What Did the 2015 Oregon Legislature Accomplish?
After one of the most contentious Legislative Sessions in recent history, the 2015 Oregon Legislative Session adjourned last Monday, July 6. With overwhelming majorities in both the House (35-25) and the Senate (18-12), Democrats planned from the start of Session to begin with several pieces of “unfinished business,” and then move on to a multitude of social, environmental and economic reforms. And meanwhile, there was the business of running the state. What did the 2015 Legislature accomplish? What got left in the dust? There were important agenda items in both categories:
Health Care and Medicaid Funding: With very little drama, the Legislature passed a four year extension of the hospital tax. This extension keeps a key piece of the state’s Medicaid funding package intact, which means low income residents will have continued access to the Oregon Health Plan and other health care subsidies.
K-12 Budget: Although this budget was passed early in the Session, many lawmakers felt that the funding was insufficient to make progress on Oregon’s stated goal of having 40% of the population achieve at least Bachelor’s degree, 20% achieve an Associate’s degree or certificate, and only 20% with at least a high school degree.
Seismic Upgrades for Schools: Just before adjournment, the Legislature passed a $1 billion bonding measure that includes $300 million for seismic upgrades and repairs to schools across the state.
Seismic Upgrades for the Oregon Capitol: A bonding proposal to fund seismic upgrades for the Oregon Capitol failed in the last days of the Session, although Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) suggested that the issue might be revived in 2016.
Low Carbon Fuels Mandate: Despite warnings from many legislators that that a transportation package would be off the table if the Low Carbon Fuels (LCF) bill passed, the Legislature enacted this bill early in the Session. Late in Session, attempts to develop a new package that repealed the LCF bill and increased the gas tax ran out of time, and, the Session ended without new transportation funding.
Paid Sick Leave: One of the Democrats’ highest priorities was passage of a paid sick leave mandate covering all working Oregonians. AOI and the business community were able to negotiate many improvements to this bill, but it ultimately passed. Starting January 2016, all employers in Oregon will be required to provide protected paid sick leave to their employees, and those with 10 or more workers (six or more in Portland) will be required to pay employees for that leave.
Minimum Wage: More than 10 bills raising the state minimum wage or lifting the statewide preemption on local increases were introduced this Session. None passed, but two are already headed for the ballot for 2016.
Personal Income Tax Kicker: The kicker was left untouched this Session, and will return roughly $500 million to taxpayers next year.
Marijuana: At times, the conversation about how to implement Measure 91 (legalized recreational marijuana) seemed to consume all the energy in the Capitol. Hearings dragged on forever as lawmakers wrestled with timing, regulation of dispensaries, and the impact of the law on Oregon’s current medical marijuana laws. In the end, legalization took effect on July 15, 2015, and state-approved dispensaries will open in the future.