Joseph Jordan: News and Notes from Salem (2/26/21)
Updates on explusion and affordable housing, policing reform, and wildlife recovery bills.
Joseph Jordan is an Oregonian, writer, and law student.
Rep. Hernandez resigns
After an abortive legal gambit failed to prevent a vote on his expulsion from the Oregon Legislature, Portland Democrat Diego Hernandez announced that he will resign from the State House effective 15 March. The House Conduct Committee found in February that Hernandez had harassed three women who worked at the Capitol over a period of months, and recommended his expulsion.
Hernandez sued in Federal Court to halt the expulsion vote, but United States District Court Judge Ann Aiken found that the Oregon Legislature has been “entrusted with power over policing its own members” and that Hernandez had no legal remedy available to him.
Redistricting already headed to the courts
COVID-related delays in the U.S. Census endanger the Oregon Legislature’s ability to redraw district maps for both state and federal electoral seats. Normally, legislators receive Census data on or before 1 April.
Oregon law mandates that the Legislature must agree on new maps before adjourning at the beginning of July, or else the Oregon Secretary of State and a five-judge panel take over the job — a provision of the law intended to break possible political gridlock.
The hitch this year is that the Federal Government says it will not be able to release Census data until late September, meaning that, by law, the Legislature will not have an opportunity to participate in the redistricting process.
A bipartisan group of legislators has now sued in an attempt to have those deadlines pushed back. The suit appears to be headed to the Oregon Supreme Court.
Nosse’s new housing bill
Already more than 2,000 bills have been filed. One of the more significant for Oregon’s cities, where rents have skyrocketed since the 2008 financial crisis, is HB 2677. Introduced by Portland Democrat Rob Nosse, the bill would lift the statewide ban on rent controls mandated by local governments.
Oregon already passed a first-in-the-nation rent control law in 2019, when it banned landlords from raising rents by more than 7% plus the change in the Consumer Price Index (link: https://www.bls.gov/cpi/), which rises at about 3% per year. Some critics on the Left thought the bill included too many compromises, including exempting smaller buildings and newer buildings.
Nosse’s bill would allow cities and “other localities” to set a lower cap on rent increases, and eliminate those exemptions. Nosse is the only current sponsor, though tenants rights groups all over Portland have been agitating for further rent provisions for two years.
Policing reform bills
Democrats’ big push for policing reform in the wake of the George Floyd protests of the summer hinges largely on two bills: HB 3145, which would create a public database of police misconduct records; and, HB 2930, which would allow changes to police discipline guidelines without union approval, as well as barring arbitrators from overturning disciplinary actions if a “reasonable person” would conclude that the officer engaged in misconduct. The bills are both in the Judiciary Committee.
Powerful police unions have publicly opposed both bills, but at least one former police officer — State Senator Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale) has spoken out in favor of the database bill. The majority of U.S. states have similar databases.
Legislators of both parties have filed a flurry of wildfire relief bills, after an explosive 2020 fire season led to the burning of more than 4,000 homes and 1 million acres of land, including in parts of the state that rarely see such fires, such as the hills east of Salem and Eugene.
Three bills seek to empower the state to limit forest detritus and annex land near fire stations; five more bills seek tax moratoria, loans to damaged forestry businesses, and tax exemptions for rebuilding; and, three more attempt to deal with the housing fallout, allowing burned-out residents more time to reside in RVs and fewer building restrictions if reconstructing burned homes.
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