Quick summaries of proposals that could affect business.
We’re in the midst of a particularly busy 2019 legislative session. Here are a few bills that could affect businesses and nonprofits on issues ranging from education, property taxes and gun sales.
Making some nonprofits pay property taxes (SB 210)
Nonprofits are exempt from property taxes. Institutions ranging from museums, to homeless shelters to Goodwill are covered under the exemption.
This bill would require nonprofits to submit paperwork to prove they should receive a property tax break. Some in the nonprofit community oppose the bill, saying it would put unnecessary strain on small-social services organizations. Jim White, executive director of the Nonprofit Association of Oregon, says the proposal is like “looking for coins in the couch.”
This bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance and Revenue.
Keeping education costs under control (HB 3381)
It’s difficult for students to discern the return on investment of college degree programs that are becoming as expensive as a mortgage. This bill aims to tackle the student-loan debt crisis and rising tuition at the state’s public universities.
It would stop the bleeding by putting a hold on any tuition increases until 2021. Universities would also have to make reports to the Legislature that dig beyond the sticker price of their programs. They would have to state the average amount of debt for a student at their school, average spending on food and housing, and the percentage of students who receive loans.
The bill is currently in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
Out-of-state marijuana sales (SB 582)
An excess of marijuana in Oregon has pushed growers to sell their product illegally out of state. This bill lays the groundwork for legal exports of Oregon-grown cannabis. It could allow the governor’s office to enter agreements with officials in other states where marijuana is legal.
The bill would only apply to agreements with neighboring states where recreational cannabis is legal. At this point, that’s Washington and California. It would still prohibit flying cannabis to other states or any other method of transportation not allowed under federal law.
In a letter to legislators, members of the City of Portland’s Office of Community & Civic Life argued that the proposal will pay dividends to the regional economy. They wrote that the change would make the state’s cannabis businesses more resilient to economic downturns, give them a head start on federal legalization, and build a nationwide brand similar to that of the local wine and craft-beer industries.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
Protecting people who request public records (HB 3399)
Oregon’s public records are not all that public. Someone requesting a record can be forced to wait around for months or be denied with little reason. They can file an appeal to get a judge to order the record released. But then a recalcitrant agency can sue the requester.
This bill makes it impossible to sue people for requesting records from their government. Instead, the public entity would have to sue the district attorney or attorney general who ordered the records released.
Some argue the bill would put attorneys in an uncomfortable position of being advocates instead of impartial arbiters. Others say it protects journalists and others who request records.
Les Zaitz, publisher of the Malheur Enterprise, testified about state lawyers threatening to sue his small rural paper. “I have the benefits of decades of experience facing the range of government responses to records requests, from cheerful openness to defiant secrecy,” he wrote. “Nothing is as stunning to me as a government agency fighting a lawful order that it disclose public records by using taxpayer money to sue.”
This bill is currently in the House Committee on Judiciary.
Regulating guns (SB 978)
An omnibus gun bill packs a dozen earlier bills into one that could lead to big changes for businesses and their customers. The most important provisions for businesses include allowing retailers to set higher age floors for gun buyers to as high as 21, and requiring hospitals to provide firearm-injury stats to the state.
Family of victims of the 2012 Clackamas Town Center shooting testified in support of the stricter guidelines. Edward Stack, the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, submitted testimony supporting the legislation. When the retailer decided to raise age limits for gun buyers in response to mass shootings, it faced lawsuits alleging age discrimination. He wrote that the bill would allow retailers to take steps to safeguard their communities without fear of retaliation.
Some gun manufacturers have pushed back. Joshua Underwood, CEO of the firearms manufacturer Radian Weapons, argued regulations won't keep weapons away from potential shooters, and that firearms can be used to stop mass shootings.
The bill is in the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
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