What’s Happening (OSCC Political Observations)
Here’s the bottom line: The 2021 legislature in no way resembles any previous session. There is nothing to compare it to. The level of activity on business-related bills is at a near trickle as committees seem content to rubber stamp bills passed by the first chamber with few amendments or surprises. This could all change, of course, but every time we expect to see an uptick in activity, it simply doesn’t materialize.
As it stands now, lawmakers are steadily working through a backlog of budget bills and other priorities as we prepare for the home stretch of this year’s legislative session. With just seven weeks until the Legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn, we do expect to see unresolved policy conversations quickly come to a head, dead bills resurrected in the form of amendments and plenty of additional political drama that typifies the end of a session.
The key date will likely be the May Revenue forecast, which is slated for May 19th. This is the forecast on which all final budget determinations are made. After that date, we expect bills that are in the Joint Ways and Means Committee to begin to be released to subcommittees for amendments and passage. After May 19th, we anticipate the pace of session will once again pick up, as legislators work to balance the budget and bring the legislative session to a close.
Update on Oregon OSHA Covid-19 rulemaking challenge
On Tuesday, OR-OSHA adopted their proposed permanent rule related to COVID-19 in the workplace. OR-OSHA declined to suspend and postpone the final adoption of the rule despite a request for legislative review from Republican lawmakers.
At a hearing regarding the rule on Wednesday, OR-OSHA dodged scrutiny from lawmakers by declining to appear at the hearing and defaulting to statements from Legislative Counsel about the nature of the review that was requested. The Republicans on the committee repeatedly expressed their frustration with the fact that OR-OSHA was not made available for questions and said they would follow up with the agency directly to seek answers to the questions they had planned to ask.
Upon adoption of the final rule, OR-OSHA released a summary of key provisions and changes, which is available here. OR-OSHA will begin reviewing the permanent rule for amendments or possible repeal beginning in July.
Key Unemployment Insurance cost reductions – HB 3389 – up for hearing on Tuesday
Last week’s hearing on one of the most important bills to OSCC this session – HB 3389 – was cancelled due to committee time constraints. HB 3389 makes several meaningful adjustments to Oregon’s unemployment insurance system to cut down dramatically on the “rate shock” experienced by employers everywhere on their 2021 Employment Department tax statements.
Among the changes:
· Provides that an employers’ experience rating for 2020 will also be used for 2022, 2023, and 2024 – thereby eliminating the effects of the pandemic from being incorporated into an employer’s experience rating.
· Allows employers to defer payments to June 30, 2022 of up to 1/3rd of taxes owed if an employer’s tax rate increased by more than 0.5%.
· Reduces fund adequacy requirement used to determine rate schedules.
The bottom line about this bill is that it will do two significant things – (1) save employers who had massive increases in their experience ratings due to pandemic-related layoffs, and (2) forestall the need to move to the highest unemployment tax tables for all employers.
OSCC testified in support of this bill in the House, where it passed unanimously. OSCC will testify again in the Senate Labor and Business Committee tomorrow at 8:00 AM.