Oregon lawmakers are set to start a session focusing on housing, homelessness, semiconductors, behavioral health, and education.

Oregon lawmakers will return to Salem on Tuesday for the start of a nearly six-month session that Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Tina Kotick hope will set the state on a path to building more housing, reducing homelessness, boosting the semiconductor industry and improving mental health and addiction services.

Lawmakers will also consider whether the time has come to increase funding for schools serving areas of high poverty and whether to impose more accountability for how schools spend the nearly $1 billion annually in a business tax that was passed in 2019.

House Majority Leader Julie Fahey, a Eugene Democrat, said lawmakers go into the session with “a very clear sense of the issues Oregonians care about most.” House Speaker Dan Rayfield, a Democrat from Corvallis, said he and Fahey want to focus on “making sure government gets the job done.”

He said there are obvious problems that lawmakers must still appropriately address, including catastrophic failures in the state’s public defense system, which have led to scores of people being jailed without lawyers and having charges dropped in cases involving violent crimes.

Rayfield said lawmakers would consider a proposal to increase the public defense budget and bring more accountability into the program. Lawmakers are also expected to improve the operation of the state mental hospital.

Democrats also want to adopt additional gun control proposals, including raising the purchase age for most firearms from 18 to 21, and approving funding to cover the cost of a new purchase permit requirement that voters narrowly approved in November, Danny Moran said. , a Rayfield spokesperson. He cited information from Everytown for Gun Safety that people between the ages of 18 and 20 commit homicides in Three times the rate of persons 21 years of age or older. The permit requirement is currently suspended due to suspension Lawsuits.

Moran said Democrats also hope to expand access to abortion in rural areas of the state where residents seeking care previously went to nearby Idaho but could no longer because that state banned the procedure. And they want to find ways to protect health care providers and patients who may face criminal or civil liability from states that have passed laws to suppress the ability of residents to cross state lines to have abortions.

Republicans, who increased their numbers in November but failed to capture a majority of seats in either chamber, plan to push for tax cuts, an early income tax cut and changes to the state. new law That agricultural workers be paid overtime from this year.

“The most important thing we need to do is help Oregonians increase the cost of living and the inflation they have been suffering from,” said Senate Republican Leader Tim Knope of Bend. Plans to file a proposal to send Oregon taxpayers the “kicker” income tax rebate — currently expected to be $3.7 billion – as a check this year, instead of being issued as a credit to use when people file their tax returns in 2024.

Knopp, who is executive vice president of the Central Oregon Builders Association, said he also wants to find ways to speed up approval of housing plans. “The governor is right that we need to build more condominiums,” Knopp said, referring to Kotec’s executive order that sets an annual goal to build 36 thousand new housing units at the state level. “But you have to streamline the process to make it happen faster.”

Knopp also wants lawmakers to pass legislation “to freeze property tax increases for seniors.” Last year, three Republican lawmakers put forward a proposed initiative they’re trying to get in the 2024 election, but Knopp said it would be better for lawmakers to craft the change.

Taxes will also be brought up in this session as part of the Legislature’s ongoing consideration of ways to improve the state’s mental health and addiction treatment systems, collectively known as behavioral health. Rep. Rob Noss, a Portland Democrat who chairs the House, said Oregon lawmakers could consider new cell phone charges to help fund the state’s 988 suicide prevention hotline, which would require Republican support to meet the requirement for an absolute majority. For the state that is three-fifths to raise taxes. Committee on Behavioral Health and Home Health Care.

Lawmakers approved pay increases for mental health care providers in 2021 and 2022. Noss said he expects lawmakers this session to focus on ways to open more residential treatment facilities across the state. He said lawmakers may also adopt proposals to improve the state’s addiction treatment system, after Failed Subtraction of services as part of voter-approved decriminalization of small amounts of hard drugs.

But Noss said that would only happen if the different groups interested in the cause united. “If we can come to some consensus, you’ll see some laws,” Noss said.

Oregon lawmakers want to allocate up to $300 million to attract semiconductor manufacturers. Kotick says she’s on board. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is scheduled to visit Oregon in the next few weeks to discuss the state’s efforts and the state’s potential share of billions in federal funding. It may be among Oregon’s largest economic initiatives in years, easily surpassing the $200 million Oregon Futures-Ready Workforce Development Program approved by lawmakers last year.

But new tax breaks and changes to the state’s land-use policy, two of the chip industry’s top priorities, are bound to be controversial, and it’s not at all clear that any large chip makers will expand into Oregon, even with new programs to attract them. .

Rep. Janelle Bynum, the Happy Valley Democrat who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Semiconductors, said Oregon can’t offer the same level of monetary stimulus as “big budget” states like Texas and New York, “but we’re going to use everything to our advantage.”

“The goal is to help Oregon become the world leader in research and innovation, and that is my North Star,” said Bynum. “It’s people’s money that we’re talking about and people’s resources and I don’t take that lightly. We’re going to be careful with our resources.”

At the same time, if lawmakers consider expanding tax incentives to one part of the tech industry, they may consider returning the handout to another.

Oregon has some of the nation’s most hospitable Data center tax creditsAmazon saves millions of dollars annually through local incentives for its warehouses. The program providing most of these incentives is up for renewal during this session and tax watchers — along with some prominent lawmakers — want to restrict tax credits for data centers in rural areas and eliminate tax credits for warehouses altogether. Lawmakers have proposed a separate bill that would make data centers subject to Oregon’s new clean energy standards, impose huge fines and withhold tax breaks if they don’t comply.

On housing, Kotek will ask lawmakers to approve $130 million early in the session aimed at adding 600 shelter beds across Oregon, preventing the eviction of 8,000 families and making 1,200 people homeless on the streets and in housing within a year.

Fahey, the House Majority Leader, said she was open, if a little skeptical, to helping fund Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s building plan. Group camps in the city. In the past, lawmakers have prohibited spending state funds on such use.

“We have a responsibility to taxpayers to make sure that we don’t just move money out the door to address an issue if there isn’t an actual plan to spend the money effectively,” Fahey said.

Indeed, lawmakers targeting big spending priorities will have to keep a close eye on the state’s tax revenue projections. State economists now expect Oregon to enter range moderate recession this year. This is part of the reason why financial analysts expect A 560 million dollars The budget gap between the amount of money needed just to maintain current programs and service levels — $30.7 billion for the next two years — and the amount of taxes the state will bring in.

The legislative conversation about schools has always centered on money.

Experts at Oregon’s Chief Financial Officer have estimated that it would take $9.52 billion for schools to provide the same level of programs and services they are offering now in the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years. This represents an increase of 2.36% over the current two-year budget. Financial officials attribute this relatively small bump in part to their expectations that student enrollment will remain flat. But that number has already been dismissed by Jim Green, longtime director of the Oregon State School Boards Association, as “totally inappropriate.”

School advocates counter that protecting students would require $10.3 billion, given high inflation. School districts need to cover the cost of fuel and food for school meals and staff salaries that will ideally keep up with the cost of living, they say.

Kotec is due to announce its proposed budget by February 1. The final number of schools approved by lawmakers will likely fall — if history is any guide — somewhere between those two numbers.

But how this funding reaches the regions may look different this year. Rayfield, the Speaker of the House, told The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board that there is interest in revisiting aspects of the state’s current funding formula. He said lawmakers might consider, for example, increasing the additional funding that school districts get for students in extreme poverty. This is an idea that has been closed Until 2021given the influence of legislators in counties that would have seen their share of funding decline.

Besides chasing the money, school lawmakers and advocates say they will focus on the programs they target Training, recruitment and retention School employees, from bus drivers and cafeteria workers to para-educators, special education teachers, and bilingual educators.

One of the thread conversations, Rayfield said, is about “disparities in pay levels between states,” a particular issue in the Portland metro area where relatively well-funded schools in Washington state are a short drive away.

Another emerging and enduring theme: accountability. Oregon’s 197 school districts have a wide leeway in how state dollars are spent. Influencing this tradition would present political minefields. But the pandemic and the prolonged online learning it spawned left many students behind Struggle Well below grade level in core subjects such as math and reading. Lawmakers will need to determine how well they are required to commit to strategies designed to help children catch up on the stretch Summer Learning Programs into a small recurring group Private classes.

Early literacy One area of ​​policy that is gaining momentum, Fahey said, after the budget was requested to spend $20 million to pay for phonics training and phonological awareness for teachers in high-needs schools. Die in 2021. But how much lawmakers can afford to support programs like this will come down to the state’s revenue projections in February, she said.

Business reporter Mike Rogway and education reporter Julia Silverman contributed to this report.

– Hilary Borod; hborrud@oregonian.com

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