Government, politics, Salem

Oregon’s short legislative session comes to a close

The Oregon Legislature’s 2022 short session came and went (did you blink?) and in this era of rapid inflation and soaring costs for food and gasoline lawmakers passed $2.7 billion in new spending with the lion’s share allocated to child care, education, homelessness, housing, job training, and mental health.

The 2022 session also marked the end of the political career for longtime lawmaker and Senate president Sen. Peter Courtney (D-Eugene), whose name has been synonymous with Oregon politics for the last 30-odd years.

Courtney is the longest-serving legislator in state history, and the last piece of legislation he introduced, SB 1504, which will ban greyhound racing on July 1, was passed by the House and Senate.

For the record, Oregon is not one of the seven states where greyhound racing is conducted — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Texas, and West Virginia — but it is not illegal. Greyhound racing now is illegal in 40 states, and Oregon was one of four states, including Connecticut, Kansas, and Wisconsin, where there are no active racetracks but the practice still is legal.

New spending that impacts many farmers in western Washington County includes requiring them for the first time in history to pay overtime to Oregon farmworkers who work more than 40 hours a week.

Farmworkers were excluded from the federal 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which created overtime pay. Many farm owners and employers say paying overtime is too expensive for their already low profit-margin businesses.

The bill gives farm businesses some time to prepare by requiring they begin paying overtime to farmworkers in 2023 and 2024 who log more than 55 hours in one workweek, 48 hours in 2025 and 2026, and finally, 40 hours beginning in 2027.

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On the local front, western Washington County’s six legislative representatives all did not achieve the results they set out to accomplish on Feb. 1, but there were some victories for the legislators.

Rep. Susan McLain (D-Hillsboro) wrote an email to this newspaper that, even though the bills she introduced did not pass, provides an example of making lemonade when life gives you lemons.

“(We still passed) significant pieces of legislation that will improve the lives of Oregonians,” McLain wrote.

HB 4053, introduced by Rep. Suzanne Weber (R-Tillamook), passed both chambers and now sits on Gov. Kate Brown’s desk awaiting her signature to make it law. Sen. Rachel Armitage (D-Scappoose), in her first month as an elected official, toward the end of February also signed on to be a co-chief sponsor of the bill.

HB 4053 requires ODOT to conduct a review of Oregon Route 6 and present its findings to the Joint Committee on Transportation no later than September 15, 2023.

At least seven people died on the route in 2021, and many others throughout the years died on Oregon Route 6, which stretches from Banks and through Gales Creek to Tillamook, but the highway also has many structural deficiencies, and as Weber has said on numerous occasions, few guardrails, pullouts, and passing lanes. Cell service also is spotty in several areas, especially toward the summit, and emergency responders have arrived at accident scenes later than they could have if phone calls could have been immediately placed.

The report will study the condition of Route 6 and examine deficiencies, recommendations for repairing and improving the road, and provide a cost estimate for it all.

Weber said getting ODOT to focus on Route 6 is long overdue, and while safety is of the utmost importance, the highway is the economic artery for Oregon’s northwest coast.

Freshman Rep. Nathan Sosa (D-Hillsboro), sworn in hours before the 2022 session began, notched his first victory as a co-chief sponsor of HB 4114, which requires district school board members to file verified financial statements with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to disclose possible conflicts of interest with business dealings in their region.

Sen. Janeen Sollman (D-Hillsboro) told this newspaper that she is disappointed SB 1590, which would have directed the Department of Education to develop a statewide strategic plan for computer science education to k-12 students across Oregon, did not pass but she plans to begin speaking with Gov. Brown to get the ball rolling.

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