E-Newsletter: It’s a new record!

Jan. 28, 2022

Hello Friends and Neighbors,

If you had asked me Monday morning, I would have said the 11 bills I’d filed during the first two weeks of our session – the latest being an updated version of my emergency-powers reform – would be it. But after seeing the majority party’s half-hearted response to another looming financial disaster involving a state-run program, there was no real choice but to propose a better idea. My list of prime-sponsored legislation is now up to an even dozen, with the introduction of SB 5959. Keep reading for the details.

We won’t see a proposed supplemental operating budget emerge from the Senate until after the year’s first state revenue forecast, which will be issued in mid-February. However, on top of committee meetings and the work I’m doing in relation to an assortment of legislation (my bills and proposals by others), I’m meeting regularly with my Democrat counterpart on the Senate Ways and Means Committee to talk about budget priorities. I can’t say if she’s become tired of my reminders of the need for tax relief, but I’m not letting up!

Speaking of tax relief, my SB 5643 is scheduled for a hearing before the Ways and Means committee on Tuesday. That’s my “homestead” exemption bill, which would make the first $250,000 of a home’s value exempt from the state property tax. This would be particularly important to people with middle and lower incomes, along with SJR 8206, which would protect the exemption by placing it in the state constitution. The meeting starts at 4 p.m. that day.

The initial response to my online survey was encouraging! In case you missed filling it out last week, here’s the link again. There are just six questions about your priorities; all are multiple choice with space for longer answers.

biomarker testimony
Today I testified before the Senate health-care committee about my legislation involving cancer treatment. Click here to view my remarks!

Majority slams door on real reform of governor’s emergency powers
This morning the Senate State Government and Elections Committee had a public hearing on a bill that would change the state’s emergency-powers law – but no one should refer to the majority’s SB 5909 as “reform,” as I explained in this news release Wednesday.

Thanks to the many of you who responded to my “Action Alert” about today’s hearing. A whopping 5,615 people signed in to either testify or state their position on the bill – which is a record for any bill coming before a Senate committee since the sign-in technology was made available last year!

Of that number, 157 people put themselves on the list to testify, but only 27 were allowed to actually speak to the committee. That’s because at the last minute the bill was moved to last on the agenda, instead of second, and committee meetings aren’t open-ended – meaning that agenda move served to automatically cut off the time for public testimony.

As I expected, the testimony was almost completely supportive of SB 5909. Even though the bill would do almost nothing, it’s still better than nothing at all. At the same time, I was glad to see so many testify that the bill doesn’t go far enough to balance the roles of the legislative and executive branches during an emergency. Had either of my bipartisan bills (SB 5039 and SB 5943) been allowed a place on the agenda, the public could have testified in favor of real reform.

The general who heads our state’s Military Department is the one person who testified against SB 5909, raising a concern about emergency declarations as they relate to federal disaster-relief funding. I believe he would have no problem with my SB 5039, because it focuses only on emergency orders. The more important point is that either of my bills would do much more to put the necessary checks and balances into place than the partisan alternative proposed by the majority party.

From here, the committee chair has to decide whether to let SB 5909 die, or move it forward, which should give Republicans on the committee an opportunity to offer amendments that would move the bill closer to what I’ve proposed. On Monday a bipartisan House bill that is already much closer to mine (HB 1772) will receive a public hearing before the House state-government committee.

The first deadline for committees to act on policy bills is next Thursday, so we’ll know soon whether the majority is the least bit concerned about emergency-powers reform.

Paid family and medical leave program is in trouble; here’s a solution
Here we are, just three weeks into the session, and already the Legislature is faced with dealing with a second state-run program that is facing financial insolvency.

I’ve mentioned the first example before: the controversial long-term care program passed in 2019, tied to a big new payroll tax that was to take effect Jan. 1. Aside from the issues about who is and isn’t eligible for the benefit, the current tax rate isn’t enough to fund the program, and you know what that means. Last week the House passed the bill to delay the unpopular LTC tax; on Wednesday the Senate agreed, and the governor signed HB 1732 yesterday. The delay keeps the tax from being collected until next year, but the better answer would be to pull the plug, as my SB 5769 would do.

The new problem involves the paid family and medical leave insurance program (PFML). Created in 2017, it began collecting premiums from eligible employers and employees in 2019 and began paying benefits in 2020. But beyond the first quarter of 2020, payouts have consistently exceeded the program’s income from premiums. The reserve is now so low that an automatic rate increase would be triggered this year.

After seeing how majority Democrats propose to simply patch the hole for 2022 and leave the door open to a rate increase in 2023, I introduced SB 5959. Besides refilling the reserve and preventing a rate increase this year, the bill also would put about 25% of the state’s annual cannabis revenue – around $125 million – toward stabilizing the program for at least another six years.

We all seem to agree on refilling the account to prevent a rate increase this year, but our bill is more than a one-year patch. Now that the budget committee has been made aware of the structural issues in the PFML program, we should deal with them now, and in a long-term way that won’t increase premiums or reduce the benefits that have been promised.

Let’s expand I-5 bridge discussion to look at third crossing
Since 2019 the bi-state commission of legislators formed to discuss replacement of the Interstate 5 bridge – a group formally known in Washington as the Joint Oregon-Washington Legislative Action Committee – has met regularly, and I think it’s been productive. I remain committed and engaged in that work.

People have different opinions about how much emphasis should be put on the I-5 bridge replacement versus the construction of a third crossing. That said, there’s really no argument that a third crossing will be needed at some point.

Given how long it will take to identify a location for a third crossing and get on with all the other aspects of such a project, does it make sense to at least begin that conversation now, even though the conversation about the replacement I-5 bridge is far from over? To put it another way, can transportation officials walk and chew gum at the same time?

SB 5934 says “yes, we can”, and would require the Joint Transportation Committee to conduct a study of the options and strategies for a third crossing. The study would be due to the Legislature no later than June 30, 2023. An identical bill has been introduced in the House – HB 2084 – and it has been scheduled for a public hearing in the House Transportation Committee this coming Monday (Jan. 31) at 3:30 p.m.

From gas-tax relief to targeting catalytic-converter theft: my co-sponsored bills
On top of prime-sponsoring 12 bills, I’m a co-sponsor of many others. Some are big proposals, like SB 5897, to temporarily suspend the state portion of the gas tax (that’s 49.4 cents per gallon!), and SB 5841, which would make approximately $250 million per year available to communities to help with law-enforcement efforts. Others get at some of the basic things people expect in return for their taxes – like SB 5500, SB 5502 and SB 5740, which have to do with litter pickup along state highways and graffiti removal, both of which are a huge concern in our community.

I’m particularly glad to see the reaction to another bill I’m co-sponsoring: SB 5495, which would clamp down on the theft of catalytic converters by making it too hard to profit from the crime. Another Senator Wilson – Jeff Wilson, my Republican colleague who serves the 19th District – is the prime sponsor. His bipartisan proposal received a public hearing on Tuesday, and it’s attracting a lot of news coverage.

To see all the bills I’m co-sponsoring click here.

Yours in service,

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