Oct 2, 2023 - News

Oregon lawmakers start to set their agenda

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Oregon lawmakers spent last week preparing for their upcoming February legislative session — holding hearings on topics ranging from drug addiction to grasshopper infestations.

Why it matters: What lawmakers highlight through these public hearings informs laws they may propose during the Legislature's short session — just five weeks long — that alternates annually with their regular six-month session.

Catch up fast: Several committees focused on affordable housing and homelessness — including the interim Senate Committee on Housing and Development, which heard that a lack of housing in Oregon is contributing to homelessness and people leaving the state.

  • Having "attractive and affordable" housing is a "huge part of recruitment" and retention for industries including health care, public safety and education, Damien Hall, a co-chair of a new governor-created advisory group on housing production, told the committee.
  • The group is due to share by December specific proposals for lawmakers. In the hearing, senators urged them to look at issues such as rent increase limits and the number of second homes.

Separately, the interim Senate Judiciary Committee explored ways to change the voter-approved Oregon law that decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs.

Between the lines: Legislators are under pressure to cut public drug consumption and increase treatment — potentially requiring rather than encouraging it as the current law does.

By the numbers: Oregon has the fifth highest effective income tax in the country — for couples earning the median income — and some officials testified that state limits on property tax rates are handcuffing local governments.

  • Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told the House Interim Committee on Economic Development and Small Business that Oregonians' overall tax burden is tied to people leaving the state and leaving Portland.
  • "While there are many factors at play, we know that taxes do play a key role," Wheeler told the committee.

What they're saying: At a hearing on the impact of the University of Oregon leaving the Pac-12, UO president Karl Scholz said he was "sad that the changing nature of college athletics has disrupted the Pac-12."

  • But he said that UO's athletic program had "only one choice" to remain self-funded through game revenue.
  • Oregon State University officials said UO's decision will mean a $40 million loss for OSU, and some students said they hoped the state would help out.

What's next: Interim committees will meet for similar sessions in early November and again in January.

  • The legislative session runs from Feb. 5 to March 10.
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