JWA Blog

Gavel Down

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Two weeks after “gavel down”, I’m still watching the news reports, reading the opinion pieces from the pundits, taking in everyone’s perspective on the good and the bad that was the session.There are, among the various viewpoints, a few important consistencies worth noting.

Regardless of your party affiliation or if you agree with the general direction and outcome of the session, I think we can all agree that the 2015 session was among the most contentious in modern history. Battle lines were drawn early with the outcome of the 2015 elections and the resulting large Democrat majority and it was clear that businesses and business interests would be on the outside looking in. What also became clear early was that animosity was the rule of the day. Major disagreements in policy and nuance caused legislative stumbles on priority bills, and ultimately polarized and divided caucuses, house and senate leadership on issues critical to business and transportation.

As predicted, the interests of business were largely ignored by the majority. The resulting passage of mandatory paid sick leave and the “ban the box” bill are likely to have both short and long term detrimental effects on businesses. Other bills like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard will affect Oregonians with higher fuel costs that hit the pocketbook as both a driver and a consumer of goods transported via the highway system - with a negligible benefit to the environment.

Among the concepts that failed to move forward this session were the “BOLI bill”, an attempt by BOLI to legislate themselves the power to issue “cease and desist” orders to businesses on merely a suspicion of wrongdoing. SB888, which also died in committee was an attempt to allow workers “flexible work schedules”, an unworkable and complicated concept troubling and potentially costly to many businesses that pride themselves on flexibility. And of course, there’s Minimum Wage.

As it played out, the minimum wage issue was one of the most significant wedge issues among members and caucuses. Aggressively pushed by democrats from the House and Senate, the idea of a minimum wage increase was a troubling “pile on” for others – a bridge too far in a session that was already widely characterized as anti-business. Championed by the Speaker, and coming down to the support of the Senate necessary to have the bill heard, animosity again won the day, and a last minute bill failed to advance.

So, what about all this Animosity? Strong disagreement among allies on their key issues means a few things for sure – that their issues are complicated, their solutions debatable, and maybe, just maybe, they don’t have all the facts to support moving forward with their ideology. For the business community, this presents an opportunity to lend an educated voice to the debate – not the first time you’ve heard it from me and it won’t be the last.

Know that issues like minimum wage and flexible schedules aren’t going away. They are being worked on to arise again in a future session, so your participation is more important than ever. Show up, phone in, write letters, reach out and tell your story on how you and your businesses will be affected by proposed legislation. It doesn’t take much time, but it can pay huge dividends when your livelihood is on the line.

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