Oregon's 2016 Legislative Session ends March 5. In the final days of the short even-year assembly, the fate of some of the most important bills will be decided while others will not reach the finish line. Melissa's Law and affordable housing are two of the bills that could be decided in the final days of the annual assembly. Other bills have already passed both the House and Senate, including bills addressing minimum wage, industrial hemp and the opioid addiction crisis. Bend's Sen. Tim Knopp and Rep. Knute Buehler each won initial victories for sponsored bills, now heading to votes in the House or Senate, respectively.
HB 4124 Help for opioid epidemic, passed unanimously in House and Senate
Rep. Buehler [R-Bend], announced the Oregon House voted unanimously to pass House Bill 4124, and the Senate followed, also voting unanimously to pass the bill on Feb. 29. HB 4124, introduced by Buehler, addresses the opioid addiction epidemic in Oregon. It will give pharmacists permission to distribute the overdose reversal drug naloxone (sold under the brand name Narcan) without a prescription. It would also improve doctor database access to prevent over-prescribing prescription drugs. "Opioid addiction has become an epidemic and is continuing to spread. This disturbing trend has a very real human cost - one that I have seen firsthand far too often. If this bill can save even one life, it will be worth it," said Buehler, who is a medical doctor.
SB1532 Minimum wage, passed in Senate and House
Senate Bill 1532 passed in the Oregon Legislature on Feb.18 and will increase the minimum wage beginning July 1, 2016, gradually through 2022. Though the bill has yet to reach Gov. Kate Brown's desk, she said in a statement that minimum wage is one of her priorities. "I started this conversation last fall, bringing stakeholders together to craft a workable proposal, one that gives working families the much-needed wage boost they need," she said. "I look forward to signing this bill."
Though the higher minimum wage will begin in July, full implementation of the bill will take six years. By 2022, the Portland Metro area wage will be $14.75; counties surrounding Portland as well as Lane and Deschutes counties will see $13.50 per hour; and rural counties in eastern Oregon will reach $12.50 per hour.
Andrea Miller is the executive director of Causa, Oregon's Latino immigration rights organization, and an executive committee member of the Raise the Wage coalition. She says the bill is a good start, but it won't address all the challenges low wage workers are facing, including earning a living wage.
"There's not one silver bullet that's going to lift everybody out of poverty, but rather minimum wage and increasing it in this bill in particular is a great first step and will make a real impact in people's lives," she says.
HB 4060 Industrial hemp, passed in House and Senate
The Oregon Senate voted 25-0 in favor of House Bill 4060, that previously passed the Oregon House 54-4. The bill will relax state laws for Oregon industrial hemp farming, clearing the way for research, greenhouse cultivation and less expensive testing. Federally, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden supports lifting the ban on hemp growing nationwide with the Industrial Hemp Farming Act.
SB 1517 Melissa's Law, passed in Oregon Senate, heads to House
Senate Bill 1517 passed unanimously in the senate on Friday with a vote of 28-0. The bill dubbed Melissa's law will allow for an additional $1.5 million to test sexual assault forensic evidence within a 21-day period of initial collection. Right now 5,652 SAFE kits are awaiting testing in Oregon. Chief bill sponsor Sen. Sara Gelser [D-Corvallis] said in a statement, "When a sexual assault victim submits to an invasive and uncomfortable sexual assault examination, we have moral obligation to ensure that evidence is tested and used to pursue justice." The bill will now be considered in the House.
SB 1600 No statute of limitations for first-degree sex crimes, passed in Senate
Sen. Knopp [R-Bend] is the chief sponsor of SB 1600, which would allow for an unlimited statute of limitations for first-degree sex crimes when supporting evidence is presented. It is not limited to physical evidence and can include a confession by the defendant such as statements or recordings. "As a Chief Sponsor of SB 1600, I believe it is critical that we allow time for victims of first degree sex crimes to come forward when they are confident enough to do so," said Knopp in a statement. The bill passed in the Senate and is awaiting reading in the House.
SB 1533 Affordable housing, passed by Senate
"We are seeing a growing need for mixed-income developments in our cities, given the growing problem of middle-income workers and their families being priced out of the communities in which they work," said Sen. Michael Dembrow [D-Portland] in a statement.
The Senate Majority Office clarifies, "In cases where communities choose to implement inclusionary zoning, their policies can only apply to new multifamily structures containing at least 20 housing units, and can require up to 20 percent of housing units to be sold or rented as affordable housing."
Senate Bill 1533 lifts the ban on inclusionary zoning, which requires builders to include a certain number of affordable housing units within each development. The bill was sponsored by Dembrow and passed in the Senate 20 to 8. Bend's Sen. Knopp voted against it.
SB 1587 More accurate pay stubs to prevent wage theft
Wage theft in Oregon is felt far and wide and affects every industry, says Dembrow. "It can be difficult to get a handle on the scope of the problem because all too often wage theft happens quietly. Currently, Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) doesn't have the manpower to do spot-checks and take other proactive steps to address wage and hour violations," he says. "According to BOLI, the occupations where we see the most violations are construction (especially day laborers), restaurant/hospitality, and agriculture."
Senate Bill 1587, sponsored by Sen. Dembrow, would require that paystubs be itemized and would expand the BOLI investigative team responsible for examining claims of unpaid and underpaid wages. "It aligns Oregon statutes around time and hour record-keeping with federal law, and ensures that every worker will receive a detailed and accurate paystub," he explains. "It also makes certain violations of state prevailing wage law a Class C Felony, ensuring that when contractors cheat workers out of their wages there will be real consequences."
Dembrow says wage theft has been an ongoing problem in the state. "Unfortunately, while most employers follow the law, there are enough bad apples out there that this issue has to always be on our radar screen," he says. "SB 1587 builds off of work done on legislation during the 2015 session that didn't make it across the finish line."
Causa's Miller says it will see the issue through to the 2017 session. "We know that many low wage workers, especially those workers of color and farm workers, experience what is known as wage theft," she says. "That means that either they don't get paid for all the hours they've worked, or that a portion of their salary isn't in their check at the right time," she explains. "There are some businesses that are not practicing wage law correctly and we want to address that issue next session," she says.