2015 Oregon Legislative Report
Oregon's Capitol Is (finally) Quiet
By Darrell W. Fuller
The 2015 Regular Session of the 78th Legislative Assembly adjourned, Sine Die (meaning “we’re done”), at 6:05 PM on Monday, July 6th.
This session is generally viewed as the most one-sided and partisan in at least two decades. In fact, Republicans -- the minority party in both the Senate and House -- were so marginalized that Democrats were left to fight one another, sometimes quite publicly. One has only to read the newspapers:
“FAMILY FEUD” screamed the large headline on the front page of “The Oregonian”, subtitled with “A battle between the Oregon Legislature’s top Democratic power brokers altered the outcome of the session.”
Despite the tension and drama, NATA members are not facing any industry-specific changes in the law which will substantially impact their bottom line. NATA was able to thwart two separate efforts (House Bill 2496 and House Bill 3551) to create new mandates including a new consumer “right” to keep all replaced parts and a new sign-posting requirement. However, these concepts will return in the February, 2016 session. NATA will be working with other industry groups and with supporters of the bill to see if legislation everyone can support can be hammered out.
Business in general did not fare as well during the session. The Legislature adopted several bills which will negatively impact all Oregon businesses. The four most significant are:
Senate Bill 454 / Paid Sick Leave
Lawmakers adopted a new requirement that all employers with more than ten employees provide at least one week (40 hours) of paid “sick leave” each calendar year. Employees -- whether full or part- time -- will immediately start accruing sick time when hired (one hour for every 30 worked) and it can be used in hourly increments starting after 90 days of employment. Employers with less than 10 employees must also provide time off, but it does not have to be paid time off. SB454 becomes law January 1, 2016.
House Bill 2960 / State Retirement Plan for Private Sector Employees
The politicians also adopted a new government-managed retirement system for the private sector. Employers without a “qualified” retirement plan (no one knows at this point what will be required to be “qualified”) will be forced to sign up all employees in the new state retirement plan. Employees will have the option to “opt-out”, rather than “opt in”. The Oregon Retirement Savings Board will begin forming immediately. It is unknown how quickly they will have the rules implementing the law in place.
House Bill 3025 / Applications Can’t Ask Criminal History
The Legislature passed House Bill 3025 which prohibits employers from asking applicants about their criminal history on an application. This bill is commonly called “ban the box” legislation because of the box commonly found on applications. Employers may consider an applicant’s criminal history, but only after an initial interview is conducted.
Senate Bill 324 / Low Carbon Fuel Standard
Finally, the Legislature made permanent Oregon’s controversial “low carbon fuel standard” which will, over time, increase the cost of fuel in Oregon and impact everyone’s bottom line. Democrats chose the low carbon fuel standard rather than working with Republicans on a package of modest tax and fee increases to repair highways and bridges in Oregon.
One of the most significant changes might be who is not coming back to Salem in two years. Already the House Majority Leader (Democrat Val Hoyle of Eugene) has indicated she is running for Secretary of State while the House Speaker Pro Tem (Democrat Tobias Read of Beaverton) is going to campaign for State Treasurer. The Speaker (Democrat Tina Kotek of Portland) is expected to run for Portland Mayor, but she has not made an official announcement as of this publication’s deadline. These three (the top three Democrat leaders in the House) are just the tip of a rather large iceberg of legislators expected to run for higher office. The list also includes the legislature’s best budget mind, Senator Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin), who is rumored to be preparing a campaign for Secretary of State. On the Republican side, Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend), who narrowly lost a state-wide race against Kate Brown for Secretary of State, has signaled he may compete against her again next year, this time for Governor.