Legislative Update - Beyer Bulletin


Senator Lee Beyer
Brownsville, Coburg, Creswell, Eugene, Sodaville, Springfield

District 6

Phone: 503-986-1706 900 Court St. NE, S-419, Salem Oregon 97301
Email: sen.leebeyer@state.or.us Website: http://www.leg.state.or.us/beyer

        The Oregon Legislature is entering its final month of the 2013 session. This has been a far different session than any that I have previously experienced. While a number of important bills have been worked, the energy level seems a bit low. I suspect that is because legislators, like most of you, feel weighted down from five years of the worst recession most of us have experienced. The good news, according to economists, is that Oregon and the nation seem to be climbing out of the doldrums.

The Governor presented the Legislature last December with a budget that showed a big hole for funding. Then in February, the co-chairs of the Legislative budget committee presented a budget that they expected to be balanced leaving $250 million in unspecified new revenue. Last week, the State Economist presented a revised revenue forecast with expected revenue $276 million above the previous forecast. This forecast was used by both the Governor and the Co-Chairs in their calculations, paving the way for an early end to the 2013 session. But, not everyone is happy.

Certainly the proposed budget leaves many school districts short of funds with projected layoffs and school day cutbacks. Tuition in our universities is going up more than twice the rate of inflation and the proportion of state support is under ten percent for both the UO and OSU. Also, many aid programs to seniors, the disabled and needy children are less than most Oregonians feel is appropriate. But the budget, as required by the constitution, will be balanced.

Job Creation and Economic Stimulus

Beyer at 5/28 Townhall

I set my sights on doing everything I could to help get Oregon’s economy moving when I ran for the Legislature in 2010. It’s my top priority. There is no magic bullet that will fix the problem overnight. I have always believed that the best way to generate jobs is to foster an environment where businesses can be created and grow. By opening up industrial land, making it easier for businesses to get started by providing access to capital and providing incentives we can prod the job creation process along. Here is a list of some of the legislation that targets this effort:

SB 253 and SB 246 will help local governments get large industrial sites prepared with infrastructure and ready for quick development. The bill provides for grants and loans allowing local governments to obtain upfront funding for infrastructure. They also allow a sharing of "new" income tax revenue generated by new jobs created by these projects.

HB 2310/ SB 260 keeps the popular ConnectOregon transportation infrastructure program moving ahead allowing faster movement of freight. This program would immediately put Oregonians to work, while also creating a safer, more efficient and more reliable transportation network throughout Oregon. 

HB 3459 creates the Office of Small Business Assistance, which streamlines regulatory processing helping small business to cut through red tape more quickly.

SB 245 streamlines the Enterprise Zones program and expands this option to all Oregon cities.

HB 3030 Recapitalizes the Brownfield redevelopment fund providing money for cleanup of properties contaminated by pollutants.

SB 307 provides manufacturers with certainty that Oregon Single Sales factor tax will not be changed – a major boost for the recruitment of large companies.

HB 5028 – South Willamette Valley Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network (RAIN) 
Working with the University of Oregon and Oregon State, local officials and private partners, I was pleased to be able to introduce SB 241 to help jump start an expansion of job generation. The RAIN project will help “spin-out” home-grown technology based businesses from university research.

RAIN will provide start-up facilities, management assistances, access to information and finances for research-based entrepreneurs. Both universities have shown success in spinning out new businesses. But the rate is slower than it could be with a little extra help. This is an effort which has shown to be successful at other research centers and has the potential to help create and keep local firms in the Southern Willamette Valley.

PERS in Crisis

Much of the discussion you have read or heard in the news media is about PERS, (the public employee retirement program). At this point the Legislature has reduced the cost of PERS by approximately a Half Billion Dollars and is considering a further cut of a similar amount. The big question is, will these or any other reduction options withstand Supreme Court review? What the media fails to point out is that the 2003 Legislature vastly overhauled the retirement system with about half of those changes were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, like courts in other states, have ruled that retirement benefits, once offered as part of an employment package are a contract between the employer and the employee protected by both the Oregon and U.S. constitutions. The courts have said those benefits can be changed on a going forward basis but not retroactively. While the changes enacted in 2003 will greatly reduce liabilities in future years, fiscal liability remains for those who entered the system before the change.

It appears you can get a legal opinion on whichever side you want on these issues. Attorneys for public employees promise a court challenge and believe they will win again as they did with the 2003 changes. The Legislature’s attorney has told us that they believe most of the changes are unconstitutional and based upon prior court rulings. We’ll just have to see.

Foreclosure - SB 558

The foreclosure crisis is not behind us. Thousands of Oregon homeowners are still at risk. The most recent numbers indicate that 1 out of 13 are behind on their mortgages, 132,000 are underwater, and far too many continue to struggle in communications with their lender. This bill will ensure that struggling homeowners have the opportunity for mediation in front of a neutral third party prior to a foreclosure.

The availability of a robust resolution process, facilitated by experienced mediators, allows borrowers and lenders the chance to exchange accurate information, explore foreclosure avoidance or mitigation options, and negotiate mutually acceptable agreements. In many cases, access to mediation will avoid the necessity of filing a foreclosure action altogether. This could save borrowers and lenders untold costs and expenses and reduce the impact of foreclosure filings on our courts and sheriffs.

This legislation was drafted with input from lenders, agencies, borrowers, mediators, housing counselors, and others. It is based on what has worked in other states. Foreclosure continues to threaten the foundations of our state and our communities. An enforceable mediation process is the best way to speed up foreclosure timelines, avoid potential backlog in the courts, and create positive outcomes for both homeowners and investors.

SB 558 has passed the Legislature and is awaiting a signature by the Governor.

HB 2545 – Protecting the Public

This Bill allows the Construction Contractors Board to suspend the license of contractors who are being dishonest, misleading or deliberately evading enforcement authorities. Without passage, members and managers of Limited Liability Companies can avoid debarment completely by simply changing their name and continue to work on public works projects despite numerous violations of the law. The statutes addressed in HB 2545 were written before LLCs existed. The increasing prevalence of LLCs in the construction industry necessitates this change. This bill is a simple fix to add LLCs to the list of business entities that can face debarment for certain violations of PWR law.

The Bill passed the Senate and is waiting to be signed into law.

Wine Growlers – HB 2443

The Wine Growler Bill I helped to enact allows Oregonians to purchase wine in bulk "growlers" (reusable containers) much the same way as you can purchase microbrews. While this sounds like a light-hearted bill its very important to local vineyards. The wine industry is an important part of Oregon’s agricultural economy. With 900 vineyards and 450 wineries they combine for more than $2.7 billion in sales annually, supporting around 13,000 jobs. Since bottling can be costly and small wineries don’t have the same distribution as larger wineries many are moving toward casking the wine and supplying it on tap. This will increase their ability to sell wine locally and allow the creation of more local jobs. HB2443 also demonstrates that Oregon is a leader in promoting its wine industry by being the first state in the country to allow the sale of wine in growlers.

Oregon State Capitol

Keep in Touch and Stay Informed!

Your feedback is incredibly important to me as I consider public policy. To weigh in, just email sen.leebeyer@state.or.us or call me at the State Capitol (503) 986-1706.

You can also follow along during the Legislative Session by liking my Facebook page!

Best Wishes,

~Lee Beyer