For employers, some of the biggest victories were failed bills
With more Democrats in the House chamber than Republicans in the entire Legislature, businesses and employers faced an uphill battle on many issues related to employment practices, environmental protections and taxes. The passage of controversial bills indicates that major changes will be coming to Oregon businesses this year, but some of the most problematic failed.
Here is an overview of some of the important bills we saw this session:
Cap and trade - Failed
It became abundantly clear early on that cap and trade was going to be the most controversial and heated concept of the 2019 session, and it did not disappoint. Cap and trade has long been discussed in the halls of the Oregon Capitol, and with Democratic supermajorities in both chambers, this year seemed to offer the best chance of getting it passed.
Business stakeholders opposed the bill, saying it would drag on the economy through increased costs for fuel, natural gas and electricity. In a last-minute effort to stop the bill, Senate Republicans walked out of the Legislature. After the bill was declared dead, Republicans returned to finish up the Legislature’s work. Although this was a major win for opponents, the controversial carbon emission control concept is expected to come back next session or in the form of a ballot measure. Gov. Kate Brown has threatened executive action if the Legislature doesn't act.
Collective Bargaining - Passed
House Bill 2016, the hotly contested “Janus fix” bill, was signed into law June 20. HB 2016 grants paid time for union representatives to do union work, requires public employers to deduct union dues and fees from employee pay, and makes it easier for employees to opt in to union membership. Employers have expressed significant concerns that this bill opens the door to increased leave for workers and makes it harder for employees to opt out of union membership. Many also addressed the bill's issues related to union access to employee emails, stating concerns with public record requests and personal privacy.
Paid Family Leave – Passed
HB 2005, the Paid Family Leave compromise, came to be following negotiations over House Bill 3427, the Student Success Act with the commercial activity tax. As part of the deal between business stakeholders and Democratic leadership, the originally proposed paid leave program had major shifts to better accommodate small employers and businesses in Oregon. The compromise will provide 12 weeks of 60% employee-funded paid family and medical leave with more flexibility for small businesses. Previous bills this session were far more expansive, some requiring up to 48 weeks of paid leave and requiring employers to pay the full cost.
Workplace Harassment - Passed
Senate Bill 726, the much-debated workplace harassment bill, was signed June 11. This bill, which increases the statute of limitations for harassment reporting from 1 to 5 years, faced substantial debate in committee before being amended and passing with significant support. Business stakeholders raised serious concerns with the original language that would have placed personal liability on employers if they should have known about harassment. That language was amended out, providing leniency for business groups. Sens. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, and Kathleen Taylor, D-Milwaukie, the chief sponsors, have indicated that they would like to expand this legislation during the 2020 session.
Pay Equity - Passed
SB 123, the pay equity fix bill, passed the Legislature on June 29 after overcoming significant barriers. This bill will make technical fixes to pay equity legislation passed in 2017 that has had significant implementation problems. Business stakeholders encouraged this bill's passage.
Marijuana in the Workplace - Failed
SB 379, which would have prohibited the implementation of workplace policies related to employee marijuana usage, died on the Senate president’s desk following weeks of tense negotiations with business entities. This bill would have opened the door to employer liability issues and would have created serious safety concerns for both employees and consumers. Businesses are thankful the bill did not pass into law but expect to see similar legislation in the coming years.
Damage Caps - Failed
HB 2014, which would have removed noneconomic damage caps, died on the Senate floor June 4 when four Democrats joined all the Republicans in opposition. Oregon business were concerned it would have lifted the $500,000 liability cap and opened the door to excessive lawsuits, ultimately raising the rates of professional liability insurance policies. Damage caps have long been debated in the Oregon Legislature but a bill has never reached the Senate floor until this vote. A bill death on the Senate floor is uncommon, and this has been considered one of businesses’ major wins of the year.
Employer Assessment – Failed / Ballot Measures Filed
HB 3262, the employer assessment bill looking to help fill the Medicaid gap, died in early May. This bill would have placed a fee on employers that have employees, or dependents of employees, on state assistance programs. If implemented, it would have raised $120 million per biennium to help fill a portion of the remaining Medicaid gap. Businesses strongly opposed the program and negotiated with leadership to kill the bill following the passage of the business tax for schools. Business stakeholders are working collectively to fight a ballot initiative to ensure it does not see a public vote.