Oregon PSR State Legislative Session Wrap-Up 2019


Oregon PSR staff and members mobilized to advocate for and against a long list of bills in the 2019 state legislative session in Salem this year. The 2019 session yielded a wide range of progressive, health-protective policies and discussions and concluded with a significant handful of long-awaited victories, including support for nuclear disarmament, better oil train safety measures, equal access to roads for all Oregonians, and a major step forward on cleaning up Oregon's dirty diesel problem. Several dangerous measures that would have weakened Oregon's renewable energy goals and created loopholes for new nuclear power were successfully blocked from passage. We thank all those who volunteered their time and energy to advance our mission to protect public health from the gravest threats to survival in the Oregon state legislature this year.

Read a detailed list of all the legislation we supported, opposed, and worked on this year, and continue reading for selected highlights from our legislative priorities.

The Good

Supporters of SJM 5, the successful measure urging congress to lead a global effort to reduce the threat of nuclear war.

A major victory for a large, statewide coalition led by Oregon PSR was the passage of Senate Joint Memorial 5 (SJM 5), which puts Oregon on record supporting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and urging the United States Congress to lead a global effort to reduce the threat of nuclear war. Oregon is the second state in the nation after California to pass such legislation in both chambers. New Jersey's Assembly has also passed a similar bill. The bill had support from 31 organizations around the state and garnered moving testimony from a Japanese hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor), a Hanford Downwinder, an Atomic Veteran, the Oregon Marshallese Community, a Corvallis city councilor, and more. Read more about this historic legislation.

Celebrating the passage of Senate Joint Memorial 5 with a small group of its many supporters: Left to Right: Jeff Bissonette with the Union of Concerned Scientists, Senator Jeff Golden, Senator Michael Dembrow, Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer with Oregon PSR staff Kelly Campbell, Madison Arnold-Scerbo, and Damon Motz-Storey

We worked with our partners in the Oregon Just Transition Alliance to support the successful passage of House Bill 2007, which requires diesel engines in the Portland metro area to be transitioned to cleaner burning vehicles and apportions Oregon's Volkswagen settlement funds to clean up the dirtiest engines in areas most heavily and disproportionately impacted by diesel's harms to health. More needs to be done to clean up diesel emissions statewide, especially since the Eugene, Bend, and Medford metro areas all experience disproportionately high air pollution relative to their size.

Oregon Just Transition Alliance Organizer Janaira Ramirez testifies alongside Tori Cole of Neighbors for Clean Air in support of House Bill 2007 to clean up diesel pollution.

Many years after the Mosier oil train explosion and several failed attempts to enforce stricter, health-protective oil train safety standards, Oregon finally saw passage of a common sense set of oil train safety measures in House Bill 2209. The bill will require the state’s approval of contingency plans and training for oil train-related spills, enact fees on railroad operators used to improve oil spill response and establish funding for emergency preparedness, and require adequate insurance for railroads to cover true worst-case oil train derailments and oil spills. Read the bill language. HB 2209's passage is especially timely as Portland faces increased crude oil train traffic to the Zenith Energy facility.

At a time when racist hate crimes are on the rise and anti-immigrant actions and rhetoric is swelling nationwide, it was heartening to see House Bill 2015 pass into law to allow all Oregonians to access driver's licenses regardless of their country of birth. This important bill will improve public health by decriminalizing the act of driving for all Oregonians to ensure safe passage to work, play, doctor's appointments, worship, and more. Read Oregon PSR's testimony in support of this bill.

Oregon PSR staff Madison Arnold Scerbo and Damon Motz-Storey (center and right) with Sierra Club staff Marie Schlagel (left) at a Legislative Action Night organized by Oregon PSR and the Sierra Club, Oregon Chapter.

Oregon PSR supported our partners in the COFA Alliance National Network and Oregon Health Equity Alliance in their effort to ensure that low-income people from COFA nations (the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau) living in Oregon are eligible for dental health benefits. We took this position due to our support for health equity and universal healthcare, as well as acknowledging the unique responsibility the US has in particular to people who suffer health disparities due to our testing of nuclear weapons in their homes. As such, we supported House Bill 2706 which, as originally introduced, would have extended low-income COFA members in Oregon eligibility for dental healthcare, following on their eligibility for medical healthcare passed in a previous session. Unfortunately, bill was weakened during the course of session to merely "study" the issue of COFA dental healthcare. We were pleased to see that the amended bill passed unanimously through both chambers of the legislature.

Oregon PSR board member Dr. Andy Harris speaks to Sierra Club and Oregon PSR members encouraging action to prevent SB 451, a green energy subsidy bill for the Covanta Marion garbage incinerator in Brooks, OR.

Other notable victories from Oregon PSR's priority list include a short-term moratorium on harmful fracking practices and a study to uncover the causes of disproportionately high rates of missing and murdered indigenous women. We also successfully defended Oregon from a loophole for new small modular nuclear reactors (SB 444), a bill that would have granted renewable energy credits to the Covanta Marion waste incinerator (SB 451), and a bill that would have allowed existing hydroelectric generators from qualifying for Oregon's renewable portfolio standard (SB 508) which was passed in 2007 to provide incentives for new renewable energy projects, not existing dams. 

Oregon PSR members were joined by other Power Past Fracked Gas and No LNG Exports coalition members at the 2019 lobby day in Salem to stop Jordan Cove LNG.

Oregon PSR also helped to organize and lead a well-attended lobby day to educate state lawmakers and officials about the many threats to health posed by the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal and Pacific Connector fracked gas pipeline. The lobby day came just a few months before the release of our joint report with Washington PSR entitled Fracked Gas: A Threat to Healthy CommunitiesThough not attached to any specific pieces of legislation, our long-term effort to put pressure on Oregon's elected leaders to oppose Jordan Cove LNG must have helped contribute to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality denying Jordan Cove an essential water quality permit and Oregon's extensive comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking for a more thorough and sound environmental impact statement on the project.

The Bad

Oregon PSR was deeply unsettled by the divisive and undemocratic actions of Senate Republicans as they walked out of Salem on multiple occasions to make demands. This led to Democratic leadership giving away important priorities such as gun violence prevention and set a terrible precedent for future lawmaking efforts to take bold action on complex and urgent issues. We are particularly disturbed by the violent statements made by Senator Brian Boquist and feel that his unacceptable comments underscore the urgent need in Oregon and throughout the United States to take action to address the public health crisis of gun violence.

Oregon PSR and other partners in the gun safety community were looking forward to passing robust gun safety legislation in the 2019 legislative session. At the beginning of session, many organizations and legislators were putting forward a variety of concepts from banning assault weapons and limiting magazine sizes, to ensuring safe storage and research on gun violence as a public health issue. Many of these concepts came together in SB 978, the "omnibus bill" which we testified in support of. Unfortunately, this bill was traded away by the Governor and Senate leadership as part of a deal to get Republican Senators to come back from their first of two walk-outs, resulting in no significant gun violence legislation being passed this session. Oregon PSR will continue to support March for Our Lives Oregon, Ceasefire Oregon, Moms Demand Action, and other partners in ensuring that the public health crisis of gun violence is addressed in future legislative sessions.

The Oregon Senate Floor in session, in between Republican walkouts.

A moderately sized list of progressive, health-benefiting policies did not make it to the Senate and House floors for votes that we will continue to advocate for in upcoming legislative sessions. This includes a ban on harmful pesticides including chlorpyrifos, a bill that would allow the Oregon Public Utility Commission to consider differentiated residential energy rates based on household incomes, and a much-needed bill to address safe disposal of household hazardous wastes. You can find a summary of all of these bills in our legislative priorities post.

The Complicated

We spent many hours carefully considering and lobbying for improvements and harm reductions in House Bill 2020, the Oregon Climate Action Program (sometimes referred to as "cap and trade," "cap and invest," or "Clean Energy Jobs). We ended up taking a neutral position on the final iteration of the bill, although we were very glad to see positive changes throughout the course of the bill's amendments processes and are grateful to all of the legislators who led on this effort for carefully considering our research and feedback on the policy. The bill ultimately failed to move forward. Read our full explanation of our stance on HB 2020.