SALEM — Drug transparency moved on while school class size and public pension reform bills stalled Wednesday as the short session increasingly took its toll on initiatives before the Legislature.
Also notable: A key lawmaker’s strong statement in favor of OSU-Cascades funding, which is still on the table.
The biggest debate of the day was in the House, which considered House Bill 4005, a bill to require pharmaceutical companies open their books on drug costs or face fines. It passed 46-14 on a bipartisan vote and now goes to the Senate.
Advocates of the legislation pointed to an American Medical Association report showing national spending on prescription drugs increased by about 20 percent between 2013 and 2015. Prescription pharmaceuticals now account for 17 percent of all health care spending. In the Portland area, over 400 generic medications have more than doubled in price in seven years.
“The cost of drugs is blowing us out of the water,” said Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland.
Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, said he would vote “yes” on the bill as a good first step, but said the overall content was what his German grandmother would call “thin soup.”
“There’s a big problem here, but it’s not very fulfilling,” Buehler said. “I am not very confident it will solve the problem.”
Buehler said he had hoped the House would have adopted an amendment he drafted that would have given the state attorney general power to go after “bad actors” in the pharmaceutical field who spiked the price of insulin and other life-saving drugs.
Opponents of the bill said they were worried that drug manufacturers might pull out of Oregon if the bill became law and that it also infringed on intellectual property rights by forcing companies to reveal information on their products.
“I support efforts to control drug costs, but there are costs to develop drugs,” said Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, who voted “no.”
Rep. Ron Noble, R-McMinnville, said he supported business rights but believed the legislation made common sense on an issue that has long troubled constituents.
“I am all for a free market,” he said. “It’s been a long time since health care has been an open market.”
He called on his fellow lawmakers to vote “yes.”
“Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Noble said.
With the last key legislative deadline passing on Tuesday, several bills have expired. But others are on life support in the “safehouse” committees of Joint Ways and Means and each chamber’s rules committees, which are exempt from the deadlines.
Still, the scope of what the Legislature is going to be able to accomplish this session is congealing with each passing day. As past sessions have shown, just because a bill goes into Ways and Means or the Rules committees does not guarantee it will come out. House and Senate leaders are loath, especially this late in the short session, to bring up bills that do not have a strong chance of winning passage.
House Bill 4029, the Deschutes River bridge ban bill, has been in Ways and Means for two weeks without any scheduled action. While it is technically still alive and could also resurface as an amendment to another bill, time is running short.
On Wednesday, Republicans tried to have a bill dealing with public employee pensions pulled from House Rules and placed on the House agenda. The motion was defeated and the bill, co-sponsored by Buehler, remains in limbo.
A bill to have Oregon join a movement that would allocate its presidential Electoral College votes according to the popular vote was pronounced dead on Wednesday. The bill, which passed the House, stalled in the Senate.
Also dead is a bill that would have included class size among the issues that teachers and school districts could include in collective bargaining agreements. The bill passed the House, but ran out of support in the Senate.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing,” said John Larson, President of the Oregon Education Association, adding, “We knew that (the bill) had a difficult path during this short legislative session, but we wanted to make sure the conversation happened.”
The approaching end of the session is when appropriations bills are dealt with. For political tea-leaf readers, there may be good news for Oregon State University-Cascades.
Gov. Kate Brown has requested $39 million for the OSU-Cascades campus and has said she believes there is enough room under the state’s bonding ceiling for it and other educational construction capital projects around the state.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has stressed her personal support for the OSU-Cascades campus, but expressed concerns about the state’s bonding capacity.
In her strongest endorsement yet, a spokesperson for Kotek on Wednesday said the influential lawmaker will advocate for the funding.
“Speaker Kotek is one of the strongest advocates for funding the OSU-Cascades supplemental request,” said Megen Ickler, Kotek’s spokesperson. “She believes that investments in OSU-Cascades are good for Central Oregon and good for the state.”
No vote has been scheduled yet on appropriations, but with the Legislature expected to adjourn next week, a decision should come soon.
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