Blog

2018 Legislative Session Recap

By Charlie Fisher
State Director

On March 3rd, the state legislature adjourned a four-week “short session.” Our main priorities and how they fared in the legislature are outlined below. If you want to learn more and ask questions, join OSPIRG staff and members for a happy hour briefing at Laurelwood Public House on April 11th.

You can get the details and RSVP here.

Good Bills

Prescription Drug Price Transparency (House Bill 4005)

Rising prescription drug costs are a burden on all Oregonians—not just the patients who depend upon expensive drugs—through rising health insurance premiums, rising costs for Oregon businesses and a growing burden on state and federal budgets.

This bill represents the least we can do to address the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs: Requiring the pharmaceutical corporations to explain their big price hikes publicly so we can all know where all that money is going.  By requiring drug companies to explain large price hikes, this legislation creates much-needed public accountability for the prescription drug industry, and may help deter some of the most excessive price increases. This bill by itself will not be enough to contain skyrocketing drug costs, but it’s an important first step.

OSPIRG worked with a broad coalition including nurses, teachers, doctors, AARP, hospitals and health plans to advocate for prescription drug price transparency. Despite intense and well-funded opposition from an army of pharmaceutical industry lobbyists, Oregon legislators stood up for consumers and passed it with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the State House and State Senate.

Free Credit Freezes (Senate Bill 1551)

The behemoth credit bureau Equifax’s massive security breach last year affected an estimated 1.7 million Oregonians and 143 million Americans. Our recommendation in the wake of the Equifax breach was for consumers to freeze their credit with the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian). Freezing or locking credit reports prevents identity thieves from setting up new accounts because creditors will not open new accounts without first checking a consumer’s credit report.

Under federal law, credit bureaus are allowed to charge a fee to consumers to freeze their credit, but states are empowered to pass their own laws prohibiting this practice. Since consumers never gave these agencies permission to collect or sell their data in the first place, providing free freezes, unfreezes, and temporary lifts (thaws) returns some needed control to consumers of the use of their sensitive information.

OSPIRG worked with Senator Prozanski and Representative Paul Holvey to pass a law that  ensures all Oregonians can get free credit freezes and unfreezes. The law also requires companies that experience a data breach to report that information to consumers in a timely manner. The law passed with large bipartisan majorities in the State Senate and House.

 

Net Neutrality (House Bill 4155)

In December, the Federal Communications Commission announced they would move forward with repealing net neutrality, the concept that the internet should be free and open for everyone. Without net neutrality, internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T to potentially block or slow down lawful content, or create internet "fast lanes" that would favor certain sites and content over others.

OSPIRG worked with the American Civil Liberties Union, Citizen’s Utility Board of Oregon, and others to pass legislation, sponsored by Representative Jennifer Williamson, that prohibits state and local government from contracting with ISPs that don’t abide by net neutrality principles. The bill passed with bipartisan support in both the State Senate and House.

 

Transparency and accountability in Oregon’s Medicaid program (House Bill 4018)

Nearly one million Oregonians get their health coverage through the taxpayer-funded Oregon Health Plan, but the private organizations that administer their benefits, known as Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs), currently make far too many decisions about our money behind closed doors.

Oregon's CCOs are a unique experiment aiming to transform the health care delivery system to contain costs, improve quality of care, and improve the health of Oregonians, and they have had some successes. Unfortunately, they have often failed to provide even the most basic transparency, shutting the public out of their Board meetings and failing to provide meaningful opportunities for public input into how our tax dollars are spent – and with so much public money invested in these private organizations, the stakes are very high.

HB 4018 enacts some simple reforms to advance transparency and accountability for CCOs, including making their Board meetings more open to the public and strengthening CCO investment in advancing public health. OSPIRG worked with Representative Mitch Greenlick, Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson and other legislative champions to help advance the bill. Despite opposition from some health care industry interests, the bill passed on a bipartisan basis. At a critical juncture in the state Senate, supportive comments from hundreds of our members helped carry the bill over the finish line.

 

Bad Bills

Repeal of Oregon’s Tax Haven’s Law (Senate Bill 1529)

In wake of federal tax reform, the state legislature took action to update Oregon’s tax code. Unfortunately, in doing so, they also repealed Oregon’s landmark tax havens law, which identified an extensive list of tax haven countries and required Oregon corporate tax filers to add income from any subsidiaries in those countries to their Oregon taxable income. The Legislative Revenue Office estimated that the law kept more than $20M in Oregon during the 2014 tax year, rather than being parked in offshore tax havens such as the Cayman Islands.

Not surprisingly, companies subject to the tax haven law argued that federal tax reform made it no longer necessary. While OSPIRG and others pointed out multiple flaws in this argument, SB 1529 ultimately passed. We’ll be working in future years to bring back Oregon’s tax havens law in order to ensure multinational corporations can’t use complicated accounting gimmicks to get out of paying their fair share in taxes.

 

More work to do:

Small Donor Elections (House Bill 4076)

An OSPIRG Foundation report from February found that just over 700 large donors to Oregon political campaigns in 2016 contributed $35 million, outspending all small donors 14 to 1. This disparity undermines the health of our democracy. HB 4076 would have helped level the playing field by matching small contributions in return for candidates agreeing to forgo large donor money. This would allow candidates to raise small dollar contributions from the communities they seek to represent and still be able to compete with big-money candidates.  Programs like this one have been successful across the country at increasing participation in elections and putting democracy back in the hands of the people.

OSPIRG worked with a broad coalition of organizations in an effort to pass HB 4076, sponsored by Representative Dan Rayfield. Unfortunately, while it had a public hearing in the House Rules committee, it never moved any further. We’ll be working to advance similar legislation in the 2019 legislative session.

Defend the CFPB

Tell your senators to oppose the “Financial CHOICE Act,” which would gut Wall Street reforms and destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as we know it.

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