SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Legislature adjourned Monday evening after five months of work. Here’s a look at some of the biggest stories from the 2015 session:
Oregon became the first state to automatically register most adult citizens to vote. Under the legislation, everyone who has interacted with the Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division since 2013 but hasn’t registered to vote will receive a ballot in the mail at least 20 days before the next statewide election. It’s expected to add about 300,000 new voters to the rolls.
In March, Gov. Kate Brown signed a controversial climate change bill that aims to reduce carbon emissions and spur investments into clean energy. Fuel producers will be required to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their products by 10 percent over 10 years. They can use a biofuel blend in the short term but will likely have to help subsidize cleaner-burning fuels down the road. Opponents and supporters both agreed it will increase gas prices. Oil companies have sued to block the program and may try to submit it to voters in the 2016 election.
Legislative leaders and Brown tried but failed to negotiate a compromise to raise gas taxes and other fees to pay for transportation projects. The effort hinged on repealing the just-enacted carbon reduction mandates, which Republicans bitterly opposed. After intense lobbying from environmental groups and a mistake by the Oregon Department of Transportation, Brown and Senate President Peter Courtney pulled the plug. The governor said that while the transportation funding plan is still necessary, it could not be tied to discussions about reducing carbon emissions.
A bill expanding a background check mandate to cover nearly all private gun sales was signed into law in May, overcoming obstacles that stymied two previous attempts to pass similar laws. The law requires gun buyers and sellers who aren’t related to visit a licensed gun dealer who can run a background check. Oregon was the eighth state to require screening on nearly all firearms sales.
PAID SICK LEAVE
Despite fierce criticism from Republicans and the business lobby, the Oregon Legislature approved a bill requiring many companies to give their employees paid sick days. The measure requires employers with at least 10 workers to provide up to 40 hours of paid leave every year. Advocates of the measure argued workers shouldn’t have to choose between recovering from an illness and preserving their paycheck, but business interests said they’re concerned about costs.
After voters decided last year to legalize marijuana, lawmakers took a number of steps to set up a regulated market for the drug. They cracked down on the largely unregulated medical marijuana program, instituting new grow limits and tracking requirements. They changed the taxation method, instituting a sales tax on the drug instead of a tax on growers that was in the 2014 ballot measure. And they voted to allow limited sales on a temporary basis through medical marijuana dispensaries beginning Oct. 1, almost a year before the Oregon Liquor Control Commission expects to be ready to issue permanent licenses for pot sales.
Oregon is now the easiest place in the nation to get birth control under two new laws that vastly expanded access to contraception. One measure allows pharmacists to write women a prescription for birth control after they complete a risk-screening assessment, eliminating the need to see a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Another bill made Oregon the first state to require insurance companies to cover up to 12 months of birth control at a time.
Legislation eliminating personal, religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccine requirements was dropped after parents mounted a strong fight against it, saying it took away their medical freedoms. Another vaccine-related bill did make it through the Legislature, however — a measure ordering schools to publish information about the number of students opting out of one or more vaccines. Lawmakers signed off despite a backlash from parents who said it could shame or bully them into getting their children fully inoculated. Supporters of this measure said it could help parents decide whether or not a school is safe for their children if they are unable to get all the shots themselves.