Oregon Legislature adjourns after tackling opioids, taxes, guns and more

Oregon Capitol. (KATU Photo)

Oregon's Legislature ended its 2018 session on Saturday after nearly a month that saw additional gun controls, an attempt to curb opioid abuse and a remedy to prevent losses to state coffers from the federal tax overhaul.


However, a cap on greenhouse gas emissions was among measures that failed.

State Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said that was one of her biggest disappointments.

"It would have been wonderful to have a miracle happen on the clean energy jobs bill. I always love to see a legislative miracle, and that would have been my No. 1," Burdick told reporters.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said at a news conference with Burdick that capping carbon emissions will be a priority for the long 2019 legislative session.

"I've told everybody, we're going to do this in '19 or don't bother coming," Courtney said.

State Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, told KATU that the so-called "cap and invest" emissions measure was not ready for prime time.

"That's a very complex issue," Thomsen said Monday. "There were just too many unanswered questions; the ramifications from that bill, the cost, the price per gallon of gas, the cost of electricity that would go up."

State House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, said she disagrees with Thomsen.

"It was ready to go. ... We worked on a cap-and-invest strategy and a greenhouse gas strategy in this state for over 10 years," she explained.

The legislative session, which during even-numbered years can last a maximum of 35 days, started Feb. 5.

"We just adjourned, and still I'm not sure how we did it, eight days before our constitutional deadline, eight days, and we passed significant legislation, most of it with bipartisan support," Courtney said.

Rep. Mike McLane, House Republican leader, was less ebullient minutes after the session adjourned and family members and other well-wishers streamed onto the House floor.

"I think there were a lot of extreme bills that required an enormous amount of time, that clearly were not ready to be passed in the short session," McLane said, citing the effort to cap greenhouse gas emissions. "I believe that certainly wasn't proper for the short session."

Gov. Kate Brown told reporters: "Oregon is an example for the rest of the country in prioritizing everyday values amidst political turmoil at a national level."

The federal tax overhaul occupied much of the session, as legislators grappled with how to respond to a $217 million loss the overhaul was expected to impose on the state.

In response, Democratic senators advanced a pair of bills that blocked separate state tax deductions related to the overhaul, one on overseas money, the other on "pass-through" income. Both plans passed, despite conflicts over how to spend the money from the first and opposition from Republicans to the second.

The moves erased the predicted losses and raised $160 million. But to become law, Brown must sign the bills.

Brown said she liked SB 1528 the bill blocking pass-through deductions but added: "We're going to take a hard look at it before deciding whether to sign the legislation or not."

Thomsen said the measures harm small businesses.

On opioids, the Legislature advanced a proposal from Brown that will require medical practitioners to register with a prescription monitoring program, and orders a pair of studies, including one ongoing study project, on how to combat addiction in the state.

Net neutrality saw bipartisan action as legislators passed a bill that would block state agencies from buying internet service from any company that blocks or prioritizes specific content or apps, starting in 2019. The bill was a response to the Federal Communications Agency's December repeal of rules prohibiting internet providers from selectively blocking or slowing some content or apps.

Lawmakers also passed a gun control measure requested by Brown, closing what she referred to as the "intimate loophole." The bill expands those who could be banned from owning guns and ammunition after a conviction, adding stalking as a qualifying crime, and adding those who are under a restraining order. Supporters said the bill closed a loophole in a 2015 law that excluded some abusers, such as boyfriends who abuse partners they don't live with.

Among measures that passed on Saturday was one that allows DACA recipients to apply for drivers' license and state ID card renewals, giving them the ability to drive while the Trump administration and Congress come up with a new immigration law.

One of the most high-profile measures that failed was one that would have put a ballot measure before Oregon voters, asking if they wanted to enshrine health care as a right in the state Constitution. It passed the House but died in a Senate committee over concerns such an amendment would open the state to lawsuits.

Both Thomsen and Williamson said this year's session was relatively civil compared to others in the past noting that the bill aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic, for example, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.

The two lawmakers said they agreed on at least one other bill, which passed the House and failed in the Senate. The measure they supported would've repealed a tax break for big internet and cable companies that they said failed at its original goal of luring Google to Portland.

“That bill would’ve taken away $13 million in tax credits that Comcast gets," Thomsen said about the 2018 repeal measure. "The majority party stopped the bill from moving forward."

“It was never intended for (Comcast)," Williamson said regarding the tax break. "It was intended to grow the infrastructure in our fiber network in the state and it’s not being used that way and we need to end it.”

Thomsen said he'd prefer the Legislature meet just once every two years as it did before 2011.

“We would spend a lot less money and make a lot less laws that everybody has to deal with," he told a KATU reporter. "I think the less time we’re down there the better.”

But Williamson said the work of Legislature is too important.

“No business that had the kind of budget that we have for the state of Oregon would only bring their board of directors or decision-makers together once every two years," she said. “The work we do in Salem, running this government, is complicated and I think coming in every year to readjust budgets and look at what programs are working and aren’t working is the prudent thing to do.”

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off