slides: The 20 Biggest Bills Coming Before the Legislature in 2015
Monday, December 08, 2014
Pundits are saying the current political climate in Oregon is more forward thinking than ever. With Gov. Kitzhaber taking office for his historical (and final) fourth term, many Oregon politicians are scrambling to prove themselves by passing new legislation.
A lot of loose ends of previous laws need to be tied up. After the 2014 legislative assembly concluded, House Speaker Tina Kotek stated that she expects at least five bills that were left at the table to resurface in some form in 2015.
“No session comes to an end without a few bills left behind,” Kotek stated.
The 78th Legislative Assembly will have something old and something new, pundits said.
The reason so many issues from the previous session are expected to resurface is because the democrat’s leadership is intact, Political Analyst Len Bergstein said.
At the same time, there’s a sense of a new guard — the next class of political leadership taking shape in Oregon, and a number of legislators will be hungry to show that they’re part of the new political elite, Bergstein said, especially with Kitzhaber entering into his final term as governor.
“They want to demonstrate that they’re the next leaders of Oregon,” Bergstein said. “Every session is like this.”
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans have lost several members of their leadership, creating what pundits are referring to as an “experience drain.”
One of the more interesting dynamics that pundits are waiting to see play out is how Democrats and Republicans will work together.
According to Republican Sen. Kruse, it may not be easy for his party to resemble the GOP of the past.
“(Republicans) will be unable to stop anything,” Sen. Kruse said, “except for certain things having to do with taxes.”
Still, Democrats will need Republicans for tasking legislation.
“The way it works in the state capitol is you need a dance partner,” Bergstein said.
For Republicans, that dance may veer more toward the center than it has previously. With so many Democrats in the legislature, Republicans will need to find common ground to get much of anything done at all — so look for young Republicans sponsoring bills that lean a little bit more toward the left.
This time around, Republicans are said to be more interested in environmental issues, capital construction projects and protecting gun rights.
Regardless of the level of Republican involvement, it will be interesting to see how the dance of 2015 unfolds.
Related Slideshow: Slideshow: The 20 Biggest Bills Coming Before the Legislature in 2015
Check out the 20 biggest bills coming before the legislature in 2015:
Identification Cards for Undocumented People
Voters decisively defeated a ballot measure last month that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain a state issued identification cards and drivers licenses without providing proof that they were legally residing in the U.S.
Despite two-thirds of voters voting against the measure in 2014, a similar bill is likely to surface in the coming session, pundits said.
Closing Loopholes in Gun Purchases (like guns as gifts)
At the conclusion of the previous session, gun rights groups celebrated the fact that the legislature didn’t pass any laws restricting the access of firearms.
Many political minds suspect this session to be significantly different, with Democrats looking to cut redundancies and close loopholes in when it comes to gun sales.
“There will be a little bit more mathematics by the people who want to see the loopholes closed,” Bergstein said.
Having Law Enforcement Follow-up Failed Background Check
The Oregon State Police approved of 261,128 gun transfers in 2013 and denied 2,215 due to felony convictions.
Another reason an Oregonian may fail their background check, besides having a felony conviction, is having a restraining order against them. A new law may be introduced in 2015 that would require law enforcement agencies to follow-up after some failed background check to ensure that the person who filed a restraining order isn’t in danger.
Voters approved Measure 90 in November, legalizing marijuana for recreational use in 2015.
Unlike the Washington law, which included attached regulations concerning driving impairment, Oregon’s law has more room for interpretation.
Driving under the influence of marijuana is currently classified as a class b traffic violation, which carries a presumptive fine of $260 and is not to exceed maximum fine of $2,000.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has been tasked with researching the subject of drugged driving and presenting its finding to the Oregon Legislative Assembly.
After reviewing the OLCC report, the state legislative assembly will decide whether passing more extensive driving regulations will be necessary.
Although the Commission was given a deadline of 2017, there’s a strong chance legislation on the matter may come sooner.
Cracking Down on Excessive Student Loan Fees
One of House Speaker Tina Kotek’s highest priorities is cracking down on companies like Higher One, who issue financial aid disbursements to college students.
When the federal government issues loans and grants to students, a third party is tasked with delivering that money to the student — and often costs the student a significant amount of money.
In some cases, a student’s financial aid is issued to them on a debit card that charges a fee for every transactions, sometimes costing a student several hundred dollars of a $1,500 disbursement.
Although technically legal, such practices have received scorn over the years from students and politicians alike.
Tax Deductions for Interest Payments on Federal Student Loans
One of the biggest strains of the state economy is student debt, which in recent years has surpassed other forms of debt, including credit cards. In fact, student debt eclipsed $1.2 trillion nationally last year.
Expect the legislature to pass a bill that will make interest payments on federal student loans tax deductible to help alleviate the economic burden associated with getting an education.
Capping Costs of Bachelor’s Degrees
During the 2014 Legislative Assembly, Rep. Mark Johnson from Hood River introduced House Bill 4076, that would have directed Oregon Institute of Technology and Southern, Eastern, and Western Oregon Universities to start a pilot program for offering bachelors degrees at a fixed cost.
With Kotek & Co. looking to significantly reduce the cost of the post-secondary education, look for a similar bill to resurface in 2015, even though the previous bill failed to materialize.
Free Community College Tuition
Such a law has been in the works ever since Gov. Kitzhaber first announced his 40-40-20 goal that by 2020, 20 percent of Oregonians will have earned a high school diploma or equivalency, 40 percent will have earned at least a bachelor’s degree and 40 percent will have earned an associate’s degree or two year career certification.
A bill that ensures that anyone who graduated Grade 12 in Oregon has the right to attend community community college without paying any tuition or fees for a set period of time may be passed by the legislature this year.
Increased Funding for Research
With so much cutting edge research being conducted at Oregon’s universities, pundits are saying it would make sense to fund it at a higher level.
Projects at Oregon State University to research robotic, thought-controlled prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons, in addition to research being done by Oregon Health and Sciences University into treating everything from Cancer to mental illnesses, may be plenty of reason to earmark more funding for investment into the future of science.
Increasing Incentives For Veterans to Study in Oregon
Last year, the legislature passed a bill that allowed members of the military from out of state to attend graduate school in Oregon while still paying the in-state tuition rate.
Look for this year’s legislature to expand that initiative to more members of the military who are pursuing degrees with pay well or degrees that allow for economic innovation.
Changes to Class Action Lawsuits
Oregon is one of the few states that allows money from a class action lawsuit that goes unclaimed to be returned to the company that was sued.
In the interest of alleviating the budget, a number of legislators are looking to enact a new law in 2015 that will allow unclaimed money from these suits to go into a separate fund to be used by the state.
Prohibiting License Plate Tagging
In Congress, the fight against government surveillance is being led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).
In Wyden’s home state of Oregon, some legislators have also taken up his cause.
In 2015, pundits are expecting a bill outlawing ‘license plate tagging—’ the act of taking a photo of a license plate whenever a vehicle stops at a stop sign or passes through a traffic camera.
Authorities have been rumored to use the method to track drivers crossing between Oregon and Washington after the latter state legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Capital Construction Projects
Pundits are expecting more capital construction projects in 2015.
“Although infrastructure is getting better, it’s still a source of concern for Oregonians,” Bergstein said.
Improvements to roads and bridges are always needed, so expect some additional funding to be allocated towards improving the state’s infrastructure in 2015.
The $200 million in state bonds issued to Oregon Health and Sciences University is a classic example of how an allocation of funds can improve a whole area of the city, Bergstein said.
Increased Funding for Early Education
“The Governor has certainly set the education agenda early with his budget,” Bergstein said.
The governor’s proposed budget calls for more support at the early end of education, with more support for early part of K-12 education and less for the later years of K-12.
Pundits are expecting some teaching organizations to fight for the latter part of k-12 education getting its fair share of state funding
Labeling of GMOs
Voters in Oregon narrowly rejected Measure 92 last month. The statewide ballot measure would have required the labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients just finished its recount last week.
With so many Democrats in the legislature, a bill requiring the labeling of GMOs may be an easy law for Oregon lawmakers to pass.
Tax Debts and Private Collection Companies
A number of Oregonians have received erroneous phone calls over the past year claiming that they owed an unpaid tax debt to the government. So many of these calls occurred, in fact, that it prompted Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to issue a warning on the matter.
A new bill prohibiting assigning tax debts to private companies could be on the way to protect citizens from financial crime.
Minimum Wage Increase
Income inequality is a growing problem for Oregon. It’s not happening because the rich are getting richer — but because the poor are actually getting poorer.
An increase in minimum wage often creates an impact for mid-level workers, who make a few dollars above the minimum wage. A large number of ‘middle wage’ employers use the state minimum as a point of reference for their own pay scale.