiations and discussions among trial lawyers, business stakeholders and the Oregon Management-Labor Advisory Committee. Unfortunately for business stakeholders, a recent Oregon Supreme Court ruling on workers’ comp favors trial lawyers. The bill would add restrictions for trial lawyers, and they have requested adjustments to accommodate the new ruling. Stakeholders asked the Legislature to hold off on moving the bill so they could negotiate the new changes in the June 7 MLAC meeting.
On Tuesday, June 4, a rare event occurred in the Senate chamber. HB 2014, the trial lawyer-backed damage caps bill, died in a 14-15 vote following more than an hour of emotional debate. If passed, the bill would have removed Oregon’s $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages in civil cases, leading to unlimited awards for emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. Damage caps have long been debated in the Oregon Legislature, but bipartisan opposition has blocked their passage in the Senate.
It is unusual for a bill to receive a vote in the Senate unless leadership knows it will pass. Business advocates consider this bill’s death one of their few major wins this year.