2019 Legislative Session Overview

In the November 2018 General Election, Democratic candidates in Oregon won supermajorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. The electoral victories paved the way for an ambitious progressive agenda for the 2019 legislative session. Despite all of this, legislation to make Oregon just the second state in the nation to cap greenhouse gas emissions failed in the final week of session. This was seen as a major defeat for Democratic majorities and Governor Kate Brown and will likely be top of the agenda when lawmakers return to Salem in 2020.

Outcomes for Higher Education:

  • $100 million increase in the Public University Support Fund: This is the second largest increase since in the PUSF since 1999. The increase helped universities partially cover rising costs and kept tuition increases for Oregonians lower than they would have been otherwise.
  • An increase to the Oregon Opportunity Grant (OOG) to serve 2,500 more students: The OOG is the state’s only need-based financial aid program for university students.
  • $10 million for a new University Research Innovation Fund: This two-year effort to secure matching funds for federal grants will help our faculty members more aggressively compete for federal grants and advance research at the UO.
  • $65 million in deferred maintenance capital funding: This funding will help make sure our buildings and classrooms on campus are safe and modern. The funds are distributed to all public universities based on a formula, largely driven by square footage of buildings.
  • Small increases in funding for all State Programs, which include the Clinical Legal Education, the Dispute Resolution program, the Labor Education Research Center, and the TallWood Design Institute.
  • Passage of a law that makes the UO eligible to apply for seismic rehabilitation grants.
  • Expansion of the campus veteran’s grant program, which provides funding for UO’s veteran’s service officer within the Division of Student Life.

What Else Happened?

Heading into session, lawmakers’ attention was split between the normal legislative processes and grappling with how to respond to issues related to the culture of harassment and discrimination in the Capitol, especially as it relates to gender. The Senate President and Speaker of the House appointed a joint Capitol Culture Committee to examine how to address problems and make the capitol a safer place to work for legislators, staff, and lobbyists. Ultimately, several bills passed that establish new protections for those in the Capitol and regulations for employers that include a requirement they adopt comprehensive policies on workplace harassment and sexual assault (SB 726, SB 478, and SB 479).

Early in session, the Legislature passed a statewide rent control measure (SB 608)—the first of its kind in the nation. The bill puts a cap on rent increases on most properties at seven percent a year and requires landlords to give three months' notice and pay a tenant a month's rent to evict them without cause. This was a major win for affordable housing advocates who had introduced the concept for several sessions while realtors were able to hold it back.

Revenue reform was front and center all session long, as the Joint Committee on Student Success brought its work and recommendations from the last twelve months to bear. In April, the measure—dubbed the Student Success Act (HB 3427)—passed the House.

As it made its way to the Senate for a vote, Oregon’s Senate Republicans walked out for the first time during the session. The strategy of denying a quorum effectively means the Senate cannot legally come into session and vote on bills. As a result, they slowed down the process enough to make a deal that killed two legislative priorities for Democrats: A bill that would require safe storage of firearms among other new regulations on guns (SB 978), and one that would abolish the non-medical exemption for child vaccinations (HB 3063). Both measures garnered huge engagement from members of the public both in support of and opposed to legislation.

The Senate passed the Student Success Act and sent it to the Governor for her final signature. The measure established a new corporate activities tax, which will raise $2 billion each biennium that is dedicated to early childhood and K12 schools. It should be noted that students at community colleges and public universities were wholly excluded from receiving any of the funds.

In the final days of the session the Legislature approved SB 116, which stipulates that any referral of the Student Success Act will be before voters in January 2020, not the November 2020 General Election.

In May, the Legislature took up juvenile justice reform (SB 1008). The bill made changes to Measure 11, which caused people as young as 15 to be charged and sentenced as adults. A broad coalition worked to shift the youth justice system to focus on prevention and rehabilitation for youth, including eliminating life sentences without parole for youth. The bill also establishes a process where all youth who are convicted in adult court access to a “second look” hearing, and more.

The last month of session was consumed with negotiations and debate on several other key issues. A Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (HB 2005) passed after negotiations and input from the business community, which creates a new statewide insurance program for all employees. The program will be funded through an employer and employee payroll tax. Lawmakers also referred a tax increase on tobacco products and created a new tax on e-cigarettes and vaping products (HB 2270). It will be referred to voters for their approval in the November 2020 election and is expected to raise $340 million for the 2021-23 biennium. This funding will be dedicated to the Oregon Health Plan (90%) and tobacco cessation efforts (10%).

The last week and a half of session created national headlines. The eleven Senate Republicans once again denied the Senate a quorum by not appearing on the floor and leaving the state to avoid voting on the cap-and-trade bill, known as ‘Clean Energy Jobs’ (HB 2020) because of its impact on rural industry and citizens. After several protests and a walk out that lasted nine days, the Senate President announced that the bill did not have the votes to pass. Ultimately, the Republicans returned to the Capitol two days before the legislature had to adjourn and passed a series of state agency budgets and policy bills.

The 80th Oregon Legislative Assembly adjourned sine die on June 30, 2019.