After five decades, Oregon’s ban on self-serve gas is about to come to a close.
Gov. Tina Kotek on Friday gave notice that she plans to veto two bills and four budget items passed by lawmakers in the frenetic final days of this year’s legislative session.
Most notably, the governor’s veto pen is targeting $600,000 that would fund studies into the sex trade and decriminalizing prostitution. Those expenditures had turned heads in both parties.
Kotek is also signaling she’ll block bills that would create a task force to look into creating a public bank, a goal of some of the most progressive members of her party, and to study a tax credit that would encourage preserving historic properties.
Many Oregonians will be just as interested in what’s not on the list: a proposal that will allow drivers in every corner of the state to pump their own gas rather than relying on attendants.
Self-serve enthusiasts shouldn’t rush to the pump just yet, though. House Bill 2426, which will end Oregon’s status alongside New Jersey as the only states that still ban many drivers from fueling up on their own, won’t go into effect until Kotek signs it or the governor allows it to pass unsigned. Kotek merely signaled Friday that she will not block the policy from going into law.
Not every bill was so fortunate. Under the state constitution, Kotek has until Aug. 4 to veto bills passed in the final days of session. But the governor is required to serve notice of a possible veto at least five business days ahead of time, making Friday her final day to do so.
The items Kotek has singled out for possible veto include:
- Money to study decriminalizing prostitution. House Bill 5506, a wide-ranging spending document, contained two separate expenditures that would fund studies into the sex trade: $100,000 to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission and $500,000 to Oregon Health and Science University. Kotek said she might nix both, believing the studies should be privately funded. The possible spending had become a target of Republican lawmakers when it came to light toward the end of session. “This is not OK,” Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said in a text message to Sen. Kathleen Taylor, D-Portland on June 19.
- Two other study bills. House Bill 2079 would mandate the study of a tax credit for preserving historic property in Oregon. Kotek says that can be accomplished another way. House Bill 2763 would create a task force to study creating a state-owned bank.
- Salem streetcars. Kotek says she’s planning to block $250,000 in state money that would help the city’s Cherriots transit system look into the feasibility of building a streetcar service. That’s “not a top priority,” Kotek said.
- Money for career and technical education. Kotek often talks of the importance of training up the state’s workforce. But the governor says she might ax $1 million to the Willamette Career Academy over concerns the money is not being distributed through the appropriate channels.
- Remove an emergency clause from Senate Bill 1095. The clause would have rejiggered the membership of some state boards. That means the bill would take effect next year rather than upon passage.
While supporters of the items Kotek plans to block will be disappointed, few garnered the interest of the gas pumping bill.
Oregon already allows drivers in some rural areas to pump their own gas, but motorists in densely populated parts of the state still must wait for an attendant. HB 2426 will allow gas stations to designate up to half of their pumps as self-serve, while reserving the remainder for people opting to have their tanks topped up for them. Stations may not charge different amounts for fuel depending on which kind of pump a driver chooses.
Opponents of the policy change worry it will cost Oregonians jobs, and will make it more difficult for people with disabilities to fill up. They say the bill could be flouted by gas stations that might cease employing attendants at all, not fearing enforcement from the state fire marshal. Potential penalties wouldn’t even kick in until March.
Others simply like the fact that Oregon has held onto the quaint practice while nearly every other state allows drivers to pump their own gas.
Station owners supported the bill, arguing they are already having trouble finding people to work as attendants. Polling from 2021 suggested nearly two-thirds of Oregonians supported the addition of self-serve pumps.
The issue has so many impassioned partisans that, when Kotek asked for public feedback on whether she should sign the bill in late June, her inbox was soon brimming with opinions.
“I think we’ve received over 5,000 emails on that,” the governor told reporters Thursday.
But Kotek has been cryptic about her own thinking on the matter. “I grew up in a place where I pumped gas,” she said in June. “I’ve lived here for a long time.”
Asked this week why she would have any misgivings about signing the bill when so many other states have embraced the practice, the governor responded: “‘Just because ‘everybody else does it’ is not a good argument.”
The mystery surrounding her thinking spurred a fresh round of activity from backers of HB 2426, who issued a press release Thursday quoting lawmakers in both parties.
“We heard from Oregon drivers throughout the session who want the freedom to choose whether they pump their own gas or not,” state Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, said in the release. “We also heard from small businesses who need relief from the ongoing labor shortage.”