Paid sick leave, gun control & home rule counties

Associated Oregon Industries
Oregon’s largest business advocate

by Betsy Earls

At first glance, the cities of Troutdale and Eugene aren’t much the same. But they have one thing in common, both are located in “home rule” counties. Nine counties in Oregon, including Lane and Multnomah, operate under home rule charters, which are written by the counties and confirmed by county voters. Oregon’s other counties are known as “general law” counties, meaning that they operate without a charter. Oregon law expressly states that, absent an agreement between parties, general law counties cannot enforce their ordinances within city limits. Home rule counties are not subject to this limitation.

The limits of home rule authority have never been well defined under Oregon law, but recent high profile issues in Troutdale and Eugene may shed some light on the question.

On July 21, 2014, Lane County (a home rule county) passed three ordinances preempting the City of Eugene’s proposed sick leave mandate, but on July 28, the Eugene City Council forged ahead, passing their ordinance on a 5-3 vote. The ordinance requires Eugene employers, regardless of size, to provide employees with one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year. The ordinance takes effect July 1, 2015.

What does this have to do with Troutdale? Last April (2013), Multnomah County (also a home rule county) passed a gun control ordinance, which was challenged by plaintiffs who argued that the County had exceeded its authority by imposing the ordinance on cities within its limits. Plaintiffs argued that the county couldn’t enforce an ordinance within its cities without the consent of city leaders.

As the case worked its way toward trial over the last year, it seemed that some cities intended to enforce the county ordinance. Troutdale, however did not, and to make the point clear, passed an ordinance right before the trial stating that Multnomah County ordinances were not enforceable within city limits.

The case was argued in Multnomah County Circuit Court in early July (2014). Although a decision in Multnomah County Circuit Court isn’t necessarily binding on Lane County, it could provide an indication of how courts view the question of home rule authority. And this indication will certainly impact Lane County’s perceived authority as it deals with the City of Eugene, sick leave and all.

Disclaimer: Articles featured on Oregon Report are the creation, responsibility and opinion of the authoring individual or organization which is featured at the top of every article.