The Oregon House on Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill to allow self-service options at every gas station in Oregon, raising a real possibility the state will cast off its place as one of just two states still forbidding many drivers from touching the pump.
The chamber passed House Bill 2426 on a 47-10 vote, with several lawmakers saying their constituents had made it clear they’d like the legal right to fill their own tanks. The bill now moves to the Senate.
Like similar proposals over the years, HB 2426 would not put an end to the full-service fueling that most Oregonians are used to. Rather, the bill would enable all retail gas stations in the state to designate up to half of their pumps as self-serve.
Stations in Oregon’s most populous counties would still be required to employ at least one attendant, and to charge the same amount for gas from full-service pumps as they do at self-serve.
The bill would do little to change existing rules in rural Oregon counties that allow drivers there to pump their own gas. Twenty of the state’s 36 counties are designated as rural for those purposes under the proposal.
Oregon and New Jersey are the only states that still require drivers to have their fuel pumped by an attendant. The rule in Oregon goes back to 1951, and has roots in concerns about fire safety and job creation, among other things.
State law currently states that pumping their own gas can subject drivers to a variety of dangers, including fumes, slick surfaces and leaving children unattended. Running afoul of the rule can result in a $500 fine, and the state has long bucked protestations by gas station owners and many residents that the requirement is outmoded.
HB 2426 is supported by groups like the Oregon Fuels Association, which has argued that it’s become increasingly difficult to hire attendants.
“As explained by gas station owners, finding employees to pump gas is extremely hard – and even impossible in some cases – which in turn makes it impossible to keep gas stations open and operating,” the group said in testimony. “HB 2426 helps relieve pressure in this tight labor market while preserving the choice to fuel your own vehicle or opt for an attendant to fuel the vehicle.”
House Majority Leader Julie Fahey, a Eugene Democrat and one of the bill’s chief sponsors, likened the proposal to offering the same choice consumers now face at many grocery stores.
“Personally, at the grocery store I usually use the attended checkout lanes,” Fahey said. “But if there’s a long line, and I’m in a hurry, and I only have a few items, I will go to the self-checkout lanes. I expect that I will do the same thing with pumping my own gas. If it’s cold and I’m tired, maybe I pull into the full-service lanes. But if I’m in a hurry and there’s a line, I’ll use the self-service lane.”
Polling has suggested a majority of Oregonians now favor having the option of pumping their own gas. But that preference might not hold in every legislative district. State Rep. Jami Cate, a Lebanon Republican, said she’d asked her constituents to weigh in on the bill and was surprised by the response.
“I was very moved by the paragraphs that were written of fear of where this moves to,” said Cate, who voted against the self-serve plan. “Really just that uncertainty of: Are we taking steps toward a fully self-service state for our fueling?”
Other opponents are incensed by the inclusion of an emergency clause on the bill that would ensure it goes into effect immediately upon passage, making it more difficult for Oregon voters to reverse.
State Rep. Kevin Mannix, R-Salem, said he’d heard from his constituents that they want the ability to pump their own gas, but he said the state should be clear about the fact the proposal could cost jobs.
It’s “a good thing for people who are buying gas, I trust,” said Mannix, who supported the bill. “But let’s worry about those who are attending those pumps.”
In a floor vote, more Democrats than Republicans found reasons to oppose the bill, accounting for seven of the 10 “no” votes.
Oregon has repeatedly chipped away at its full-service requirements over the years, allowing motorcyclists and drivers in rural areas to pump their own gas. But broader permissions have been beaten back repeatedly.
Last year, a proposal very similar to HB 2426 wound up getting mired in the state’s budget-writing committee, after the Office of the State Fire Marshal raised concerns more self-service fueling would increase complaints and investigations, and require an outlay of more than $1 million for additional staff.
But the office does not appear to have raised the same concerns this year, and HB 2426 is now expected to have a minimal fiscal impact. Alison Green, a spokesperson for the fire marshal’s office, noted in an email that HB 2426 does not require the office to enforce the new regulations until March 2024, “which means the impact on our agency is reduced.”