By Sherry Cho
In 2010, the Constitution of Oregon was amended to allow the state legislature to meet every year instead of biennially; the 2012 legislative session was the first official annual legislative session since the law amending the biennial schedule was passed by the legislature and approved in a statewide ballot. Scheduled to last no longer than 35 days, some of the major concerns to be addressed during the 2012 session included a resuscitation of the job market and economy, budgetary issues, education regulation, and environmental concerns. Restructuring of the health care system was also a primary concern of the session and one of Gov. Kitzhaber’s main priorities.
The Oregon Legislative Assembly is currently 51 percent Democratic and 49 percent Republican. The Senate is presently composed of 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans while the House of Representatives is equally divided into 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans. It is expected that the upcoming November elections will disturb the balance as 14 seats are up for election in the State Senate while all 60 seats of the House of Representatives will be up for election. The 2012 session began on February 1, 2012 and while many legislators hoped for an early conclusion, the session lasted until March 5, 2012. Out of the 270 bills and memorials that were introduced, Gov. Kitzhaber signed 89 bills; all of his priority bills, which concerned health care, education, and job creation, were passed by the legislature.
While constructing the budget for the 2011-2013 fiscal years, the legislature was challenged by shrinking revenue estimates. The budget required extensive revision to cope with a projected $340 million shortfall in expected revenue. One of the versions, HB 5202, left funding for K-12 school and social service programs intact while allocating $80.88 million toward renovation and new building projects at Oregon State University. HB 5201 appropriated a total of $9.6 million for all 17 community colleges in Oregon, with funds being drawn from lottery bonds. Maintaining the focus on education, SB 1581 established the requirement that all school districts, community college districts, and colleges and universities enter into “achievement compacts” with the Oregon Education Investment Board which require schools to fulfill specific goals and reach certain milestones.
Amending the public health care system was a major concern for both Gov. Kitzhaber and the legislature this year. SB 1v580 set guidelines for the statewide implementation of coordinated care organizations which would serve Oregon Health Plan members. The bill describes coordinated care organizations as local, community-based organizations that work with patients and health care providers to reduce spending on health care services. HB 4164 provided a general plan for the implementation of the Oregon Health Insurance Exchange Corporation, a marketplace where individuals can purchase certain health care plans, and which is required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Addressing general concerns about the economic climate and the job market, the legislature passed several bills relating to taxes and economic development. HB 4090 authorized an increase in the urban services available for development near cities. HB 4093 extended the number of approved enterprise zones which offer tax credits to businesses which open or expand in economically depressed areas of Oregon. SB 1532 also gained a great deal of media attention as it addresses tax credits for the increasing number of companies, including Facebook, that choose to build data centers in Oregon. SB 1548 prohibits employers from limiting job vacancies to those who are currently employed; Senate Majority Leader Rosenbaum noted that Oregon is actually only the “second state in the nation to ban employment ads that discriminate against unemployed applicants.”
With SB 1552, legislators attempted to slow the tide of foreclosures by requiring lenders to enter into mediation with borrowers to negotiate certain foreclosure avoidance measures. These measures included: deferring payments, modifying the terms of the mortgage, conducting a short sale, or providing the lender with a deed in lieu of foreclosure. Both lenders and borrowers would be required to share the costs of the mediation. The measure passed both chambers and was signed by the Governor on April 11, 2012.
Oregon legislators appear to have addressed most of their and Gov. Kitzhaber’s major priorities for the 2012 legislative session with a minimum amount of partisan stalling and bickering. Major pieces of legislation dealing with health care, the budget, and education spending were passed with bipartisan support. Due to the short length of this year’s session, certain issues were left on the table, but the legislature will pick them up again next year when they meet again for the 2013 regular session.
Sherry Cho is a graduate of Wesleyan University who majored in the College of Social Studies (CSS) program and psychology and is currently an intern with Project Vote Smart. For more information on internship opportunities with Project Vote Smart, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART.