June 5, 2023

Longest-Ever Walkout at an ‘Impasse’

The possibility of bringing the 2023 Legislative Session in for a smooth conclusion looks less likely after Gov. Tina Kotek announced last week that her attempt to help the Senate find a middle ground had failed.

Saturday marked one month since the Senate Republican Caucus began its walkout. Although the tactic has become familiar in recent years, this is by far the longest the minority party has denied a quorum in the Oregon Legislature. The recent Republican walkouts over redistricting, COVID restrictions, cap and trade, and education funding only lasted a few days to a little more than a week each. Democrats’ 2001 walkout over redistricting was five days.

This year’s impasse is unique in its length and the potential ramifications of Measure 113 that could prevent senators with 10 unexcused absences from running for Senate next term. Republicans are looking at a loophole created by unclear language on the ballot summary. Democrats voted to compel their colleagues to return by fining them $325 per day beginning Monday.

Meanwhile, the Joint Ways & Means Committee and various subcommittees continue to churn through budgets in preparation for the 2023-25 biennium.

Many possibilities remain on the table, including the promised Republican return on June 25 to pass the rest of the budget and other bipartisan bills. Until then, the fate of much hard-worked legislation remains up in the air.

ODA Budget Includes Lab Move to North Valley Complex

The Joint Ways & Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources passed the 2023-25 budget for the Department of Agriculture (ODA) last week. In March the committee held two days of budget hearings along with a third day of public input largely in support of the recommended budget with some programs added back in. The Legislative Fiscal Office released its work session draft ahead of the subcommittee meeting that approved the budget to the full Ways & Means Committee.

With Senate Republicans still out, it is not known when agency budgets will go to the floor. However, the Legislature is required to have a balanced budget by September.

The 2023-25 proposed ODA budget is approximately $157 million in total funds and supports 517 positions (397.48 FTE). The funding level is a 33% decrease from the 2021-23 budget and an 8.4% increase over the anticipated 2023-25 current services level. The decrease from the budget is due to the phase out of $89 million in one-time investments from the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions and the increase above current service level is due to the inclusion of 14 policy option packages that total approximately $12 million and 17 positions (13.39 FTE).

Highlights include:

  • Funding to support the increased rent and moving costs associated with moving ODA labs into the North Valley Complex in Wilsonville. There will be a reduction of funds used for rent associated with the lease of the Food Innovation Center in Portland. The Department will move the Food Innovation Center out of the space and into the North Valley Complex.
  • Funding of a permanent, full-time position to provide capacity to renew the ODA Strategic Plan and prepare official communications and documents for the Legislature, state agencies, and community partners. The position starts on January 1, 2024.
  • Continued funding of six limited-duration positions (3.00 FTE) and services and supplies to continue limited operations of the Japanese Beetle Eradication Program. This investment also includes a budget note requiring ODA to report to the Legislature during the 2024 Legislative Session with the current status and results of the Japanese Beetle Eradication Program.
  • Funding for two permanent, full-time positions to provide capacity to respond to pesticide incidents related to cannabis. The positions are being supported by pesticide fee revenue.
  • Adjustments to agency-wide position classifications to resolve double-filled situations and establishes a business operations manager position in the Pesticides Program.
  • Reduces several long-term vacancy positions and associated services and supplies. The positions have been vacant for over 22 months and some more than two years.
  • Funding for three Chemists (2.64 FTE) and resources to increase capacity for cannabis testing using ODA’s lab infrastructure. This package has an accompanying budget note for both OLCC and ODA.
  • Continued funding for a position in the Animal Health Program to serve as the Avain Coordinator to address ongoing work and collaboration with USDA, including outreach and education to reduce avian influenza threats and disease prevention planning with poultry producers.
  • Additional funding for the Farm to School Equipment and Infrastructure Grant Program. Funding will increase the program to $500,000 and increase the timeframe available to awardees to complete their projects.
  • Funding for deferred maintenance projects in the Department’s Hawthorne facility.

The subcommittee also approved HB 5003 which is the fee ratification bill and federal fee expenditures.

May 22, 2023

Policy Committees Wrap Work with Final Deadline

The sprint toward the finish line begins this week in the Oregon Legislature, but nobody is quite sure where the finish line will be.

Friday was the second and final chamber deadline, and any policy bill that hadn’t been heard by the end of the day has been scrapped for this session. The caveats are bills that found their way to referral to a non-deadline committee or will be amended onto other legislation before final passage.

Leadership’s targeted Sine Die on June 15 looks unlikely, as Republican senators have pushed their walkout past the point of no return — 10 senators have 10 or more unexcused absences. That’s the threshold for the new voter-approved law that would bar them from running for another term, and the incentive for returning sooner than necessary is low.

Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend) released a statement on Thursday saying Republicans will return to the Capitol to pass bipartisan budgets and bills, but that will almost certainly take place with 24-48 hours before the constitutional Sine Die on June 25.

Pac/West Lobby Group Director of Legislative & Public Affairs Rick Metsger wrote about the potential abuse of Measure 113 before the election, and we’re seeing the ramifications play out now, just six months later.

Canola Regulations Bill Alive in House Rules

After hearing testimony on SB 789, the House Agriculture, Land Use & Water Committee voted 5-4 along party lines to send the bill to the House Rules Committee. SB 789 would continue the current program in the Willamette Valley Protective District that caps 500 acres of canola licensed through the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA).

Specialty seed growers have been concerned about the impact of coexistence since 2012 when ODA was planning to open acres after decades of bans in the district. After a lawsuit challenging ODA and several bills, the state commissioned Oregon State University to do testing in the Willamette Valley. The study failed to report on cross pollination, which was the crux of the specialty seed grower’s issue. Two separate bills created a 500-acre canola carve-out, including SB 885 that will sunset July 1, 2023. This sunset will remove all regulatory provisions and allow canola to be grown unlicensed, unregulated and without limits.

SB 789 will need to pass this session to avoid removing restrictions in the WVPD. However, a compromise amendment is off the table because of the Senate Republican walkout would not allow the amended version to return for re-concurrence.

Moving SB 789 to House Rules will keep the bill alive until the end of session to move out in its current form or to go back to the Senate if the Republicans return.

Several House Ag Committee members put their thoughts on the record including Rep. Mark Owens (R-Ontario) who told the committee he was hoping the bill could be worked in the interim and brought back in 2024, but that politics had won that day and he was disappointed. Rep. Ken Helm (D-Beaverton) who chairs the committee said that he was sad the last bill was one with controversies because the committee had done great work all session.

SB 789 will now wait to be heard in House Rules and see if that committee can reach a consensus or compromise.

May 15, 2023

Pivotal Week in the Legislative Session

Palace intrigue continues this morning at the state capitol as D-Day has arrived for a number of Oregon state senators.

Four senators — Daniel Bonham (R-The Dalles), Brian Boquist (I-Dallas), Cedric Hayden (R-Roseburg) and Dennis Linthicum (R-Klamath Falls) — have already logged nine unexcused absences from floor sessions during the current walkout. If the walkout continues when the Senate convenes at 10:30 a.m. today, those four would reach 10 absences, triggering a new constitutional amendment that would bar them from seeking re-election. Senate leadership met over the weekend in hopes of negotiating a settlement to the walkout, but as of 8:30 a.m. there has been no word as to whether that was accomplished.

With only a month to go in this legislative session, the pace is moving from lethargic to overdrive as most committees wrap up their work this week. The Joint Ways & Means Committee is moving at its regular pace, moving budgets through sub-committees and into the full committee before moving onto the floors of the respective chambers.

Policy bills that impact the budget have been marking time in Ways & Means until the release of the state revenue forecast this Wednesday. That forecast determines how much money the Legislature will work with, and it is expected to be less than the last biennium where federal stimulus dollars flooded state coffers during the pandemic.

As a result of the Republican walkout, the Senate calendar has been bulging with House bills awaiting their opportunity for floor action.

The backlog could be remedied if Senate Republicans agree to rules suspension and permit bills on the floor to be read by title only. Since the start of session, Republicans have insisted all bills be read in their entirety, a move that has dampened Senate productivity throughout the session and stoked partisan division.

Canola Sunset Bill has First House Hearing

SB 789, the bill that seeks to remove the sunset from the 500-acre cap to grow canola in the Willamette Valley Protective District (WVPD) and for those growing canola to be regulated and licensed under the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), had a House hearing on Thursday. The House Committee on Ag, Land Use, Natural Resources and Water heard from specialty seed growers, canola growers, and several experts on weed sciences and cross-pollination.

Senator Jeff Golden (D-Ashland) and Rep. Paul Holvey (D-Eugene) testified in support of SB 789 to continue the status quo of regulated canola in the WVPD. Rep. Holvey told the committee that he was part of the early conversations that looked to ban canola, and he still is not convinced that a ban is not the way to go in the Willamette Valley, where it is one of the best and last places in the world to grow pure specialty seeds. “You can’t un-ring a bell,” said Holvey. “The risk is too great.”

The committee also heard testimony from ODA representatives, who outlined how the program has been run over the last decade. Sunny Summers explained the process of pinning and licensing through an application process. Jonathon Sandau told the committee that the agency is willing and able to continue the same program and that there was support from the Governor’s office that regulations continue in the WVPD.

Rep. Anna Scharf (R-HD 23), who served on several state and regional canola boards and acted as a citizen advocate for canola production in Oregon, now serves on the House committee as a newly elected representative in the House. Rep. Scharf testified in opposition to SB 789, stating that their family farm grows canola as a rotation crop.

Charles Ortiz, an agronomist, farmer, and Public Relations Chair for the Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association (WVSSA) testified on the logistics of opening the Willamette Valley to potential cross-pollination. He told the committee that once you consider the four protective districts in the state and the 3-mile isolation distances between crops in relation to the farmable land in the state, you learn canola can be safely grown in 96% of the state. “Can’t we protect 4% of the farmland for a lucrative specialty seeds industry,” he asked.

The hearing will continue on Tuesday, May 16, so the committee can finish the testimony not heard this past week. Written testimony on the House Ag, Land Use, Natural Resources and Water committee page may still be submitted. There is a possible work session scheduled as well.

May 8, 2023

Hectic Week Adds Tension to Session

A political version of an ‘atmospheric river’ descended over the Oregon Capitol this week, threatening to grind the legislative session to a halt and endangering a plethora of bills awaiting action in the Senate. The week kicked off with the stunning news that Secretary of State Shemia Fagan was resigning after a slew of reports surfaced about moonlighting as a cannabis consultant that conflicted with her public responsibilities.

Fagan, who is responsible for overseeing the state’s audit division, accepted a large sum of money to work for a company whose interests were the subject of an audit. Questions swirled over the influence Fagan may have played to sway the recommendations that might benefit her new client’s business interests.

The resignation will undoubtedly fuel the ambitions of many in the legislature who will jockey to replace Fagan. As this is Kentucky Derby week, it’s fitting that the lineup of contenders is generating bets by political observers as to which horse has the best chance of winning the nod of Governor Tina Kotek, who will name a successor to fill the remainder of Fagan’s term. The speculation may threaten the immediate task of getting the legislative process back on track.

Walkout in the Senate

Senate Republicans staged a walkout midweek, pulling every procedural motion out of the hat to delay consideration of two hotly contested bills that have already moved off the Oregon House floor. One is presented as an approach to curb gun violence by adding regulations to the creation of ‘ghost guns,’ raising the age limit for certain firearms, and limiting access to certain public places for those with concealed weapons.

The other bill, HB 2002, is a basket of issues designed to strengthen abortion access and family-related services, from contraception to access by minors to abortion, while expanding gender identity laws and more.

Senate Republicans went to court to test procedural rulings denied by Senate leadership. The court immediately denied requests to intervene. Senate President Rob Wagner responded by taking the unusual step of calling the Senate into session over the weekend to further test Republican’s walkout agenda.

Deadlines Keep Churning Forward

This all happened as we hit the second chamber work session posting deadline on Friday, setting up a two-week scramble to get bills into a work session and back to their chamber for passage. With the clock running on the constitutionally limited session, many measures are now being threatened, not by their substance, but by whether they can beat the clock before Sine Die.

Agriculture: What’s Alive, What’s Dead, and What’s in Ways & Means

While legislative work is halted in the Senate due to the Republican walkout last week, the House has continued conducting business. This is a good time to reflect on the session thus far and the industry bills that have moved chambers, died, or been sent to Joint Ways & Means Committee.

  • HB 2058 (PASSED) Directs Oregon Business Development Department to develop and administer a repayable award program to provide financial assistance to eligible employers to mitigate costs associated with agricultural overtime compensation requirements. Governor signed it in March.
  • HB 2072 and HB 2073 (DEAD) Relating to Corporate Activity Tax studies. Referred to Rules but did not receive work sessions.
  • HB 2119 (DEAD) Relating to the elimination of the corporate activity tax; prescribing an effective date. Repeals corporate activity tax. Referred to Revenue. The motion to withdraw from Revenue failed on April 18.
  • HB 2142 (Revenue Info Hearing) Adds processor to types of entities from which taxpayers engaged in farming operations may obtain certification stating the percentage of the in-state agricultural commodity sold to an entity in order to determine taxpayer’s commercial activity for purposes of corporate activity tax. An informational meeting was held on March 2. Watch the informational hearing here.
  • HB 2610 (Ways & Means) Directs Oregon State University to research reduced-risk pest management tools for Oregon’s specialty crops and report to interim committees of Legislative Assembly no later than September 15, 2027. Referred to Ways & Means with a “Do Pass” recommendation.
  • HB 2998 (Ways & Means) Creates Oregon Soil Health Initiative. Referred to Ways & Means with a “Do Pass” recommendation.

Canola Bill (SB 789) to have House Hearing May 11

The canola bill that seeks to remove the sunset for ODA regulated 500 acre limit in the Willamette Valley Protected District has been scheduled for a House hearing on May 11. Removing the sunset will continue the status quo and make current specialty seed crop protections.

SB 789 will be heard on May 11 at 3:00 p.m. in the Agriculture, Land Use, Natural Resources & Water Committee.

Sign up to Testify:

House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources → Click ‘“Register to testify” in the options listed at the top of the screen → Identify whether you will be testifying in person or virtually.

  • IN PERSON: Oregon Capitol, 900 Court St NE, Salem, OR 97301, Room HR D. Plan to arrive no later than 2:45 p.m.
  • VIRTUAL: After signing up using the link above, you will receive an email from OLIS with a personalized Microsoft Teams link, which you should use to join the hearing. For more info, see this how-to guide. Please also submit a written version of your spoken testimony.

Submit written testimony Click here → Enter your information → ‘Support’ → Upload testimony ideally by 3 p.m. on May 11, but up until 3:00 pm on May 13.

April 17, 2023

Legislators Settle Into Long Floor Sessions

The committee hallways of the Oregon Capitol were silent for most of last week as all attention was focused on the chambers, where legislators worked furiously to digest and approve bills that survived the first chamber deadline.

Last week we noted that this Legislative session is running about as usual—a busy first chamber work session deadline created a logjam of bills on the chamber floors. But while it’s usually the House that drags its feet on moving bills across the building, this year the Senate is slow-playing as the session enters its 13th week.

House leadership struck a deal on Wednesday to allow bill readings by title only, allowing them to quickly move through a raft of bills to close out the week. Senate Republicans continue to require the full bill reading, and spent nine hours on the floor each day Monday and Tuesday to clear some of the back log. The Senate has 42 bills still on its plate for Monday, while the House is down to eight.

The Joint Ways & Means Committee Roadshow made its second stop on Friday, hearing from Newport. The committee will be in Roseburg and Ontario the next two Fridays, taking input from residents as the members prepare to create a state budget for the 2023-25 biennium. Legislators on the committee are excused from floor sessions on those days.

SB 789 Passes the Senate and Moves to the House

After being on the third reading list for five days, SB 789 had its Senate floor vote on Monday. The bill seeks to limit canola to 500 acres in the Willamette Valley Protective District. Specialty seed growers have long debated the crop over cross-pollination concerns, and Monday’s floor session proved to be equally lively.

After being carried by Sen. Jeff Golden (D-Ashland), nearly every Republican senator voiced concerns. They said the 500 acres was an arbitrary number for an Oregon State University study, and SB 789 would make those 500 acres permanent by removing the sunset from the bill. Sen. David Brock Smith (R-Port Orford) said he would have preferred a step program where additional acreage was offered with the opportunity to increase if that proved successful.

Sen. Brian Boquist (I-Dallas) told the chamber he was part of the original group of stakeholders who met in 2013. He is neutral on the bill but says that it is still the same losing situation as it was over a decade ago. He shared that he learned that foreign countries, primarily in southeast Asia, are buying Oregon’s specialty seeds and using it to learn to grow their own—which could negatively impact Oregon’s industry.

Sen. Golden closed by reminding the committee that the 500 acres with isolation distances work. He acknowledged that specialty seeds are a lucrative asset and an important industry within the state and said it would not be worth the risk of expanding canola.

SB 789 passed the House 16-12 on a party-line vote. It is now in the House, waiting to be referred to a committee.

Renewable Diesel Looks for Funding in Ways & Means

SB 803, which sought to phase out petroleum diesel in seven years, has moved to Joint Ways & Means. The base bill would have phased out petroleum diesel regionally by 2026 and statewide by 2030.

The Senate Energy & Environment Committee heard concerns from agricultural and natural resource groups about requiring renewable diesel without the technology to meet the demand.

Two amendments were put forward to the committee:

  • Lynn Findley (R-Vale) brought the -5 amendment, which would create a task force of industry representatives to look at supply chain concerns. This came back with a $500,000 price tag.
  • Kate Lieber (D-Beaverton) brought the -6 amendment, which would create a DEQ study for $90,000. Sen. Findley agreed not to move the -5 amendment if the -6 study bill would include a workgroup of stakeholders and DEQ.

SB 803-6 was moved with a do pass recommendation and referral to Joint Ways & Means. Sen. Cedric Hayden (R-Roseburg) was the only vote against a study bill, saying he believed the market would figure out the supply issues. The bill will remain in Ways & Means until it receives $90,000 in funding.

If funded, this bill will surely be back next session after the DEQ study is completed. Sen. Findley and Sen. Lieber have committed to working on the bill during the interim study.

April 10, 2023

Legislative Bottleneck Follows First Deadline

It is a spring ritual as reliable as the cherry blossoms blooming at the State Capitol: The mad rush to move bills through their committees of origin ahead of the first chamber deadline creating a bottleneck of bills on the chamber floors.

Picture a giant funnel with a tiny spout. Most committees worked at full speed for weeks ahead of the April 4 deadline to fill the funnel with bills. At our count the Monday before the deadline, there were 682 bills heard or voted on in the previous seven days.

Now it’s up to the Senate and House to approve that committee-stamped legislation and send it across the building to the other chamber.

This is an especially onerous process in the Senate, where Republicans are requiring full readings of all bills as a moderating tactic. There was only time for six or seven bills per Senate floor session last week, while nearly 60 more await their turn.

We anticipate at least one marathon floor session this week to unstick the logjam and get bills moving again. After all, the next deadline is only four working weeks away.

Canola Bill Still Awaits Vote, Diesel Bill Sputters

After moving out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee on a 3-2 vote, SB 789 is now waiting its day on the Senate floor. The bill permanently creates a 500-acre exemption for canola in the Willamette Valley Protected District. Without passage, the current exemption will expire this summer.

The third reading of the bill was scheduled and carried over from every Senate floor session last week, and is currently on the docket for a Monday reading—along with about 60 other bills.

One bill that didn’t survive the April 4 deadline was SB 803, which phases out and ultimately prohibits petroleum diesel sales statewide by 2030. The Senate Energy & Environment Committee was concerned about the practical implications of switching exclusively to renewable fuels on such a short timeline. Similar legislation failed during the past two sessions.

March 27, 2023

Legislators Load Their Plates and Agendas

It’s last call at the legislative buffet, and committee chairs are bringing as much as they can back to their table. Time will tell if their eyes are bigger than their plates.

The hundreds of bills that survived the March 17 work session posting deadline now have seven working days to be heard in committee. Long agendas are already filling up this week ahead of the April 4 deadline. Because most committees meet every other day, bills that still need a work session in their chamber of origin have only 3 or 4 chances to be heard.

Inevitably, this will turn many bills into leftovers to either get reheated later as part of other legislation or dumped into the trash.

Legislators Share First Look at Budget

Also this week, the co-chairs of the Joint Ways & Means Committee released the Legislature’s Budget Framework for general fund dollars that largely mirrored Gov. Tina Kotek’s budget. The $31.6 billion plan includes a 2.5% reduction to current agency spending largely achieved by leaving vacancies open, but includes increased funding to address housing shortages, education, federal Medicaid rollbacks, and other leadership priorities.

Legislators won’t have access to billions of dollars in federal COVID funding to use as a budget buffer. The budget will take its final form after the May 17 revenue forecast.

Canola Extension Approved by Natural Resources Committee

The Senate Natural Resources Committee approved a permanent 500-acre restriction on growing canola in the Willamette Valley Protected District, extending a rule that is scheduled to sunset after a decade on the books.

Until 2013 there was an outright ban on growing canola in the Willamette Valley Protective District. However, in 2013, the Legislature voted to end the ban and test a theory that limited co-existence within the protective district could be pursued without damaging specialty seed production. This made the specialty seed industry particularly nervous because their customers demand absolute purity in the seed stock, and canola is notorious for cross-pollination at great distances.

Ultimately, 500 acres of canola was permitted in the Willamette Valley on a trial basis while Oregon State University studied its impacts on nearby crops. The legislature has twice extended the rule, but without action from the Legislature this session, the protective district will expire, and the canola restriction will be lifted.

Proponents say this bill is about celebrating the success story of limited co-existence and protecting specialty seed and other crops from damage resulting from genetic and cross-pollination from canola. However, opponents contend there are opportunities for the private sector to develop a solution without government intervention. It’s worth noting that no private-sector solution was presented to the committee for consideration.

Senate Bill 789 passed Wednesday on a 3-2 party-line vote. The bill has not yet been scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor, but it is expected to receive its floor vote.

March 20, 2023

Ides of March Cuts Down Legislative Load

By the time the Oregon Legislature declares Sine Die sometime in June, only about a quarter of the bills filed in January and February will have found their way through both chambers and to the governor’s desk.

Friday’s work session posting deadline was the first and most dramatic of the series of deadlines that funnels bills along their journey toward either passage or death by default. Bills that were jotted onto a committee agenda by 5 p.m. on Friday now have 12 working days to be heard.

Some bills left for dead may find a second life as an amendment, and non-policy bills will be introduced as the session goes on, but by and large, we have a better understanding of where legislative priorities are this week. There is still a whole lot of information and movement to track, but as the focus narrows in on the bills left alive, so does our ability to key in on what’s important to clients.

OSU Extension Seeks Funding for Suicide Prevention Helpline

Last week, the Senate Committee on Judiciary scheduled a work session on SB 955 after hearing emotional testimony from the bill sponsors. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Bill Hansell (R-Athena), Sen. James Manning, Jr. (D-Eugene), and Rep. Bobby Levy (R-Echo). It would appropriate $300,000 to Oregon State University Foundation for its Extension Service to establish an endowment fund to implement and operate an AgriStress Helpline in Oregon. Six other states have initiated this helpline.

Sen. Hansell testified that he first learned of the program at the Cattleman Association’s dinner last year and met Dr. Allison Myers, who introduced the AgriStress Program. Dr. Myers serves as interim program leader for Extension Family and Community Health and directs the Oregon State University Center for Health. She told the committee that because farming is a difficult yet rewarding livelihood, farmers are prone to higher rates of suicide. U.S. agriculture workers are over 50% more likely to commit suicide. She said the AgriStress Helpline with open lines 24/7 is the first step in connecting with people.

The Oregon Cattleman Association, led ag groups to form a notable coalition in support of SB 955. The bill will have a work session on March 22.

March 13, 2023

This Week’s Deadline Brings Focus to Session

The end of this week will bring the first culling of the 2023 Legislative Session, leaving to die hundreds of bills that have not yet been assigned a work session. It is a blessing for some and a curse for others, but ultimately refocuses legislators’ attention as they move into the heart of the session.

The pace of play continues to quicken leading up to the March 17 deadline. This is not unusual. However, what does stand out this year is the collaborative effort to move large bills ahead of the deadline—notably, the omnibus housing package in House Bill 2021. This bill addresses priorities of the governor’s office and bipartisan leadership in both chambers.

The bill will hit the House floor this week, and with daily floor sessions could potentially land on the governor’s desk by week’s end.

A History of the Decades-Old Canola Debate

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources held a public hearing on SB 789 which seeks to make the 500 permitted acres of canola in the Willamette Valley permanent rather than facing a sunset every four years. Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin (D-Corvallis) and Sen. Deb Patterson (D-Salem) introduced the bill at the request of a coalition of organic and specialty seed farmers concerned about unregulated and unlimited canola in the protective district.

This continues the nearly 30-year-old debate of whether to allow canola in the Willamette Valley and, if so, how much. For many years there was an outright prohibition on canola. In the late 1980s, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) started looking at whether it could safely coexist with specialty seeds.

In 2013, the state commissioned an Oregon State University canola study on weeds, pests, and disease led by Dr. Carol Mallory Smith. However, once the six-year study was completed, there were concerns about its integrity, so former Sen. Chris Edwards carried a bill to peer review the study.

When asked if the study’s researchers would be making recommendations, Sen. Edwards said, “Whether ODA makes recommendations depends on what the intent of the legislature is and what the legislature asks questions about. I hesitate to think a research institution would make policy recommendations because the legislature can consider things outside of science. There are considerations we can make to keep the specialty seed industry a viable industry. I don’t think ODA or OSU can make that policy.”

Sen. Edwards was clear on the legislative intent to protect the unique attributes of the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed industry. HB 3382 continued the 500-acre limit since the limited permitted acreage did not appear to create any issues, and the study was not done on more than 500 acres.

During the following interim, ODA convened a rules advisory committee where stakeholders convened for several months. By fall, it became evident that a compromise would not be reached. The Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association (WVSSA) returned to the legislature to extend the sunset and continue the status quo.

Four years later, here we are again, with the risk of unlimited and unregulated canola threatening one of the few places worldwide that can grow pure specialty seeds.

A recent study by Highland Economics outlines the specialty seed industry’s contributions to Oregon’s economy and employment. It also outlines the potential impacts of lifting the current regulations by ODA, which works in collaboration with WVSSA to pin canola acreage. SB 789 would make the 500 acres permitted for canola permanent, ending this debate that rears its head every four years. The Senate Natural Resources Committee needs to hear from Willamette Valley’s specialty seed industry, and the stakeholders affected most.

March 6, 2023

Invasive Species Council Seeks Funding

Last week, Sen. David Brock Smith (R-Port Orford) and Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland) introduced SB 899 to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources. The bill seeks to appropriate $480,000 to the Invasive Species Council out of the General Fund for council operation ($300,000), outreach and education ($100,000), and emergency purposes ($80,000).

The Legislature created the Oregon Invasive Species Council in 2001 to coordinate with agencies and stakeholders to keep invasive species out of Oregon and eliminate or mitigate the ones already here.

Sen. Smith confirmed that Oregon has invasive species throughout the state and that it is vital to have targeted education in different regions. Sen. Frederick warned that new, threatening organisms are moving into the state that need monitoring. He referenced sudden oak death in Southern Oregon forests.

Katie Murray, executive director of Oregon Food and Shelter, which presents the users and producers of pesticides, fertilizers, and biotechnology, testified in support. Murray agreed that continued collaboration among several groups and agencies is essential to decreasing invasive species’ impact on the ecosystem.

Review testimony from natural resources stakeholders here.

February 27, 2023

Snowy Days and Sunnier Revenue Forecasts

Last week’s snowstorm delayed a day’s worth of legislative hearings on Thursday, pushing several significant bills onto this week’s agendas. It also drew a day’s worth of media coverage as commuters were stranded for hours on the Portland-area roads.

There are no make-up days on the legislative calendar. The March 17 work session deadline stands, and losing a full slate of hearings will inevitably affect the number of bills that move. However, even with the snow day there were several significant developments this week.

Revenue Forecast

State economists continue to watch the storm clouds of a recession on the horizon. However, in the short term, they expect tax collections to exceed expectations and combine with additional general fund revenue to create the 2023-25 budget.

This is from the quarterly Oregon Economic and Revenue Forecast delivered on Wednesday. One caveat is that the 2023 tax filing season is still in its infancy, so the May forecast will give a more accurate guidepost for creating a balanced state budget.

The estimated $3.94 billion kicker grabbed headlines last week, but inflation and recession pose more significant long-term questions for the state. The Office of Economic Analysis removed a recession from its baseline forecast and cited several reasons for optimism:

  • Inflation has slowed in the past four months and is expected to continue that trend.
  • Even as consumer spending on goods flatlined, there hasn’t been a dramatic decline in employment in goods-producing industries.
  • The labor market remains strong as hiring attempts to keep up with consumer spending.

Oregon Secretary of State’s Audit Plan

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan released her office’s audit plan last week, detailing her plan for which agencies, programs, and topics will be prioritized in the coming year.

Performance audits

  • Air Quality Program Enforcement (Department of Environmental Quality)
  • Adult Protective Services (Oregon Department of Human Services)
  • Children’s Mental Health Services (Oregon Health Authority)
  • Governance and Controls (Department of Early Learning and Care)
  • Oregon Domestic Violence Programs (Statewide)
  • Universal Health Care Administrative Costs and Time Tax Risks (Oregon Medical Board)
  • Sexual Health Care and Reproductive Access (Multiple agencies)
  • Student Success Act District Performance Monitoring (Department of Education)

Information Technology Audits

  • Cybersecurity (Department of Justice)
  • Oregon License and Vehicle Registration System Controls (Oregon Department of Transportation)

Gov. Tina Kotek has made accountability a pillar of her administration and sent a memo to all agencies in January communicating expectations of collaborative work with the Secretary of State to promptly resolve issues from audit findings. It’s worth noting that the Universal Health Care audit reviews a task force’s findings, not an agency or law.

Technical Fix to the Corporate Activity Tax

Rep. Shelley Boshart Davis (R-Albany) has sponsored HB 2142 in the House Revenue Committee to add “processors” as farm entities that may issue a resell certification for in-state processing. This will give more accurate in-state and out of state sales values and keep farmers using Oregon processors.

The bill had a public hearing on February 8 with testimony from Rep. Boshart Davis, Jenny Dressler (Oregon Farm Bureau) and several commodity farmers. Rep. Boshart Davis told the committee that Oregon farms are unique in that they are taxed on every step of the supply chain regardless of profits made.

Dressler testified that in 2020 a group of technical fixes had been passed on the CAT, but this was not included in those fixes.

On Thursday, March 2 the House Revenue will hold an informational hearing including a deeper dive at three CAT fix bills. HB 2142 will be a part of the hearing. If passed, in-state processors will be able to obtain resell certificates on sales of instate commodities. You may submit written testimony or watch the hearing HERE.

Invasive Species Council Seeks Additional Funding

On Monday the Senate Natural Resources Committee will hold a public hearing on SB 899, which seeks increased funding from the general fund to the Oregon Invasive Species Council. You may submit testimony or watch the hearing HERE.

February 20, 2023

First Month of Session Ends with First Deadline

Like the climb at the start of a roller coaster, the first month of the 2023 Legislative Session has been a slow build of new bills and mounting expectations. Even as committees got to work immediately hearing and moving legislation, the number of bills has continued to grow with new filings.

Tuesday’s measure introduction deadline marks the crest of the first big hill, limiting the introduction of bills from this point on. With the train now at full capacity, we’re about to head at full speed toward the March 17 work session posting deadline. Buckle up.

If things run smoothly, the committees will work through the roughly 2,360 filed bills in an orderly fashion, scheduling appropriate time to work useful bills and letting bad ones die at the deadline. This is where partisan tension begins to play a bigger role, as small stumbling blocks can become big obstacles and make for a rough ride.

This week will also see the release of the quarterly revenue forecast, giving legislators the first economic outlook of the session to begin balancing against Gov. Tina Kotek’s recommended budget and having more realistic conversations about the Ways & Means co-chairs’ budget. However, the May revenue forecast will be the true guidepost for the final budget.

Legislators don’t take a break for President’s Day, and neither do lobbyists. We’ll be continuing to work and monitor bills as we get ready for the ride ahead.

Overtime Help Could Come to Farmers by Way of Repayable Loans

Several agriculture overtime fix bills have been dropped this session to help mitigate the costs associated with the implementation of HB 4002 that passed in the 2022 session. In the original bill, there was funding for those employers who could not absorb the cost since they were already in their current budget.

HB 2058 is moving through the process with a work session last week in both the Joint Ways & Means Subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development and the full Ways & Means Committee, which it passed unanimously and is headed to the Senate floor.

The bill will allow farmers to borrow money from the state and then repay the state when they receive their tax credit. The loans would be limited to $40,000 a year for farmers earning $3 million or less in annual revenue under an amended version of HB 2058, which the House Business Labor Committee recently passed.

Healthy Soils Bill Has Work Ahead

The House Committee on Agriculture, Land Use, Natural Resources & Water heard HB 2998 on Thursday with the majority of written and verbal testimony in support. The bill seeks to create a soil health initiative.

Meghan Kemple with the Oregon Coalition to Advance Soil Health testified that the bill has the support of over 50 farmers and ranchers. She noted the initiative was voluntary and would include a conservation staff, organic and conventional support, equipment sharing and work with Oregon State University and the College of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture and conservation districts.

Oregon Food and Shelter (OFS), Oregon Dairy, and Oregon Cattlemen testified with concerns. Tiffany Moore with OFS said they will be meeting with Megan Kemple to work on their concerns.

Rep. Susan McLain (D-Hillsboro) is a sponsor of the bill and said she needs to understand the concerns, which are in part that those approved to provide administrative support may not be qualified in that position.

We will watch this closely for amendments as they work to get all industries’ support.

February 13, 2023

Oregon’s Birthday and Kotek’s Leadership Test

Oregon celebrates its 164th birthday this week, but legislators won’t be spending the day celebrating with cake and ice cream. Instead, they’ll be focused on moving through the gargantuan (and growing) pile of bills in an attempt to meet a targeted Sine Die of June 15.

The sense of urgency in the Capitol noticeably ratcheted up last week as committee chairs pushed to get bills filed and scheduled for hearings. The Senate will begin meeting four times a week to hear the mandatory full bill readings currently required by Republicans.

The next major deadline is March 17, when bills must be posted to a committee work session to stay alive. With things moving at high gear so early, bills that don’t have the support to keep moving will likely be left by the wayside.

90th Legislator Seated for Session

Former Curry County Commissioner Court Boice is the newest state representative, taking the House District 1 seat left open by David Brock Smith’s departure to the Senate. The late transfer joins a freshman class of 22 in the Oregon House.

Overtime Relief Bill Includes Repayable Loan Program

The House Business & Labor Committee held a work session on HB 2058, which directs the Oregon Business Development Department (OBDD) to develop and administer a program to provide up to $40,000 in interest-free, repayable awards to agricultural employers to help with costs associated with agricultural overtime that passed in 2022 in HB 4002.

HB 2058 says the agricultural employer must:

  • Anticipate earning not more than $3,000,000 in gross income in current year;
  • Have overtime costs in current year; and
  • Be eligible to apply for a tax credit.

HB 2058 will also require employers to repay awarded loans to OBDD within two years. The “Agricultural Overtime Award Fund” will appropriate $10.1 million to OBDD to administer and fund the program.

The committee passed the bill with a referral to Joint Ways & Means. Rep. Anna Scharf (R-Dallas) was the only dissenting vote, saying she felt the bill does not fix the problem but acts more like a payday loan.

The Oregon Dept. of Ag Needs Your Help

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is asking for your help by filling out an online survey. This is beneficial to their work on ODA’s strategic plan. The survey is open until February 28 and is confidential.

Coming Up This Week

The House Committee on Agriculture, Land Use, Natural Resources and Water will hold a hearing on HB 2998 at 3:00 p.m. HB 2998 seeks to create the “The Soil Health Initiative”. Stream it Live HERE.

February 6, 2023

Governor’s Budget Goes Back to Basics

Governor Tina Kotek sent a dual message with her proposed budget last week, focusing on not just her funding priorities of housing/homelessness, mental health/addiction services, and education, but on rebuilding the basics of customer service in Oregon by holding agencies accountable.

The governor’s budget, intended as a guiding document for legislators, was presented by Gov. Kotek as realistic rather than optimistic. It accounts for a mild recession beginning this summer with job losses of about 24,000, largely in construction and manufacturing. Unemployment is expected to peak at 5.4% in early 2024, and Oregon’s population is expected to decline.

The budget takes into account the loss of $3 billion in federal funds, a record kicker going back to taxpayers in 2024, and maintaining a $2 billion balance in the state’s savings account (without adding to it). Gov. Kotek said the budget included shared priorities and input from leadership in both parties and both chambers.

2023-25 General Fund/Lottery Funds Budget

As for accountability, Gov. Kotek sent a letter in January to all agency directors to review a new set of expectations and develop an implementation plan. This includes performance reviews of directors and anonymous surveys from lower-level employees to ensure they are on track. Some of these goals are:

  • Managing IT Progress — Agencies of 50 FTE or larger are required to develop an IT strategic plan.
  • Succession Planning — Agencies must have a succession plan in place by Dec. 31, 2023.
  • Emergency Preparation — Agencies must have an annually updated continuity of operations plan.
  • Hiring Practices — Agencies must monitor hiring practices to ensure the average time to fill positions does not exceed than 50 days. This is meant to be a stretch goal for agencies, a way to stop agency budget abuse, and an early warning indicator of a potentially struggling agency.
  • Audit Accountability — Agencies must work with the Secretary of State and ensure all SOS and internal audit findings are resolved within the targeted date.
  • Staff Development — Agencies must develop new employee orientations and demonstrate 100% of employees participate within 60 days.

Rural Tax Credit Bill Up This Week

This week, I am genuinely looking forward to testifying in front of the House Health Care Committee on HB 2723. Oregon’s Rural Medical Provider Tax Credit, first established in 1989 to help rural communities recruit and retain quality providers, has been watered down in recent years. The behavioral health workforce crisis has been festering for the better part of a decade. These communities need help to recruit and retain providers so residents can access those services locally as specialty providers in urban and suburban areas do not have the capacity to accept patients from other geographic regions.

In the aftermath of a global pandemic that resulted in a massive amount of deferred care throughout the state, tax credits are only one tool in the toolbox for Oregon communities seeking to shore up access for local patients. But they are a very important one.

January 30, 2023

Session Moves Slowly But Surely Forward

Alexa, please read me today’s legislation.

The Oregon Senate will hear the now-familiar computerized voice reading the full text of all bills on the chamber floor — at least for now — as Senate Republicans have opted not to waive the requirement of full readings. This has become commonplace in recent years as the best tool of the minority party to slow the pace of legislation and gain leverage in negotiations on which bills are heard.

Republican Leader Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend) said in a press conference that the party is prepared to participate in a bipartisan session and would consider waiving the full-reading requirement if it felt progress is being made.

Secretary of State Release Water Audit

The Oregon Secretary of State’s Audits Division released an advisory report on water security this week, highlighting places where Oregon is underprepared to support communities and meet long-term needs.

Among other problems, the report points out:

  • The Oregon Integrated Water Resources Strategy, created by HB 5006 in 2021, doesn’t have a direct impact on state and regional planning efforts.
  • State leadership and agencies don’t share water security priorities and have limited areas of focus.
  • Data collection on Oregon’s water resources is incomplete.
  • There is no funding strategy connecting planning to investments, and water infrastructure is suffering from disinvestment.

Overtime Compensation, Pest Management, Antitrust on the Docket

Bills are still being dropped each day and we continue to closely monitor legislation with the potential to affect the industry both negatively and positively.

  • This week we will be monitoring a work session on SB 310, which seeks to increase the amount of the fines that can be given by the Attorney General for antitrust violations. Tuesday at 1 p.m.
  • On Wednesday the House Business and Labor committee will hold a public hearing on HB 2058, which seeks to create a program for financial assistance in overtime compensation payments. This was the second part of the overtime conversation from last session that failed to move. Wednesday, 8 a.m.
  • On Thursday the Ag Land Use, Natural Resources and Water committee will hold a public hearing on support for research related to pest management of specialty crops and OSU’s IR-4 Program. Thursday at 3 p.m.

January 23, 2023

Opening Week Orientation at the Oregon Capitol

The first week of the 82nd Legislative Session was the like the first week of school — hours of orientation for the incoming freshmen while the upperclassmen patiently waited for the big projects to begin.

It’s a large freshman class, and many of the committees acted as 101-level courses with informational hearings to provide background on the topics they will be working on in the coming months.

Housing and homeless have taken center stage, with both House and Senate Democrats listing it as their top goal for the session. Gov. Tina Kotek signed three executive orders on the topic, declaring a state of emergency, directing state agencies to prioritize reducing homelessness, and setting an annual statewide production goal of 36,000 homes.

Also new to the office (though certainly not to the building), Gov. Kotek is working on her recommended budget that is expected to be submitted before Feb. 1. This will act as a starting point for legislators as they create the biennial budget – the biggest task of a full session.

This process will be made more interesting by the lack of Democratic supermajority, meaning all budget bills will require at least some bipartisan support. It also removes the necessity of a walkout by Republicans.

Session Focusing on Water and Climate

Last week with the start of committee meetings we got a closer look at what to expect in the 2023 session. More than 1,800 bills dropped, and more are coming in daily. Within agriculture and natural resources you will see water rights along with carbon sequestration and climate bills. Gov. Tina Kotek has named housing and homelessness as her top priorities, which will put into question land use laws in relationship to low-cost housing.

Several bills seek to create or continue research and task force management.

  • HB 2610 directs Oregon State University to research reduced-risk pest management tools for Oregon’s specialty crops and report to interim committees no later than September 2027.
  • HB 2058 will seek to mitigate the costs of ag overtime compensation that passed in 2022 with a loan program developed and administered by Oregon Business Development Department.
  • During the House Committee on Agriculture, Land Use, Natural Resources, Chair Rep. Ken Helm (D- Beaverton) said LC 895, a placeholder bill to respond to drought, will probably be the biggest bill the committee tackles this session.

In a broader view we will be watching closely the tolling bills for the Portland metro area and changes to the Corporate Activities Tax.

On Friday morning over 200 natural resource stakeholders had a virtual meeting with Gov. Kotek’s transition team on the natural resource budget. We expect her recommended budget to be released in the coming month, which will give a clearer picture of what Governor Kotek’s Oregon will look like.

January 17, 2023

Legislative Session Launches with Committees in Action

Today marks the official start of the 82nd Legislative Assembly, and several committees are wasting no time in getting to work.

With 1,851 bills already filed, there’s a lot of work ahead for leadership. There will be 22 freshman representatives in the House once a replacement is selected for Rep. David Brock Smith (R-Port Orford), who was recently appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by Dallas Heard (R-Roseburg). This will be the first in-person session for nearly two-thirds (39 out of 60) of the chamber’s members, who have assumed office since the COVID-restricted 2020 session.

Overseeing the steep learning curve will fall to House Speaker Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) as he takes the gavel for his first full session and new Senate President Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego). During the last election, Democrats narrowly lost supermajority status by one seat in each chamber, and while this appears like only a slight adjustment to the balance of power in terms of numbers, it will be a significant factor impacting both revenue and budget decisions throughout the session.

First committee agendas released

A handful of committees have meetings scheduled for this first week of session, including the Senate Committee on Business and Labor which will be the first to officially discuss legislation. Other committees will hold informational hearings.

Committees will be taking in-person testimony at the Capitol for the first time since 2020, but online testimony will still be available by signing up through the OLIS platform. You can learn more here.

Deadlines in place to move legislation forward

The Legislature will have two months before its first major deadline on March 17. By that date, all bills must have been posted to a work session in order to move forward (with a caveat for Rules, Revenue and Joint committees).

The session must conclude within 160 days, marking June 25 as the latest possible Sine Die.