Ag update in Capitol

By Oregon Farm Bureau

Following the legislative deadline, bills moved more slowly through committees this week. Next week brings several controversial bills, including mandatory background checks for firearms transfers and workforce-related legislation.

PERS ruling
The Oregon Supreme Court struck down a significant portion of PERS reforms that were passed in 2013. While the budgetary impact is unlikely to be felt during the 2015-2017 biennium, the Legislature will need to fill a budgetary hole of hundreds of millions of dollars for the 2017-2019 biennium. The Legislative Fiscal Office prepared a brief, explaining the financial implications of this decision.

In response to this ruling, the Oregonian Editorial Board urged the Legislature to promote economic growth [instead of immediately looking to new tax increases on businesses], stating: “…the problem Oregon faces, as reform advocates emphasized two years ago, isn’t merely the expense of the state’s remarkably generous public pension system. The problem also involves the state’s economy, which is relatively puny relative to the PERS obligations it must support through tax revenue. If lawmakers can’t reduce pension costs, they’d better get serious about encouraging economic growth and job creation.” Click here to read the complete editorial.

Pesticides package
This week, the House Rules Committee introduced HB 3549, relating to pesticide control. This bill is intended to reflect the agreement made in legislative work groups, convened by Senator Edwards and Representative Witt, around several bill concepts: SB 257, HB 3123-2, HB 3429-2, and HB 3434-2. The concepts include:

– Require aerial applicators to obtain an aerial applicator certificate, including 50 hours of aerial application training, a national test, and ongoing education
– Require the Dept. of Forestry to conduct a study on the sufficiency of current buffers to protect schools, homes, drinking water, and fish-bearing streams from potential impacts due to aerial application of pesticides. Report back to Legislature by Sept. 2016
– Fund new investigators, case reviewers, administrative help, and laboratory capacity within the Dept. of Agriculture (ODA)
– Establish a hotline for people to call who are concerned about potential pesticide incidents. Report to the Legislature biennially
– Require the Pesticide Analytical Response Center to adopt standard operating procedures for use by member agencies
– Double most civil penalties associated with violation of state pesticide laws
– Authorize ODA to require applicator retesting in the event of misapplication of pesticides and suspend license if the applicator fails the test
Develop a web site cataloging restricted use pesticides

HB 3549 provides ODA with the resources needed to respond to the expressed concerns of the public regarding forestry aerial spraying and helps determine if there will be additional issues to be addressed in the future.

Bike paths
This week, HB 3367 passed out of the house with a strong majority. HB 3367 would require a conditional use permit for bike paths constructed in farm zones, enabling farmers to have a voice in the process of constructing these paths. OFB strongly supports bill and looks forward to working this bill in the Senate.

What to watch next week:

Background checks

SB 941 passed the Senate several weeks ago. This bill is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on Monday. SB 941 expands criminal background checks to private firearm transfers. It would require individuals to go before a gun dealer to request a criminal background check before transferring a firearm. Failure to comply could result in penalties.

BOLI cease & desist

Although HB 2386 was scheduled for a vote on the House floor on April 30, this bill was postponed until early next week. HB 2386 allows the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) to issue employers a “cease and desist” if BOLI has reason to believe the employer is in violation of employment law. As amended, employers would only be provided an administrative process to appeal the decision after the “cease and desist” has been issued. This could take over 30 days with no stay on the order. HB 2386 includes a perishable product provision, allowing BOLI to issue a “cease and desist” after harvest. However, the applicability is unclear, and many farmers and small businesses likely would not qualify. OFB opposes this legislation. Click here to comment.

Workers’ comp

HB 2764 is scheduled for the House Floor early next week. HB 2764 would increase the amount of fees that trial attorneys may collect in workers’ compensation claims. These higher fees are projected to increase workers’ compensation system costs by several percentage points and raise costs for Oregon’s farms and small businesses. OFB opposes this legislation. Click here to let your legislators know that you oppose higher workers’ compensation costs.

Agritourism liability

SB 341 is scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor on Monday. SB 341 is a long-worked compromise to provide liability protection to agritourism businesses in Oregon. SB 341 would provide liability protection to agritourism providers who post certain notices on their property, enabling them to more readily obtain liability insurance for their activities and ensuring that agritourism is encouraged in Oregon. OFB strongly supports this legislation.

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