Oregon lawmakers adjourned their 2022 legislative session on Friday after making massive investments in programs tackling homelessness, workforce development and education. Legislators spent more than $2.5 billion dollars in all. That includes programs to help low-income families buy homes, as well as one-time payments to people struggling to recover from the pandemic. Over 130 bills will be sent to Gov. Kate Brown to sign. OPB Political Reporter Dirk VanderHart joins us to summarize the session. The Washington Legislature is set to wrap up its session this week. Political reporter Austin Jenkins walks us through what’s likely from Olympia this year.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Dave Miller. Oregon lawmakers adjourned their 2022 short legislative session on Friday after passing more than 130 bills. They spent almost $2.7 billion, making massive investments to address homelessness, workforce development, and more. OPB political reporter Dirk VanderHart joins us to talk about the session. Dirk, welcome back.
Dirk VanderHart: Hey, good to be here Dave.
Miller: Good to have you on. I want to start with money, because I mentioned that $2.7 billion dollars in spending to a budget lawmakers added to what they had already approved the year before. Is there any precedent for something like that in a short session?
VanderHart: You know, I have not looked deep enough into the annals of the legislature that I can say with certainty there isn’t. But I can tell you that it is not anything people who have been around for a long time in the capital can remember. Like you said, lawmakers pass multibillion dollar budgets in odd years, and even-year sessions like the one that just wrapped up are supposed to make changes around the edges. This time, they just had a huge amount of money to spend, and they spent most of it.
Miller: The disconnect between this huge increase in tax revenue, evidence of an economy that is humming along now, and then the vibe among Oregonians because of the pandemic, or inflation, or social problems like homelessness, that rightfully get a lot of attention, is really striking. Did lawmakers talk about that?
VanderHart: That is something that comes up somewhat frequently, actually. Every time lawmakers get a quarterly revenue forecast that comes in higher than past forecasts, which has been a very regular occurrence, this gets mentioned. A lot of citizens are perhaps still struggling from COVID and its effects. The state clearly has its share of pressing issues as you note. And yet we’re taking in record tax revenues. And I think it comes down to a number of things. First, what’s often mentioned is that rich Oregonians are doing pretty well in this pandemic. That has helped with income taxes. They are making more and paying more. But in general, Oregonians also just have more expendable spending money sitting around because they’ve been limited by COVID from doing all the things that used to be normal. Certainly not all businesses are thriving. Some businesses are doing really well though, and enough are doing really well or well enough that business taxes have also beaten expectations. It is this strange dichotomy, but economists would tell you there are real reasons for it.
Miller: So let’s turn to what was in that spending. What did lawmakers do in terms of housing and homelessness?
VanderHart: Yeah, that was the big ticket item of the session. Lawmakers put down $400 million dollars more into this issue, on top of more than a billion dollars in the budget that passed last year. And the new money is going to go to a couple of big buckets. I think around $165 million is going to be for services to houseless people, including building and maintaining shelters, and more than $200 million is going to go to create and maintain and preserve affordable housing options, which are sorely needed in the state. There’s also money that will help people purchase their own homes.
It is, like I say, a huge amount of money needed, and it is toward a laudable purpose. But the question is, I think, what lawmakers are going to do to exert oversight, to make it sure that they’re actually moving the needle and not just throwing money at the problem, which is something critics in the Republican Party and elsewhere have sort of suggested we might be doing.
Miller: The governor pushed for a jobs training program, that was one of her priorities for this session, and lawmakers said yes, to the tune of $200 million. What is that going to go towards?
VanderHart: This was a package called Future Ready Oregon. You’re right, this was one of Governor Brown’s main issues. It’s a whole bevy of things to modernize the workforce, essentially make it easier for people to get the training they need to pursue jobs in industries, notably manufacturing, healthcare, and construction. It’s apprenticeship programs, services that help people in the job search, things like childcare that can remove barriers to someone getting training, and it’s pitched as a way to bolster and strengthen Oregon’s workforce. We know that there are a lot of jobs out there and often not enough applicants for those jobs.
Miller: You’ve reported on a kind of olive branch that Democrats gave to Republicans in the form of infrastructure project funding. Can you explain what happened?
VanderHart: Sure. The gist is that since Democrats control the legislature, they have the most say on what projects get funded, they approve the budget at the end. Republicans can suggest projects, they can fight for projects, but it is ultimately up to Democrats to approve them.
What happened this year though, as part of lawmakers having all this money that we’re talking about, was that Dan Rayfield, the new House Speaker, tried a different approach. He offered up $100 million that was earmarked for infrastructure projects in rural Oregon, but he gave Republicans who represent rural Oregon most often most of the say in creating a list of what those projects would pay for. Essentially, if the project was on the list and they came in under the spending limit, the money would be there for those projects, Democrats would not second guess them or shift priorities or any of those things. Rayfield says this is partly a gesture of goodwill, and there’s just no strings attached to the money. He wanted them to feel free to spend it how they wanted.
Miller: In your initial reporting, you actually found some wariness among Republicans who thought, among other things, that maybe this was going to be some kind of trick. In the end, did it serve to lower the temperature?
VanderHart: I think cause and effect can be very tricky in Salem. I think we can say a couple of things with some certainty. One is that in general, the mood was probably less tense and antagonistic this year compared to some recent sessions. That’s possibly because of a change in leadership, any number of things. But I do think whether the rural Oregon package specifically caused change or is going to lead to meaningful change in the future is just hard to say right now. As you noted, Republicans were looking very askance at it at first. They worried it could be a Democratic trickery. It could be a bribe. It would be seen by their base as taking a bribe. They seem to have warmed up to the idea pretty quickly, so how warm those feelings are and continue on to be is a question.
Miller: Let’s turn to some of the policy bills, because it wasn’t just budget bills that passed. Perhaps the most contentious bill this year was about extending overtime benefits to farm workers. Lawmakers had tried this in the past and it went nowhere. But on Thursday, it passed. What seemed to make the difference this time?
VanderHart: I think a big thing was just that the bill had gotten a lot more work than it had at the end of the 2021 session, when it last failed. There were workgroups meeting to really try to find some agreement on how a policy might work, even though what wound up passing was not something that please everyone. But probably the bigger factor was that the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries might weigh in on this and take its own action. The fact that farm workers aren’t paid overtime currently is the subject of a lawsuit. I think farmers were very scared of what would happen if BOLI created its own overtime rules, because those would likely be more draconian in farmers’ minds than what the legislature arrived at. For instance, there are now tax credits for farmers that have to pay overtime for a certain number of years; that likely wouldn’t have been the case if BOLI had done it. So Republicans and Democrats alike felt like they needed to act with urgency.
Miller: Can you give us a roundup of some of the criminal justice related bills that passed?
VanderHart: Yeah. Two or three big ones I’d note. The first is Senate bill 1510, which will prevent police in the state from pulling a driver over for a broken headlight, tail light, brake light, license plate light. This was seen as one way to limit so-called pretext stops, where police pull people over, and often people of color, with little actual reason to do so. But it was a pretty contentious proposal this year because police argued that it would allow more unsafe vehicles on the roads because they wouldn’t be able to sort of stop people for having those vehicles on the roads. Advocates said there were still plenty of ways to make sure vehicles get fixed.
A couple others, there is a bill that will ensure that people who were imprisoned for a crime they can prove they didn’t commit will receive payments from the state, 65,000 a year for each year they were incarcerated. Oregon joins a lot of other states with a similar policy. And then there was a bill that sort of changed restrictions on tear gas use that lawmakers passed last year. The City of Portland had complained that those rules were just not workable. And so, lawmakers came back to the table, and in the process upset some social justice groups that say now it’s going to be too easy again for police to justify using tear gas on crowds.
Miller: Those are some of the bills that passed. But what happened with the bill addressing convictions from non-unanimous juries?
VanderHart: Yes, that is one of those that got scrapped this year, and I think partly or largely because of pretty insistent opposition from prosecutors in the state. People might know the US Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that convictions by non-unanimous jury verdicts are unconstitutional. Oregon was one of just two states that even allowed those kinds of convictions, and it obviously stopped after the ruling. But the question has been what do we do about the past non-unanimous jury verdicts? How do we address that?
And so, there was a bill that would do so this session. Prosecutors said it was going to be expensive, but more emotionally I think, they brought in a lot of crime victims that testified what kind of toll reliving these trials would take on them.
Miller: I want to turn to the overall feel or tone of the session. The lawmakers in three of the four leadership roles, House Speaker, House Minority Leader and Senate Minority Leader, were all new, for various reasons, including two of those people who used to be in those positions running for governor now. Obviously you saw different people in charge, but did it feel different because of that?
VanderHart: It didn’t and it didn’t. You’re exactly right, the House specifically lately has just been incredibly tense because former House Speaker Tina Kotek, who is a Democrat, is running for governor, and former House Republican leader Christine Drazen is running for governor. They made no secret about their antipathy for one another, and that came to the fore a lot, just partly in the way that they could not agree or come to any sort of negotiation, so things broke down.
We now have Speaker Dan Rayfield, Republican leader Vikki Breese-Iverson who seemed to have gotten along a lot better. I think that is part of the reason things were a bit calmer this session.
Miller: For a number of sessions now, Republicans have required that bills be read in their entirety as a way to slow things down. This was one of the few tools at their disposal if they were going to stay actually in place and provide quorum. That was still the case this session, right?
VanderHart: Yeah. And just to be clear, it’s actually the constitution that requires that bills be read in their entirety. But that is now seen as this sort of outmoded provisions. Lawmakers used to just routinely waive the rule. At the beginning of the session, they just say we’re not doing that for the entire session. In the last six years though, minority Republicans have been doing it more and more, and they did it again for much of this year’s session.
Miller: But my understanding is that Democrats took a different approach to that tactic this session. So what did they do?
VanderHart: This was fascinating. Democrats essentially said they now plan for bill reading, they allow for it. So they practiced new time management tactics, where they were moving their bills early enough, prioritizing what bills they wanted early enough, that they said Republicans could read every single bill this year, essentially take up all the time they had, and Democrats could still have adjourned by the deadline passing their agenda. By the way, the deadline was technically midnight tonight, and we got out on Friday, which was nice. And that’s partly because on Thursday, after that farmworker overtime bill passed, Republicans relented, waived the rules requiring bill reading, and things moved a lot quicker after that.
Miller: In the end, Democrats got most of what they wanted, which makes sense given that they are in the majority and we didn’t deal with major Republican walkouts. What did Republicans say about the session overall?
VanderHart: There is a consistent complaint from Republicans about short sessions, and it was no different this time. That complaint is that Democrats have abused their authority and overshot the purpose of the short session. Short sessions were approved in 2010 by voters, and they were sold on this notion that we can’t just come in every other year. There are emergency issues, there are budget issues that need to be addressed. So we should have these short sessions, one month in even years, to help do that. Republicans say Democrats, you are doing way too much. This is not just emergency or budget stuff, you’re pushing your liberal agenda, and it’s an abuse of what voters agreed to. So beyond that, they did agree that some nice bipartisan things were accomplished.
Miller: Dirk, thanks very much.
VanderHart: My pleasure.
Miller: We’ve gotten a rundown of the short session for the Oregon Legislature. It wrapped up on Friday. The Washington Legislature is just a few days behind them. Lawmakers in Olympia are planning to end their session later this week. Joining me to talk about what they’ve passed and what the final days hold is Austin Jenkins. He covers Washington politics for OPB. Austin, welcome back!
Austin Jenkins: Thanks for having me back.
Miller: So, it seems that Washington lawmakers have been dealing with a similar issue to their Oregon counterparts: a big increase in projected tax revenue. How has that affected the session overall?
Jenkins: Well yes, having a lot more money in hand does change the realm of what’s possible. It gets a lot bigger and a lot broader. Democrats in the House and the Senate are still negotiating a final budget deal, but they’re looking at about a $5 billion increase in the current $60 billion two-year budget. And that is significant, perhaps unprecedented. Democrats say the big boost in spending is needed to address inequities that were surfaced by the pandemic, and even to help the state fully make a comeback from the cuts that were made during the great recession. Minority Republicans, I will note, counter that this would be a great time from their perspective, to enact across the board tax cuts, something that Democrats have not been persuaded to do.
Miller: It’s striking that the increase in tax revenues is about double that in Oregon and the population is about double that. There are real similarities once again between the states.
Let’s turn to the transportation package. What do lawmakers want to fund?
Jenkins: So this is a roughly 16 year, $17 billion dollar transportation package. And it’s different from the transportation budget that gets passed every two years and updated in the intervening year. This is a standalone package to do stuff, to build stuff. The last time Washington enacted a big transportation infrastructure package was back in 2015. Traditionally, these have been bipartisan deals, but this year Democrats are going it alone without Republicans. Our colleague Tom Banse, who is my colleague in the Olympia Bureau, has been reporting extensively on this. He says that this package includes a combination of highway widening projects, transit improvements, high speed rail projects, ferry construction, and bike lane additions.
There is also in this a billion dollar allocation for Washington’s share of the cost to replace the old, and as we know seismically vulnerable Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River, between Portland and Vancouver. And that remains in fact the single biggest construction project in the list. This spending blueprint also includes a contribution towards a better bridge over the Columbia River at Hood River in Oregon. So there’s plenty of new road spending in this package. But also, Democrats are really pushing this as an environmentally friendly idea, with a big focus on alternative forms of transportation, and continuing efforts to electrify the transportation sector.
Miller: The initial funding plan for this transportation package, it included adding a surcharge tax on gas exported to states like Oregon or Idaho. It got a lot of angry attention from people in those states, but it seemed like a smart play politically because Oregonians and folks in Idaho can’t vote out Washington lawmakers. So what happened to that idea?
Jenkins: Yeah, don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the person behind the tree. Well, the political heat, I guess, got to be too much. As one Olympia Observer quipped at one point, Democrats in Washington figured out how to unite Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, which is no mean feat. This threatened to trigger a mini-trade war, with lawmakers in Alaska threatening to take retaliatory action, slap a tax on sockeye salmon coming down here, that kind of thing. The chair of the House Transportation Committee here in Washington said that those concerns were heard. Ultimately they decided to jettison the idea. It took a while. It wasn’t immediate. But eventually they said, yeah, maybe this isn’t the best approach. Instead, Democrats are now looking to tap into an existing local infrastructure fund to backfill. That is causing a whole new round of heartburn, but not a regional potential trade war.
Miller: Where do broader negotiations over the budget stand right now?
Jenkins: Well, they’re underway, and perhaps finishing up. With four days left there, they got to get this transportation package done, and I hear that they are close. So, I think there’s an expectation this will happen. And if it does, and I’m expecting it will, it will be all the more remarkable, because it is a short session. We don’t normally see these kinds of things in a 60 day election year session.
Miller: What changes to policing did lawmakers agree to?
Jenkins: So, a little bit of context, last year Democrats passed a dozen or more police reform bills. These were sweeping changes. But there were some issues in the implementation. One of the issues was that police departments started saying that some of their less than lethal munitions were no longer legal under a ban on military grade equipment. So the governor on Friday signed a new bill into law to allow for 50 caliber less than lethal munitions to be used.
Another issue was that police departments started saying we can’t respond to community caretaking calls where no crime has been committed, but for instance, let’s say somebody is in a mental health crisis. And furthermore, we can’t put hands on that person. We can’t take them into custody to get them to the hospital because of the new rules of engagement. So the governor signed into law a clarification that says, yes, you can use reasonable force in those cases.
Still waiting to see whether they do make changes to the vehicle pursuit rules, and also whether they make clear that police can use force to detain somebody who’s under investigation for a possible crime. This is a Terry stop situation where something’s happened, they roll up on a call, perhaps they want to talk to somebody, and the person flees. Can they chase after them and tackle them, in essence? The governor thinks they should pass that one. But some of the families of people who have been killed by police here have really pushed back on these changes, and said that it’s actually back stepping backwards not moving forward, and it’s undoing some of the work from last year.
Miller: Democratic lawmakers did pass a gun safety bill. What will that do?
Jenkins: There’s actually a couple of bills to note, but the one you’re referring to is a long sought limit on gun magazine capacity, something the state attorney general has pushed for for years ever since a mass shooting in a home where some teenagers were killed in Mukilteo, north of Seattle. This would restrict the sale, manufacture, distribution of gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, but not prohibit people from possessing them. It essentially grandfathers in people who already have these larger capacity magazines. This now heads to the governor’s desk. He’s expected to sign it, and if he does, Washington will become the 10th state to restrict magazine capacity.
Also mentioned, there’s another bill that would restrict guns, election facilities, school board meetings, and at locations where other government meetings take place like city and county council meetings. Very much a response, Democrats would say, to the current political climate we’re in.
Miller: I want to turn to some of the things that haven’t happened. What did governor Inslee want lawmakers to do in terms of affordable housing?
Jenkins: Well, as it is there, the availability of affordable housing, homelessness, all very difficult issues that everyone is wrestling with. One of the governor’s ideas was to require cities to allow multi-family housing, to have the state step in and blow up local zoning laws, and require the, the allowance of duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes in neighborhoods that are zoned for single family residential, especially near the transit stops. Now you can imagine the locals didn’t like this. The governor said that this needs to be done, and pushed for it, but in the end it did not get across the finish line.
Miller: That is something that Oregon lawmakers approved a couple of years ago. What did the governor push for in terms of climate change?
Jenkins: Last year was a big year for the governor. He got his cap and trade program, the Climate Commitment Act through. Prior to that, a clean electrification bill to go to clean energy sources. In Washington this year, he was back with proposals to incentivize people to buy electric cars, to try to reduce building emissions, to stiffen building codes, for instance. Also a lot of salmon recovery. A lot of these seem to have fallen short and gotten cut up in the sausage making. He’s still hoping for some success in the budget on some of these fronts, he says, but it doesn’t look to be a big win year for him on climate change. But again, he’s coming off of a pretty successful year last year.
Miller: So these bills, along with one that would have made it a crime for elected officials and candidates to make false statements about election results, they haven’t gone anywhere, and they may not in the coming days. What does this say about Inslee’s ability to get bills to the finish line right now?
Jenkins: I’m not sure we can draw broad conclusions just yet. I mean, he is a third term governor, and that’s rare and unusual, but he’s still early on in that term. I don’t think that he’s viewed as a lame duck. Some of these, like the salmon recovery, just got complicated and ran into, I think unanticipated pushback. Not that there’s not general support for that, but the devil’s in the details. I think anything anytime you’re talking about climate change legislation is complicated, and also with respect to buildings and construction and raising the cost of construction through new building codes, that’s going to get pushback. Regarding the governor’s proposal to criminalize lies about elections that result in violence, that was an idea that came in kind of right at the beginning of session. He in many ways was going it alone on that, and never had the by-in to pass as far as I could tell. It was something he cared a lot about, but Democrats in the legislature just weren’t embracing in mass.
Miller: What else are you paying attention to in the coming four days?
Jenkins: Well, certainly watching to see the budget deals come together, the transportation funding package, those additional “fixes” to the police reforms, and I put fixes in quotes because some don’t think they’re fixes, are on my list. There’s a talk of creating a Labor Day weekend sales tax holiday here in Washington, for back to school shopping. That’s the give that Democrats are offering up in terms of tax breaks. Legislative unionization, something that’s happened in Oregon, is now a topic here, and there’s a bill that is still in play here in the Washington legislature on that front.
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