LOC News

2021 Session Adjourns

Oregon’s virtual 81st legislative session adjourned at 5:37 p.m. on Saturday, June 26. It’s looking like there will be at least a hybrid version of a virtual session in February of 2022 due to seismic improvements to the Capitol, which took place throughout this latest session. 

For the 2021 session, the LOC’s legislative team took on the challenges of remote communications and a bill list in excess of 2,000 legislative proposals. Many of these would not have provided any benefits to cities and several proposed concepts were repeats of past efforts to reduce local decision-making authority and impact revenue sharing.

Funding Community Needs

In the spring of 2020, Oregon’s economists predicted a deficit of more than $1 billion for the Legislature to deal with in 2021.  As a result of multiple federal relief efforts in 2020 and 2021, and a better-than-expected performing economy, Oregon had nearly $2 billion in additional revenue. This $3 billion shift in revenue predictions is largely responsible for billions that will be invested into communities across Oregon. For example, water infrastructure will see more than $500 million invested for specific projects, including $100 million allocated to the Special Public Works Fund. The Legislature made an historic $756 million in investments for: affordable housing and permanent supportive housing;, down payment assistance; homeless services; tenant support; and more. This is in addition to the approval of more than $500 million for rental assistance and other housing supports.

Behavioral health investments will be also measured in the hundreds of millions. As a result of the Labor Day fires in 2020, the Legislature also approved more than $600 million towards: reducing wildfire risk in the urban edge; rebuilding communities lost from the fires; and increasing resources to deal with a fire season that continues to extend beyond normal.  Other notable funding was $120 million towards broadband infrastructure and an increased total of four full-time employees to staff the Oregon Broadband Office to help with technical assistance.

Policy Focus For LOC

The LOC’s lobby team focused on its primary legislative priorities for the session. Despite any number of hurdles, our advocacy with the assistance of grass roots legislative support from members resulted in some significant success for cities.  Funding components in behavioral health, housing resources, broadband, water infrastructure and rate assistance, and funding for disaster recovery and relief should be celebrated. 

We came up short on property tax reform, but that will be a conversation that will take more time and likely involve a multi-year effort.  We were able to get some significant improvements to the property tax deferral program for senior and disabled residents in HB 2634, which should be of help to vulnerable residents who are struggling to pay their property taxes. 

Wildfire and disaster relief was also a legislative priority for the LOC, Governor Brown and the Legislature.  The work was on several fronts related to recovery and rebuilding of communities and overall wildfire policy in SB 762.  This legislation was a comprehensive approach to respond to reducing wildfire risk in the wildland urban interface.  The work on this bill is just beginning, and will have multiple advisory groups going forward to make sure communities and agencies have the necessary tools to reduce the impacts of wildfire.  Another success came through our participation in a workgroup that started while the 2020 wildfires were still burning, and HB 2341 will significantly increase fairness in proration of property taxes for residents whose homes are destroyed or damaged.

On the economic development front, working with our partners at the Oregon Economic Development Association (OEDA), the LOC was able to get HB 2343 over the finish line.  This bill will give local enterprise zone sponsors the flexibility to waive or suspend employment requirements for companies that had COVID-related staffing issues.

We had success with additional reform of police arbitration proceedings with the passage of HB 2930. These reforms have been part of the LOC’s legislative priorities for multiple legislative  sessions.  The number of additional police reform measures was well over 20 individual legislative proposals that included legislation which moved through two special sessions in 2020. 

One of the more frustrating legislative concepts was related to setting prevailing wage.  Over the entire session, the LOC worked hard with a large coalition of interests to introduce improvements for SB 493. In the end, we were unable to modify the bill and could not prevent the it from moving forward.  As a result, projects associated with local governments and the state will have cost increases, especially in smaller rural communities with inflated wage rates.

On the other end of the spectrum, the LOC did stop legislation that would have dramatically impacted system development charges (SDCs) that cities collectively depend on for building local infrastructure.  The LOC’s lobby team built a solid coalition, and in the end, turned the legislation into a study bill that will examine SDCs.  We believe this will help local governments create a solid base of data and illustrate the difficulty in paying for infrastructure at the local level.  Thanks to some great work by individual cities, we were also able to stop SB 299, which would have created a new taxing district that would have competed with cities for limited property taxes.

What’s Next

Later this summer, the LOC lobby team will complete a legislative summary, complete with a voting matrix on legislation that was important to the LOC and its members.  Lobby team members will be presenting downloads of the 2021 session during the third quarter Small Cities Network meetings aross the state beginning July 21.

Starting in October, the LOC will also be taking applications for its seven policy committees, which will help set and frame our legislative focus for the 2023 full session. Stay tuned for the announcements, and please consider applying. These policy committees are incredibly helpful for setting the agenda and helping with advocacy.

There will also be some webinars coming up to help members understand the impacts of key legislation from the 2021 session.

Contact: Jim McCauley, Legislative Director - jmccauley@orcities.org

Last Updated 7/2/21