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December 2, 2023

Lawmakers return to Salem for meetings on homelessness, addiction and more

Construction at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Feb. 15, 2023. Oregon Capital Chronicle photo by Amanda Loman
September 26, 2023

Meetings will give a preview of some of the big issues facing the Legislature next year

By Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

State lawmakers will descend on Salem this week for the first time since June for dozens of meetings that will preview some of the most important issues they’ll tackle next year.

The marathon of meetings are part of legislative days, three or four days about every eight weeks when lawmakers gather to hear updates on the laws they passed and discuss new issues facing the state. They don’t pass laws during this time, but the Senate will vote on whether to appoint new members to state boards and commissions. 

Oregon’s housing and behavioral health crises are top of mind for most lawmakers. They’ll only have 35 days, beginning Feb. 5, to pass laws before adjourning until 2025.

All meetings will be held in person in hearing rooms at the state Capitol and streamed online at oregonlegislature.gov. Full agendas are also available on the Legislature’s website. 

Housing

An advisory council appointed by Gov. Tina Kotek has spent the summer working on recommendations for nearly doubling the number of homes built each year, from about 20,000 to 36,000. The council’s co-chairs will update the Senate Housing and Development Committee on Wednesday and the House Housing and Homelessness Committee on Thursday.

Both groups will hear how Kotek and Oregon Housing and Community Services have implemented a $200 million homelessness funding package approved in March. Kotek sent $80 million to large cities the next month and $26 million to rural counties in September. 

The Senate panel will also hear from the League of Oregon Cities and city leaders from Wilsonville, Newport and Baker City about city infrastructure needs. Cities throughout Oregon say they need more money for roads, transit, sewers and water lines so developers can build homes. 

And in the House, committee members will share updates on research they did this summer into other proposals meant to provide stable, affordable housing, including allowing reusable rental applications and requiring landlords to register with the state and pass a class on housing laws and landlord responsibilities. 

The Senate Committee on Veterans, Emergency Management, Federal and World Affairs will hear from the mayors of Eugene, Hillsboro and Salem about the homeless crisis in their cities during its Thursday meeting. 

Tolling

Kotek this spring ordered a moratorium on toll collections until January 2026, and Clackamas County residents are collecting petition signatures to put a constitutional amendment before voters in 2024 to require voter approval for any tolls. Tolls are part of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s plans to pay for an estimated $6 billion bridge replacement on Interstate 5 between Oregon and Washington. 

On Wednesday morning, the Joint Transportation Planning Subcommittee will hear about tolling plans and the state’s process for introducing tolling. No Oregon roads have tolls, though drivers pay tolls on some bridges between Oregon and Washington.

Behavioral health, addiction and crime

With pressure looming from a group of wealthy Oregonians who will ask voters to amend a 2020 drug decriminalization law if the Legislature doesn’t act first, lawmakers expect to spend time fine-tuning Measure 110.

The voter-approved law decriminalized possessing small amounts of illegal drugs and provided funding for voluntary treatment programs. Lawmakers chipped away at it this spring by making fentanyl possession a misdemeanor offense.

The Coalition to Fix and Improve Ballot Measure 110 proposed ballot measures earlier this month to recriminalize heroin and meth possession and require, rather than encourage, treatment. And public opinion is in Measure 110 critics’ favor: A recent poll from Portland-based DHM Research found that more than 60% of voters believe Measure 110 made drug addiction, homelessness and crime worse. 

Lawmakers are aware of that backdrop. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will hear presentations about decriminalization and barriers to enforcing laws against illegal substances. 

The panel will also get an update from the Public Defense Services Commission on the state’s public defender shortage, which has left people accused of crimes without the legal representation they’re guaranteed under the constitution. 

Pac-12 shakeup

On Thursday afternoon, economists and officials from Oregon State University and the University of Oregon will talk to the House Higher Education Committee about UO and other schools leaving the Pac-12 athletic conference next year. 

Some legislators have called for more scrutiny of what UO’s exit would mean for the state’s budget. Its jump to the Big Ten, which is mostly based in the Midwest, means sports travel will take longer and cost more, while OSU stands to lose money from ticket sales and media rights. OSU and Washington State University, the only two schools that will remain in the Pac-12 after next summer, have sued for full control over all of the conference’s assets. 

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix, Arizona.

Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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