COVID-19 Response

On Sunday, March 8th, Governor Brown declared a State of Emergency in Oregon due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Since the declaration, the Legislature’s Emergency Board has allocated $5 million towards the crisis and a special joint legislative committee on Coronavirus Response has been assembled by legislative leadership.

On Wednesday, March 11th, Oregon State University announced guidelines to protect students and employees from COVID-19 community spread. To facilitate the ongoing sharing of information about the virus, Oregon State University has added a link on the OSU homepage to a new page that provides detailed and up-to-date COVID-19 information; links to OSU, local, state and federal resources; updates on the latest federal travel restrictions; and previous university communications about the virus and other information. The web site includes a memo released this week about plans for remote final exams and remote teaching.


2020 Legislative Session

The 2020 Legislative Session ended abruptly last Thursday, in what many are calling a failed session. Only three bills out of the hundreds filed made it through both chambers and onto the Governor’s desk. At the middle of the controversy was SB 1530, which established a Cap & Trade program in Oregon among other policies to address climate change. Some say the Republicans ignored their constitutional responsibility and deserted statewide needs by walking out of the Capitol building to deny Senate and House quorums; others say the Democrats knowingly pushed a policy at the peril of everything else. Both sides have constituents calling them heroes. The question remains around what can be done to heal the divide and return to a functioning legislature.

In the midst of the chaos, several of OSU’s legislative priorities were left on the table. It is too early to know if any of these will be addressed in a special session. Last week, legislative leadership shared that they would like to hold a special session within 30 day of adjournment to address budget bills that passed out of the Ways & Means committee, but did not receive a floor vote. However, at this time, no plans or announcements of a special session have been released. The State’s response to COVID-19 could be an additional driver in the decision to call a special session.

While the Republicans’ absence denied a quorum for each chamber’s floor sessions, legislative committees continued to work and pass bills during the walkout. During this time, the OSU Government Relations team, along with partners from the Beaver Caucus, continued to work on OSU priority bills, including key capital investments and research appropriations in what is known as the “Christmas Tree” budget bill.

While none of OSU’s legislative priorities reached the finish line due to the unique and disappointing circumstances of the short session,  they maintain key positioning for a special session or reconsideration in the 2021 session. Here are where issues of interest to OSU ended up at the end of the short session:

Capital Construction Projects

  • Arts & Education Complex ($34.5 million bonded) included in HB 5202; passed Ways & Means.
  • OSU-Cascades Student Success Center ($12.9 million general fund) included in HB 5204; passed Ways & Means.

This action only funded two of OSU’s three proposed projects, but due to competition for limited bonding capacity, we are supportive of these results. OSU will resubmit Cordley Hall Phase II for consideration in the 2021 session. 

Ocean Research

  • $700,000 to OSU for ocean acidification and hypoxia research;
  • $170,000 to OSU for Molluscan Broodstock research; and
  • $500,000 to UO for the construction of a marine research vessel, which OSU supported.

All included in HB 5204; passed Ways & Means.

Prohibition of Lottery Offering College Sports Betting

After much committee discussion and interest, HB 4047 died in House Revenue Committee.

Student Athletes’ Name, Image & Likeness

SB 1501 would had given student athletes the ability to receive compensation for off-season coaching and training work, and for the use of their name, image and likeness. Passed the Senate and House Rules, but did not have a floor vote in the House.

Campus Hunger and Housing Insecurity

In HB 4055, would have had the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) partner with higher education institutions to conduct a study of food and housing insecurity rates and trends on college campuses and make recommendations to address problems. This bill did not make it out of committee before adjournment.

Hemp            

OSU was pursuing legislation to support Oregon’s hemp industry and research at OSU’s Global Hemp Innovation Center.

  • HB 4057, which brought Oregon’s hemp program in line with federal regulations, passed Ways & Means, but did not have a floor vote in the House.
  • HB 4051, established a Hemp Commission. Passed the House and Senate General Government Committee, but did not have a floor vote in the Senate.

Better outcomes for a new generation of Oregon university students (HB 4160)

This bill would have established a task force on student success for underrepresented students in higher education. This bill did not make it out of committee before adjournment.


The History of Oregon’s 35 Day Short Session

Until recent history, the Oregon Legislature met biennially on odd-numbered years. There were no limitations on the number of days a session could run. After a couple test runs at annual sessions, a legislative resolution amended the state’s constitution and changed the schedule of regular sessions. This was referred to voters in the November 2010 general election. Ballot Measure 71, which passed statewide by a margin of more than 2 to 1, limited the length of legislative sessions beginning in odd-numbered years to 160 calendar days, and sessions beginning in even-numbered years to 35 calendar days. The change took effect during the 2011 long session.

While voters may have believed the additional short session would assist with managing the state budget and addressing emergency or house-keeping measures, there is no limitation on what can be addressed during the 35 days. Legislative leadership has attempted to manage the volume of bills by placing limitations on the number of bills each member or committee can introduce through their chamber rules, but there is no restrictions on the scope of the policy introduced. 

What is a Special Session?

If an emergency arises during the interim period when the legislature is not in session, the Governor, or a majority of both houses of the legislature, may call a special session. Once a session is convened, the Constitution does not limit the type or amount of legislation the Legislature may consider. However, most special sessions are carefully planned and orchestrated by the Governor’s Office.

Oregon has a long history of using special sessions to address urgent or emerging issues. Most notably, in 2002, there were five special sessions to address budget shortfalls.

2020 Election Update

Tuesday, March 10 marked the filing deadline for candidates to run in the May 2020 Oregon primary election. Following a tense and divisive legislative session, many seated legislators decided to forgo reelection. Twelve House members and four Senate members did not file. Even with Democrats holding super majorities in both chambers, only three of these incumbents are Republicans.

Each cycle, filing day brings what is known as a “Tuesday surprise.” This is when a candidate  makes a surprise decision to file, not file, or withdraw, on the day of the deadline.. This year included a few. Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger (R-Grants Pass) announced Monday that he will not seek reelection. Art Robinson, who had filed for a sixth time against Congressman Peter DeFazio, dropped the congressional race on Tuesday to run for Baertschiger’s seat alongside former Josephine County Commissioner Simon Hare and two other Republican candidates. Representative Tiffiny Mitchell (D-Astoria) released a statement on filing day that she was moving to Washington and withdrew her candidacy after surviving a recall attempt earlier this year. Former legislator, Derrick Kitts (R-Sherwood), filed against incumbent Representative Courtney Neron (D-Sherwood) who narrowly won the House District 26 seat in a 2018 race against incumbent Richard Vial (R).

This month marks the end of my 20-year career as Director of Government Relations at OSU. I was drawn to OSU by President Paul Risser in 1999 after working with him while I served on a temporary federal appointment in Governor John Kitzhaber’s office. The Governor asked Risser to chair a citizen commission charged with resolving intractable water quality problems in the Willamette River Basin, and I was serving as the Governor’s liaison to the commission. At its first meeting, Risser, an ecologist, asked the members to briefly address the issues of interest to them. After listening to an hour-long free-ranging collection of concerns which fully described Oregon’s urban-rural divide, Risser briefly synthesized the discussion into a cogent summary that eventually became the commission’s work plan. I thought he was the smartest person I’d ever met.

Continue reading

Looking to the 2020 legislative session

Universities will be focused on two major priorities as they approach the 2020 legislative session. First, because the legislature postponed decisions about capital facilities on individual campuses during the 2019 session, the universities seeking commitments of state-financed bonds for capital renewal and/or new buildings on their campuses. During the 2019 session the legislature did approve $65 million in bonding for capital renewal projects. These funds will be distributed among the campuses according to a mutually agreed-upon formula developed by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC). But, in synch with the Governor’s recommendation upon entering the 2019 session, the legislature deferred making decisions about individual campus projects, pending the results of what turned out to be a 280-page 10-year strategic capital development plan commissioned by the HECC. The study assessed the long-term campus trends and needs, and in October the HECC approved the plan. Now, HECC staff have incorporated the findings in recommendations to be considered this week. (These issues will be addressed in Capital Construction below.)

Continue reading
With the June 30th deadline for adjournment just over a month and a half away, the Oregon Legislature is nearing a final vote on a $2 billion revenue package, is considering over 90 amendments to a comprehensive joint “carbon action plan,” and is considering various proposals for addressing housing costs and efforts to control cost increases in the state’s public employee retirement system (PERS).

Continue reading