OR First Annual Leg Session

Oregon’s First Annual Legislative Session Wraps Up

Budget, Health Insurance Exchange and Governor’s Priorities Were Main Focus

The first-ever annual legislative session came to a close and Governor Kitzhaber was able to get some of his priority bills passed, but little else happened. The good thing, from a business standpoint, is that Oregon is closer to having an operational health exchange system.

The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether mandates under “Obamacare” are constitutional, but the Legislature continues its work on the subject so that a health exchange in Oregon will still be an option. This will allow for insurance companies to put forth basic plans for individuals to purchase health insurance.
With an exchange, Oregon has a significant opportunity to create an effective and compelling marketplace for health insurance. If done correctly, a well-functioning health insurance exchange could create the proper financial incentives for consumers, health plans, providers, and employers to promote good health, improve care quality, and help control costs.

Inside the exchange consumers should be offered a choice of health plans; employers – private and public – should move to a defined contribution approach, similar to pension plans; benefit packages offered should require appropriate cost sharing; and consumers must have access to understandable and transparent cost and quality information.

As for other legislation this session, and on an industry-specific note, ORLA worked on a bill with the tourism community and local governments to try and obtain lodging taxes collected by out of state online travel companies that they do not remit to state and local governments. The bill got stalled in the House Revenue Committee, and never moved through the legislative system.

There were a few job creation bills supported by the broader business community and pushed by the House Republican leadership, relating to increased timber harvest on state forest lands that benefit counties and schools, and increased water withdrawals from the Columbia River to bolster agricultural development in the Columbia River basin where they get little to no annual rainfall. At the end of the day, the governor would not budge and support either one of the concepts, so legislators just passed a couple of the governor’s bills. It was truly a lost opportunity on both fronts.

The Legislature also had to rebalance the state’s budget, which was a difficult job, but went easier than expected. When leadership planned the session, they expected the budget forecast to be down an additional $88 million from earlier predictions. The actual forecast was only $38 million down, so they were able to reduce some of the projected cuts.

The process for the first annual session was a bit rocky, as compared to other biennial sessions, but legislators are expected to discuss changes to try and improve the overall system. Topics will focus around either reducing the volume of policy bills, or working on policy-oriented matters more in the interim legislative committees. As it turned out, the timelines for bill passage were simply too condensed to try and reach consciences on amendments for policy bills.

So, looking back to when Oregon did not have annual sessions, the governor had the ability to call a special session if he believed one was needed. This session was more about the governor’s priorities, and he stopped many of the legislative priorities, so in the end it’s unclear as to why we needed to change the system after all. | BILL PERRY