The Oregon Legislature’s 2022 session ended Friday. Here are a few key takeaways
The Oregon Legislature adjourned their 2022 short session on Friday. JPR’s Erik Neumann spoke with OPB politics reporter Lauren Dake about the highlights. She started by describing some of the most significant bills that were passed.
Lauren Dake: By far the highest profile issue of the session was figuring out how to give overtime to farm workers which, at times, was a really emotional fight. We heard from farmers who were worried that this effort would financially ruin them and that they would be forced to automate or sell their family farm to corporate farms. Republicans largely echoed the concerns of farmers. Democrats argued it was a matter of fairness that farm workers, like the rest of us, should have the right to earn overtime if they work more than 40 hours in one week. So that was really a big one, probably the most contentious.
Some of the other noteworthy bills included a large child care package that sent money to try and help people recruit and train and hire more child care workers. They also passed a new law that will make it easier for renters and low-income households to access air conditioner units. That was really a response to the 2021 brutal heat wave. So, there were a lot of measures that tried to address the current times that we're living in.
Erik Neumann: It seems like one of the hallmarks of this session, from reading your reporting, was that there was just a lot of money sloshing around in the state budget. Was that unique?
LD: You're right. The short sessions, historically, they've been more about making adjustments to the budgets or tweaks. So, it was unique that in what wasn't really even considered a budget year -- lawmakers weren't passing a budget -- that they were able to spend something like upwards of $2.5 billion dollars this session.
EN: Where did all that money go?
LD: The biggest package was about $400 million that they're going to put toward building affordable housing and helping low-income Oregonians buy homes. One of the Governor's biggest priorities was this large workforce package. It was about $200 million that is going to help historically marginalized groups find work. It will do that through paying for education programs or job training or setting up apprentice programs. Lawmakers also invested money in child care, in an effort to sort of address what's become very clear during this pandemic that we have a bit of a child care crisis in the state. And finally, another really noteworthy endeavor was that they will send one-time payments of $600 to more than a quarter million Oregonians that have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic.
EN: What about the $100 million “olive branch” that Democrats offered Republicans that was allowed to be spent in any way they wanted. What was that?
LD: That was certainly unique and a sign of just how much money the state had to spend in a short period of time. House Speaker Dan Rayfield basically said that the Democrats were going to reserve $100 million of the state's budget to go toward Republican priorities. The Republicans were able to essentially craft a package that funded projects in their part of the state.
I know one lawmaker requested about a $1 million to improve each of the seven fairgrounds in his district. Lawmakers carved out money for courthouses in their districts or schools. There are projects to send money to dispatch facilities. They were just really able to identify certain priorities that matter to them and get the money to fund them.
EN: What did Democrats get in exchange for that?
LD: The past several sessions in Salem have really been marked by partisan gridlock. There have been delay tactics and procedural maneuvers that derail legislation and make it really difficult for the parties to work together to pass good policy. This session there was new leadership. House Speaker Dan Rayfield, this was his first session. He replaced, longtime Speaker Tina Kotek. There was a new Republican leader as well. I think that idea was just simply to extend an olive branch with the hopes that it would cut down on gridlock and allow lawmakers to work together better.
EN: That would definitely be a new face on the Legislature going forward.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.