June 5, 2009 Volume 110 Number 11

Worker Freedom Act gets new life in Oregon Legislature

The Oregon Legislature is down to the last four weeks of its 2009 session. The season for hearings and testimony on bills is over. Now bills face deadlines for being voted out of committees and passing the House and Senate. It’s not over until it’s over, but it’s due to be over June 30.

For labor, many closely-watched bills are still in the running, including the Worker Freedom Act (SB 519), the Oregon AFL-CIO’s top priority. That bill, which would give workers the right to refuse to attend anti-union meetings, was thought dead three weeks ago. But Democratic leaders in the Senate may have secured enough votes to pass it. It passed the Senate Rules Committee May 29. Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland), who opposes the bill, cast a courtesy vote for it to get it out of committee and permit a floor vote.

Lawmakers appear also to have agreed with labor and community groups that the budget crisis should not be solved with cuts alone. There’s momentum gathering behind two union-supported proposals for raising revenue — increasing the corporate minimum income tax, and adding a higher income tax rate on individuals making more than $125,000 a year and couples making more than $250,000.

Another proposal to be decided in the remaining days of the session is HB 2116, which would use a new tax of 3 percent on hospitals and 1 percent on insurers to raise money, matched by federal dollars, to increase enrollment of low-income Oregonians in the Oregon Health Plan.

And an increase in the gas tax and vehicle and title registration fees — to fund a $960 million package of transportation projects — passed the House and cleared the Senate May 29. It now awaits the governor’s signature. The gas tax would go up 6 cents to 30 cents a gallon, though not until 2011 (sooner if the economy rebounds.)

A package of reforms aimed at initiative fraud — HB 2005 — passed the House 52 to 7 May 19 and was on its way to the Senate floor as of press time.

Also passed by the House was HB 2699, a bill requiring that construction projects of over $5 million that get enterprise zone tax breaks pay building trades workers the prevailing wage for their craft. The bill was in the Senate Rules committee as of press time.

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