On Sunday, March 8, Oregon’s 2020 legislative session officially came to a close. What began on February 3 as a 35-day session effectively ended abruptly on March 5 when a sufficient number of House and Senate Republicans walked out to prevent a quorum, which requires two-thirds of lawmakers to be present in order to hold a vote in both chambers of the Legislature.
The “walkout” was motived by a disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over SB 1530, a measure that would implement a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon. As a result, all remaining policy and budget proposals have effectively died, barring a special session.
Only three bills passed and made it to the Governor’s desk of the 250 or so that were introduced. Unfortunately, none of the budget or policy bills that the UO and higher education stakeholders were actively advocating for were among them. These include:
- Capital Construction and Bonding Authorization (HB 5202): The UO sought state-backed bonds for the renovation of Huestis Hall, a biological sciences building located in the Lokey Science Complex. The bill authorized $56.75 million in bonds for the renovation of Huestis Hall. It passed out of the Joint Committee in Ways & Means and was awaiting a floor vote.
- ShakeAlert (HB 5204): The UO sought $7.5 million for the earthquake early warning system operated by the UO and other universities on the West Coast to improve Oregon’s resiliency in the face of earthquakes. The bill authorized the funding from the General Fund for the buildout of this seismic network. It passed out of the Joint Committee in Ways & Means and was awaiting a floor vote.
- UO’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (HB 5204): The UO sought $500,000 to match university and private investment for a new ship at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB), the UO’s campus on the southern Oregon coast. The bill authorized the funding to build the new ship, which will better serve students, the community, and faculty. It passed out of the Joint Committee in Ways & Means and was awaiting a floor vote.
- Food & Housing Security for Students (HB 4055): The UO and other universities sought passage of a bill that would conduct a study of food and housing insecurity rates and trends on college campuses and make recommendations to solve them. The bill died in the Joint Committee on Ways & Means.
- Better outcomes for a new generation of Oregon university students (HB 4160): Increases in diversity are transforming university campuses and creating opportunities for a new generation of Oregon students. Yet outcomes and graduation rates for these traditionally underrepresented students are not keeping pace. UO joined other universities to support establishing a task force on student success for underrepresented students in higher education. The bill died in the Joint Committee on Ways & Means.
On Monday, March 9, the Joint Emergency Board of the Legislature met to distribute immediate funding for the following:
- Flood damage and mitigation in Eastern Oregon;
- The Oregon Health Authority and local agencies for response to the novel coronavirus (for all up-to-date information, visit the UO’s website on coronavirus updates and resources);
- The Oregon Military Department for all hazard emergency preparedness and response, including funding for logistic staging bases and a state-supported incident management team; and
- The Department of Environmental Quality for rulemaking on greenhouse gas emissions policy. This funding was adopted in conjunction with an executive order from Governor Brown to reduce carbon emissions in Oregon.
So, what happens now?
The House Speaker and the Senate President have asked the Governor to convene a special session within 30 days to address critical budget and policy bills that were left without a vote by the end of the 2020 session. Without a special session that has a quorum, the University of Oregon’s legislative priorities are not expected to pass for the remainder of the year. Stay tuned.