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Oregon House Votes To Expand Self-Service Gas

Signs like this are a rarity in Oregon. This station is operated by the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde.
Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network
Signs like this are a rarity in Oregon. This station is operated by the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde.

Gas stations in eastern Oregon could offer self-service gas around the clock under a measure that passed the Oregon House 56-0 Thursday. For decades, Oregon and New Jersey were the only states that banned most drivers from pumping their own fuel. Two years ago, Oregon lawmakers backed away from that ban, but only for rural counties and only at night. The idea was to prevent drivers from getting stranded in a small town where the only station had closed for the day. The new law would allow those rural stations to offer self-serve around the clock.

Democratic Representative Paul Evans of Salem said his "yes" vote shouldn't be construed as an endorsement of allowing self-serve statewide. "I just want to be very clear with anybody who tries to turn this vote into something it's not: This is about making sure that folks who don't have other options have the opportunity to get fuel and are not stranded, period."

The bill would primarily apply to all of Oregon east of the Cascades. That means gas stations along I-84 from Hood River eastward could offer self-serve gas at any time of the day, although they wouldn't be required to. For drivers in those communities who still want a station employee to pump their gas, the bill would require stations to offer that service between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The measure's sponsor, Republican Cliff Bentz of Ontario, says drivers in that situation "can honk the horn, yell out the window. But someone's gotta come out."

A separate provision in the bill would continue to allow self-service gas in three coastal counties – Clatstop, Tillamook, and Curry – but only between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The law banning self-service gas stations in Oregon has been on the books since the early 1950's. Voters affirmed the ban in 1982, when they rejected an initiative to overturn it by a 58-to-42 percent margin.

Democratic Representative Phil Barnhart of Eugene said during the debate on the House floor that the ban is "a marital issue" for him. "When my wife drives to California, and has to stop to fuel there, I hear about it later because she has to pump her own gas and she very much dislikes that," said Barnhart. "And so I'm pleased to hear the bill covers only the lightly populated counties."

The measure now heads to the Oregon Senate for consideration.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman
Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.