Nursery News: News

Legislature adjourns; driver's license bill passes on last day

Tuesday, July 2, 2019  
Posted by: Curt Kipp
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The 2019 session of the Oregon Legislature was a mixed bag for the nursery industry, with one major victory, numerous challenges, a few defeats and several close calls.


According to OAN Executive Director Jeff Stone, key member leaders such as Leigh Geschwill and Tom Fessler played a major role in the industry’s lobbying successes by relating their concerns and needs to legislators. “They were loud, clear, in depth and on point,” Stone said. “There’s no substitute for legislators hearing directly from the grower.” 


The Democratic supermajority in both chambers approved the industry’s top legislative priority — a bill to allow Oregon residents to take the test and obtain a driver’s license without the need to provide proof of legal presence in the country.


“It’s a major victory for our industry and for families that need to drive to work, take loved ones to school or the doctor, or drive to church,” Stone said. “Having drivers on the road who are identified and licensed is a safety issue. The state can’t fix the broken immigration system but it can address safety.”


Earlier in the session, Democratic lawmakers also approved a tax increase on businesses that is based on gross receipts rather than profits. This will hurt high-volume, low-margin businesses, particularly those with multiple layers in the supply chain. 


“This new tax is going to be significantly harmful to nurseries in the coming years,” Stone said. “I’m even more concerned about the cumulative impact of several cost increases the legislature is imposing on growers. From wage increases to paid family leave to higher taxes and fees, it all adds up. As our growers compete against other states, the road of competition becomes much harder to travel.”


Eventually tabled was the proposal to regulate carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade system, a top priority for Democrats. Republican Senators walked out of the chamber for 11 days to prevent it from coming to a vote. It then was revealed that Democrats didn’t have enough votes to pass it anyway. Although nurseries aren’t carbon emitters, they would pay a lot more for fuel and natural gas. 


“The bill didn’t include the reasonable accommodations that we requested to lessen the cost impacts on growers,” Stone said. “We make a product that sequesters carbon and counteracts climate change. We encounter the effects of climate change daily. But we can’t help the environment if we’re put out of business.”


The paid family medical leave bill, House Bill 2005, was passed by the Senate on the last day of the session. It will create a fund providing workers with up to 12 weeks of paid time off to recuperate from their own serious illness, care for children (new, adopted or foster), or deal with domestic violence. The cost would be split, with workers paying 60 percent and employers paying 40 percent. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees would be exempt from the requirement to contribute.