Back From Half-Time! State Legislature Passes Halfway Point, But Not All The Bills Do
The middle of April is a mix of emotions—with Easter, Tax Day and the beginning of NBA playoffs—events that bring a basket full of joy, financial frustration and cheers and jeers. Last week also marked the mid-point for the Oregon legislative session, another event that brings a mix joy, financial anxiety, sighs of relief and a certain amount of grandstanding.
With a legislative session that begins in January, mid-April is an important mile post: By this point, any bill that has a hope to pass before the early summer legislative conclusion must have had at least one hearing by now. If not, it is buried, not to be resurrected for at least another session.
With 2700 bills introduced, so far only 14 have been signed into law—and a bulk of bills were left at the roadside after last Monday’s deadline.
All told, environmental protections were the biggest losers, with a boat load of bills not making it out of legislative session and being dumped for the season.
One bill hoped to tax carbon emissions. Ashland high school students had testified in favor of the bill, but seemingly were outgunned by lobbyist. Speaking in opposition at the bill’s introduction, Mike Freese VP at Associated Oregon Industries, told lawmakers that these taxes impose too high a cost in jobs and production. He also stated that Oregon industries already are voluntarily reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a claim with loose credentials at best. “We would sure welcome future conversations,” Freese told lawmakers.
That bill and idea will need to wait for another legislative session, and another year of greenhouse gas emissions.
Many of the environmental bills that also did not make it to the floor were designed to regulate agricultural practices, like tightening the rules around aerial pesticide spraying and another aimed at reducing antibiotic-resistant superbugs by restricting their routine use on animals meant for food; both died.
Perhaps most poignantly for southern Oregon, two bills intended to restore local control over regulation of GMO crops were denied. This struggle began four years ago, after voted in Jackson County approved a ban on GMO crops. That same year, the legislature scrambled to enact a state-wide ban against GMO bans—and successfully did so, exempting Jackson County. Since then, activists have tried three times to roll back that regulation, but each time it fails. So it does again in 2017.
And, another bill with great interest for many southern Oregonians that won’t become law is one that would have blocked Oregon employers from firing employees for off-hours pot smoking. State senator Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) proposed the bill, but faced bipartisan opposition. Apparently not enough state lawmakers are smoking weed in their off-time. The law also would have prohibited employers from denying a person a job based solely on testing positive for pot in a pre-employment drug test.
Three gun control bills, however, did survive, and will push forward into committee hearings and votes, most importantly a bill that would smartly prohibit gun sellers from selling a gun until police had completed background checks.