Legislature did make progress on some new laws, before senators scooted away

SALEM — These bills might not make headlines, but they may make a difference to Oregonians all the same. Each of these bills passed their last hurdle this week and now head to Gov. Kate Brown for her signature.

KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON: In a display of possibly inadvertent foresight, the Legislature near-unanimously passed House Bill 5048, which will allow state agencies to keep operating at their current service levels until September if a budget hasn’t been approved and signed for them by then. The Senate approved the bill without opposition Monday after it previously passed the House with just one “nay” vote, from Rep. E. Werner Reschke, R-Klamath Falls.

Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, who carried the bill, and his 10 Republican colleagues were gone three days later, bringing the Senate to a standstill and leaving 2019-2021 budgets for the Department of Human Services, Higher Education Coordinating Commission, Secretary of State’s Office, Department of Environmental Quality and several other state agencies in limbo.

AFFORDABLE CARE: Democrats and Republicans don’t often find common cause on healthcare, but House Bill 3076 brought members of both parties together. It requires that nonprofit hospitals offer to reduce medical costs for patients whose households make less than four times the federal poverty wage level — and waive costs for those making double or less. It also limits the amount of interest that hospitals can charge on patients’ debt. The House re-passed the bill 45-15 on Tuesday after it was amended in the Senate.

Proponents said community hospitals should be offering more charity care and argued that low-income patients are often unable to pay their bills. Many hospitals already have financial assistance programs, but HB 3076 would set a minimum standard.

MAKING WAVES: Are wifi devices harmful to children? The Oregon Department of Education will review the evidence and recommend ways that schools can reduce the microwave radiation that students absorb. Senate Bill 283 passed the House 50-8 Wednesday. The department will report its finding to the Legislature by January 2021. Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, a retired public health nurse, sponsored the bill. It passed the Senate earlier without opposition.

NO HATE: In Oregon, crimes targeting a person on the basis of their race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and other demographic factors could be punished more harshly under Senate Bill 577, which passed the House unanimously on Wednesday.

Now, Oregon allows someone to be charged with intimidation for hurting or damaging the property of a person on the basis of their identity. Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, one of three African American state legislators in Oregon, set out this session to broaden the law and make it more explicit. SB 577 adds gender identity to the list of characteristics and it renames “intimidation” as “bias crime.” A single offender could be charged with a felony for a bias crime under Frederick’s proposal. Under the current law, multiple people have to be involved and working together for the crime to constitute intimidation. Bias crime data will also have to be tracked and reported to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission.

ENTITLED TO A TITLE: Under state law, a dealer has to apply to the Oregon Department of Transportation for a vehicle’s title on the buyer’s behalf. Senate Bill 113 gives that requirement some teeth by allowing a buyer to sue a dealer that doesn’t do that. The Oregon Consumer League told lawmakers that buyers need protection from fraud, since unethical car dealers sometimes sell vehicles with obeying the state’s titling requirements. The House passed the bill unanimously Thursday after it previously cleared the Senate 19-9 with most Republicans opposed.

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