To call the 2023 Oregon legislative session “chaotic” would be the understatement of the year. Many bills were fought for and passed thanks to a combined effort of lawmakers and the people advocating for said bills.
Many tears were shed and many cheers were spread, but what exactly was approved? Well I’ll give you a rundown of everything you need to know about this year’s Oregon legislature session.
Pensions for Prosecutors
House Bill 2054 was one that left quite a few backers angry. The law essentially supersizes pension benefits for 430 deputy district attorneys, allowing them a 20% boost to their retirement pay, something that will cost the counties $3.2 million per biennium.
The same could not be said for the 36 elected district attorneys, who were not given such benefits. Many legislators called it a “slap in the face”, as they’re considered law enforcement employees in many state statutes and work alongside police. It would also be critical for recruiting and retention given that many rural counties are having a difficult time finding prosecutors to handle heavy workloads.
Lawmakers have said that they will address the matter as a part of a blue ribbon commission that will examine the compensation of elected officials before 2024.
Oregon Health Authority
House Bill 2513 will make Oregon Health Authority more accountable when carrying out the voter-approved drug decriminalization law.
You may have remembered earlier that OHA was being fairly careless with where it was giving grant money due to an audit released fairly recently. The audit showed that there was 33 million spent, very few records accounting for it, and very little effectiveness given they were hardly supporting the volunteer council they were supposed to be going to for approval, and thus were unable to properly distribute grants to addiction treatment providers.
It will aso delay the next audit for another year so the policy chance is able to take effect and display true change.
A package was approved that combined two dozen bills to allow for the adoption of heat pumps, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from trucks and addressing carbon in farms and in forests, and many other provisions.
A home energy rebate plan will then be established for more energy-efficient appliances, as well as creating a resource hub for citizens to view their options when it comes to installing energy-efficient retrofits and finding rebate and tax break information.
Lastly, it’s going to require the Department of Energy to come up with a comprehensive energy strategy that will highlight the best ways to tackle the state’s climate mandates.
In a downturn, it also turns out that data centers were able to effectively kill off House Bill 2816. This bill would have forced newly-built data centers and cryptocurrency miners to power themselves with 80% clean energy.
More than $500 million was approved for the state’s semiconductor industry, hoping to attract new factories and suppliers during this boom that was fueled by the $52 billion from the CHIPS Act.
$240 million is going to go towards loans and grants. Many chipmakers are interested in these financial incentives, and are likely to come for financial growth and to use those loans and grants as a boost to do so.
$255 million will also be going towards semiconductor research, restoring and expanding the incentives that had expired back in 2017.
More money has been funneled into financial aid for colleges and universities, having been expanded to $100 million that will allow higher grants for low-income students.
$150 million of debt was also authorized for projects such as $72.7 million for an Oregon State University teaching and research center to further support the semiconductor industry, as well as $65.8 million to renovate a 130 year old dorm.
As well, students will no longer be barred from accessing transcripts if they owe any amount of debt.
Advocates for schools insisted they needed $10.3 million in state funding to keep from cutting out vital resources due to budget. They got pretty close, with $10.2 billion approved.
A $90 million package was also approved to overhaul how children are taught to read, as well as a bill punishing schools that didn’t allow children with disabilities to attend full time, which cost $3.1 million.
$9 million was also set aside for boosts and grants for teachers who worked with special needs students.
Senate Bill 5532 and Senate Bill 337 will increase the hourly or yearly contract wages for public defenders. However, it hasn’t been explained how the money will be translated into raises for individual defenders. This will be important for giving public defenders the incentive to stay on the job and to possibly recruit more, as there is a great shortage of them on hand.
House Bill 2005 was passed, barring people under 21 from buying semi-automatic weapons, as well as allowing cities and counties to bar citizens from carrying licensed concealed handguns in public buildings and on nearby grounds.
There is also a ban in place that will bar people from owning or selling ghost guns, but punishments for that will not take place until 2024.
Support for mental health and addiction treatment was widely increased. More than $75 million was spent for the cause, with $15 million to increase substance use disorder treatment, $7 million to support community mental health treatment for those committed due to posing a significant risk of harm to themselves or to others, and a $6 million bill to support patients discharged from the state psychiatric hospital who are at risk of homelessness.
This was greatly tackled, with a $200 million housing and homelessness package that immediately sent out $30 million for rent assistance, expanding shelters, protecting homeless youth, and helping housing development.
Another $170 million was approved for rental assistance, shelters and affordable housing.
Senate Bill 606 will set a higher minimum rate at which nonprofits for homelessness will be reimbursed.
House Bill 2395 has also been approved, which will make an opioid reversal drug far more accessible.