Oregon Legislature one third of the way through

One third of the way through this year’s five-month Oregon legislative session, several bills backed by organized labor are progressing through the legislative process. Others are still at the starting line.

To become law, bills must be approved by both the House and Senate and be signed by the governor. That’s a little harder to do this year, because the Oregon House is divided 30-30 along party lines. But it doesn’t mean organized labor won’t keep trying. The way it works, a bill is referred to a committee, and the committee must hold a hearing and vote to approve it before the bill can be voted on by the full House or Senate. So hearings and committee passage are milestones on the way to a bill becoming law.

Bills that could help people get back to work are labor’s big focus this year.

  • House Bill 2700 would let developers of gas, water, and electric transmission lines get a conditional permit before obtaining permission from landowners. The bill is backed by the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council and the Oregon AFL-CIO and opposed by environmental groups. On March 2, it passed the House 40-18 with the support of most Republicans and about half the Democrats. It’s now being taken up by the Senate Business, Transportation and Economic Development Committee headed by Lee Beyer (D-Salem).
  • House Bill 2960 would finance energy-efficiency projects at public schools across the state, which would create jobs in the construction industry and save school districts money on the future utility bills. It’s backed by a coalition of business, environmental, labor, school, and other groups. A hearing was held Feb. 21.
  • House Bill 3349, a “Buy America” bill introduced by Rep. Mike Schaufler (D-Happy Valley), got a hearing March 11. The bill would prohibit government agencies from awarding public works contracts unless the iron, steel, wood products and manufactured goods used are produced within the United States. “It’s about putting Oregonians to work with Oregonians’ tax dollars,” says Iron Workers Local 29 Business Manager Kevin Jensen, who testified at the hearing. Why should construction materials be imported from China on public works projects, Jensen asks, when union-represented firms like Fought & Co., Oregon Ironworks, and GT Metalfab are making them in Oregon? Associated General Contractors opposes the measure.
  • House Bill 2352, which would require cities and counties that reduce prime industrial land to replace it with equivalent land, had a hearing Feb. 23. And Senate Bill 766, which had a hearing March 10, would ensure that industrial land is available and can move from the planning stages to breaking ground quickly.

Some union-backed bills have not yet had a hearing in the House Business and Labor Committee, which is co-chaired by Schaufler and Bill Kennemer (R-Oregon City):

  • House Bill 2355 would create a short-term disability insurance program to pay up to a year of benefits at 55 percent of an employee’s wage.
  • House Bill 2966 would ensure that public contracts for services are not awarded to companies who will perform the work outside of the United States.
  • House Bill 2586 would require companies that benefit from Enterprise Zone property tax exemptions to pay prevailing wage on construction projects in the zones.

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