This year’s regular legislative session may be remembered most for the defeat of the carbon tax bill — House Bill 2020 — by a Senate Republican walkout. But there were many more highlights and lowlights.
Let’s start local. Reps. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, Cheri Helt, R-Bend, and Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, were chief sponsors of a bill that will be a boon to affordable housing efforts in Redmond. HB 2336 allows the state to give Redmond the right to develop 40 acres with some 485 housing units, about half of them for people making less than area median income. In Redmond, median income is about $69,000 for a family of four. It’s important because the project will be allowed without the usual rigamarole that would prevent the development of even affordable housing outside a city’s urban growth boundary.
Kaylee’s Law, SB 576, should have a positive effect on Central Oregon Community College. The measure, approved in the wake of the murder of Kaylee Sawyer by a COCC security guard, requires campuses to ensure that campus security personnel cannot be confused with real police officers. Their uniforms must be different; they cannot stop and frisk people; and they will be subject to improved background checks.
Thanks to a bill from Helt, HB 3450, Bend will be able to allow mixed-use buildings along Third Street, with business on the ground floor and housing above. Why on earth that should require a state law is another matter.
Deschutes County’s circuit court judges did not get any relief from the Legislature. The omnibus HB 2377 included two new judgeships, for Jackson and Marion counties, but nothing for Deschutes — one of the most overworked circuit courts in the state.
Taxes were raised this session. Of course they were! What would the Legislature do if it couldn’t take more money from taxpayers? Legislators know Oregonians have rejected sales taxes in the past. This session, Democrats adopted a sales tax in disguise. HB 3427 will require businesses to pay 0.57% on sales inside Oregon above $1 million. Groceries, gas and some medical costs are exempted. It’s a way of sneaking in a sales tax of about $1 billion a year for schools that consumers will pay without being able to see what they pay on a sales receipt.
Another sneaky thing the Legislature did was heist some of the kicker tax refund due to Oregonians in HB 2975. There was no explicit mention in the bill that it reduced the kicker. There was no mention that taxpayer refunds will be about 14% less. The bill slouched through a committee meeting without that being debated. So much for transparency in Oregon government.
The Legislature did make one worthy change to Oregon’s public records law, putting teeth in the law that requires public bodies to release records. HB 2353 says if a public entity fails to respond to a request or unduly delays its response, it may be subject to a fine of $200. A second equally notable bill — SB 2431 — died in committee. It would have required state agencies to track how well they are complying with the state’s records law. Legislators chose to let the bill fail.
No legislative session is complete if the Legislature doesn’t do something to address the state’s $27 billion in unfunded liability of the Public Employees Retirement System. The Legislature passed something that was better than nothing — SB 1049. It’s bad because it mostly defers payments, instead of reducing costs. But legislators are to be commended for not ignoring the issue — as they have at times in the past.
Lawmakers changed the rules governing the death penalty with SB 1013. As a result, the Legislature has significantly narrowed when it will be considered. It only would apply to those convicted of acts of terrorism in which at least two people die, murder of a child under the age of 14, to murder after a previous conviction for first-degree or aggravated murder or to murder of police, parole or corrections officers. Whatever you may think about the death penalty, this is an issue that should have been referred to the ballot for a public vote.
Starting in January 2020 the state will pay to have ballots returned. The flawed idea that too many voters either don’t know what stamps are or cannot afford to buy them has been around for years. This year’s SB 861 has the state picking up the tab. About $1.7 million has been set aside for postage in the coming biennium; we’ll have to wait and see if free stamps raise voter turnout in any measurable way.
The best thing about 2019 session’s end is it will likely be 2020 before a legislator introduces a new hidden tax — or something else equally fishy.