State legislators lay groundwork for hot topics for the 2024 session

October 5, 2023 5:35 am
Capitol renovations continue in Salem.

Capitol renovations continue as lawmakers discuss possible bills for the upcoming short session. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Oregon legislators have been burrowing into newsy topics like housing, road tolling, crime, Measure 110 and PAC-12 changes, but that’s not all. 

Legislative days in Salem last week, when lawmakers spent much of their time at informational meetings, laid the groundwork for hot topics likely to return in upcoming regular sessions. 

Here are five topics addressed last week in Salem that got enough legislative attention to win committee facetime. 

Ransomware and internet security (Joint Information Management and Technology Committee). One attention-getter on the subject of cybersecurity was the leadoff witness: Curry County Commissioner Brad Alcorn, from a region not obviously on the tech cutting edge. But the choice was fitting. In May, his county was the target of a devastating online attack, and Alcorn remarked at the time, “Everything that relates to county operations that was online is now gone.”  

Materials for the hearing prepared by a number of state agencies covered the wreckage of recent cyber attacks and vulnerability to them, and a description of the chain of command and communications system for responding, but little about proactive efforts to counter the problem. That sounds like a topic begging for legislative review in the next session or two. 

Involuntary commitment (Senate Human Services Committee). As legislators circle around the amorphous problems of drug addiction and homelessness (which are not the same but do overlap), involuntary commitment may be a tempting leverage option. 

The Senate’s Human Services Committee hearing on the subject focused on commitments “of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” but the legal device could be used as well in other areas. It is difficult to undertake – a complex set of legal requirements is involved – and not commonly used, as just 13 commitments have been undertaken statewide so far this year. 

Not only that, according to the report from Anna Lansky, interim director of the Office of Developmental Disabilities Services,”Civil commitments conflict with the current (state disabilities) system’s requirements.”

Even so, the use of commitments as a tool for solving otherwise intractable problems is likely to be unavoidable for legislators in the next few sessions. 

Professional employer organizations (House Business and Labor Committee). Obscure to many people, these organizations that provide permanent employees are becoming an increasingly significant sector of Oregon’s economy. A business database indicates Oregon licenses 58 of them.  

Also called worker leasing companies, Oregon state code ORS 656.850 describes them as providing workers, “by contract and for a fee, to work for a client but does not include a person who provides workers to a client on a temporary basis.” (Temp worker companies are not included.) This can mean people considered permanent employees of one business legally are employed by another. 

This can involve complex tax, insurance, regulatory and other considerations, and Oregon law may not have kept up. The Department of Consumer and Business Services and state unemployment insurance offices held an information session on this, and follow-up may be coming.

Taxes and electric vehicles (House Climate Energy and Environment Committee). This is not a new topic, but this presentation suggested the state is just now coming to an inflection point in the area of how electric and hybrid vehicles carry their load in paying for the upkeep of the state’s road system. 

One slide in the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Powerpoint presentation said the state now estimates that battery electric and hybrid vehicles this year still account for less than 10% of the motor vehicle stock in the state, but that may rise to a third over the next decade, and jump to half a decade after that. Income from gas taxes will fall drastically. 

In 2017, the Legislature ordered a study on “whether vehicles powered by different means are paying their fair share … (and) found high-efficiency vehicles are significantly underpaying

compared to lower efficiency gas-powered vehicles.” The Legislature is being told that time is fast running out to decide how to resolve the conflicting goals of energy efficiency and paying for roads. 

Local journalism (House Rules Committee). This was possibly the most unusual topic to emerge during legislative days, with testimony from the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon and from Heidi Wright, publisher of The Bend Bulletin. 

Jody Lawrence-Turner, executive director of the Fund for Oregon Rural Journalism, highlighted a survey of rural news organizations about the challenges they face. Some could implicate public action: 68% need help with grants and donors, 55% more need help training journalists and about a third are interested in converting a nonprofit status. The ideas raised easily could return in a future legislative session. 

Whether any of these subjects gain traction in months ahead is another matter. But they have a head start.


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Randy Stapilus

Randy Stapilus has researched and written about Northwest politics and issues since 1976 for a long list of newspapers and other publications. A former newspaper reporter and editor, and more recently an author and book publisher, he lives in Carlton.