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Legislative Report for February 10, 2017

 

We are in the calm before the storm. Today marks the end of the first full week of session and the halls of the capitol are abnormally quiet as most members have returned to their districts for the weekend. It is a notably unenthusiastic start of session.

 

The legislative committees have mostly featured informational hearings structured to educate members on the policy issues they will be considering throughout session. The looming $1.8 billion budget shortfall permeates the minds of lawmakers and lobbyists, however, as concerns over state finance threaten the stability of vital programs. The budget-writing committees have declared that no programs are safe from budget cuts, and that has created political hurdles for major policy initiatives.

 

Typically, the budget-writing process begins with agency leaders giving informational hearings in the subcommittees of the Ways & Means Committee. This week marked the beginning of these meetings, but the discussions were far from typical. Instead of lawmakers asking questions regarding the operational capabilities of government programs, usually for the purposes of establishing new or refining existing programs, questions have been predicated on the search for areas to reduce spending. The change in tenor of these discussions illustrates the complicated landscape of the state’s budget predicament.

 

In addition to reducing government spending, several committees are poised to begin tackling the root cause of the poor fiscal condition. The revenue committees have scheduled a full week of hearings on opportunities for business tax reform to revisit past proposals to reform the revenue stream, including a possible resurrection of the corporate sales tax initiative voters rejected in the last election. The Senate Workforce Committee, which has focused all its meetings exclusively on the public pension system, will feature the first reform bills aimed at reducing the growing unfunded liability. The discussion on the pension liability is a step forward, but the largest liability in the system is the cost of current retirees, the same population the courts have deemed as beyond the authority of the legislature to reform. This realization raises the question of whether any potential reforms will have an immediate impact on the budget shortfall.

 

We are hearing significant chatter about the likelihood of a special session. Unless the budget situation is resolved before the legislature adjourns in July, lawmakers may reconvene in a special session in the fall to continue the discussion on balancing the budget. Nevertheless, it is far too early to speculate on the likelihood of a special session when there is so much time to address the people’s business within the scope of the regular session.

 

Naturopaths and chiropractors returning concussed athletes to play

 

In previous sessions, we’ve seen a bill that would allow naturopaths and chiropractors to return concussed student athletes to play. This effort has been unsuccessful in the past, but has been gaining interest in the 2017 session, due in part to a workgroup headed by Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-NW Portland) and Sen. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay). This Thursday, the Senate Committee on Health Care held a public hearing on the issue and the progress of the workgroup.

 

Participants generally agree that increased and continued training on concussions would be beneficial for any provider who is seeing concussed patients. During the hearing, a chiropractor testified that she frequently sees patients who have been involved in motor vehicle accidents and are also concussed. Additionally, she shared a story about her daughter who received a head injury and had difficulty getting in to see her pediatrician in a timely manner. When she finally scheduled the appointment, the pediatrician used outdated materials to assess the concussion. Others testified in support of the bill, stating the inconsistent care they received for their own concussions.

 

The Oregon Medical Association also testified. While they are supportive of increased training, they ultimately oppose the notion of non-physicians releasing concussed athletes to return to play.

 

There will be amendments introduced on this bill that will likely add athletic trainers and other providers to the group allowed to return athletes to play. Additionally, there will be a requirement that anyone returning athletes to play must carry medical liability insurance, and that everyone, including physicians, will have to complete an online concussion training that the Governor’s Task Force on Traumatic Brain Injury will work to create.

 

Tobacco licensure

 

SB 235 would establish a statewide tobacco retailing licensing program. The Senate Health Care Committee held a public hearing on this measure, which spread across two days due to the overwhelming amount of discussion. Public health professionals testified that a statewide license is a proven way to decrease sales to minors. Tobacco retailers testified that they support the intent of this bill and would like to weed out the bad actors.

 

Legislative Counsel testified at the hearing, stating that this bill was the result of a workgroup comprised of the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Multnomah County and the Department of Revenue. There are four major parts to the bill:

 

  • Establishing licensure by the Department of Revenue
  • Streamlining and modifying duties of OHA in existing statute with respect to tobacco products
  • Codifying local governments’ responsibility
  • Employing information and fee-sharing mechanisms

 

There was some discussion about limitations on qualifications of licensure. Basically, the retailers cannot have mobile premises and cannot exist in an area that is zoned only for residential use. Tobacco retailers testified in opposition to the bill in its current form, in particular the open-ended fee structure. The industry also expressed displeasure about the residential zoning piece, since there are currently “Mom-and-Pop” stores that sell tobacco products in residential areas and would be required to stop that practice. This bill is one of many that is aimed at decreasing tobacco use by minors in the state. 

 

Tobacco 21

 

The Senate Health Care Committee held an informational hearing on the Tobacco 21 movement, which would increase the legal age for tobacco possession from 18 to 21. E-cigarettes would also be included in these new age restrictions. Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-NW Portland) has previously identified this as one of her top issues for this session. She kicked off the informational hearing with personal anecdotes about her own experience of tobacco-related cancer in her family.

 

The hearing included panels of physicians, high school students and local elected officials, all speaking to the dangers of tobacco use. Students told stories of 18-year-old seniors buying cigarettes for underclassmen, and physicians made the argument that once a person reaches the age of 21, they are far less likely to become nicotine-addicted. Local elected officials made the argument that the percentage of cigarette sales to people in the 18-21 age range account for only about 2 percent of overall sales, meaning that the tobacco industry will not be adversely affected in the short term. This hearing was strictly informational, so the committee did not take any specific action. However, we expect to see a Tobacco 21 bill passed out of committee and onto the Senate floor in the near future.

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