Politics

Standoff over housing bill keeps Oregon’s Legislature from adjournment

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
June 24, 2023 8:53 p.m. Updated: June 24, 2023 9:42 p.m.

Lawmakers had high hopes of finishing their work Saturday, but top Democrats were having trouble finding agreement on one of Gov. Tina Kotek’s priorities.

FILE: State Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, in session at the Oregon Capitol in Salem, March 20, 2023.

FILE: State Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, in session at the Oregon Capitol in Salem, March 20, 2023.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Oregon lawmakers came into work Saturday hopeful quick progress on dozens of remaining bills would allow the chamber to adjourn this year’s legislative session. Instead, they arrived to find another political standoff.

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Both chambers were scheduled to meet at 10 a.m., but they were delayed again and again. Sources in both chambers said the delay had to do with a contentious proposal from Gov. Tina Kotek that aims to expand housing supply in the state.

Related: Oregon leaders rethink housing — and a generation-old approach to building

That bill, House Bill 3414, would allow cities to unilaterally expand the urban growth boundaries that dictate where development can and cannot occur in order to build more housing. The change, added in a late amendment that was adopted earlier this week, would sidestep the normal process for expanding UGBs.

Besides Kotek — who has made increasing housing supply a key goal of her administration — the bill has the support of Realtors, home builders and many Republicans. But the bill is strongly opposed by environmental groups like 1,000 Friends of Oregon and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.

Related: Inside the 20th Century fight to create Oregon's revolutionary growth management system

It’s also caused heartburn among some Democrats. A key sticking point early Saturday appeared to be Senate President Rob Wagner’s reticence to allow the bill to be moved out of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, where it has been sitting since Wednesday.

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But it was also unclear whether the bill has enough support to pass in the Senate even if it moves out of committee. Five conservative senators were absent from the chamber Saturday, meaning HB 3414 would need support from at least eight Democrats in order to pass. Some Democrats in the House, where the bill would get a vote first, were leery of voting to roll back land use laws without assurances HB 3414 could pass in the Senate.

“Republicans are trying to find a path forward for 3414,” said Connor Radnovich, a spokesman for Wagner. “Leaders are trying to assess whether that is possible. It is not correct to say that the Senate president is unwilling. It is under consideration.”

As of 2:30 p.m., senior members of both parties said they expected the bill to get a vote in both chambers, though its success was not guaranteed.

In the halls of the Capitol, the delay created real concern among lobbyists and lawmakers alike that the session would not adjourn Saturday, as expected.

A March 2023 file photo of the Oregon House of Representatives at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem.  Lawmakers had hoped to adjourn Saturday, June 24, but were unable to come to agreement over proposed housing legislation.

A March 2023 file photo of the Oregon House of Representatives at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem. Lawmakers had hoped to adjourn Saturday, June 24, but were unable to come to agreement over proposed housing legislation.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Advocates on both sides of the issue, meanwhile, were watching intently.

Mary Kyle McCurdy, deputy director of 1,000 Friends of Oregon, said her group had backed HB 3414 early in the session. But 1,000 Friends could not support the changes that weakened state land-use laws. McCurdy said the bill does not have adequate requirements for housing density or affordability within any expansions, and she argued it was not necessary in the first place.

“There are thousands and thousands of acres inside UGBs,” she said. “Cities have testified to this.”

The problem, McCurdy argued, is that cities don’t have enough money to build infrastructure for new housing on available land.

State law requires lawmakers to adjourn by Sunday.

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