SALEM — Scores of new laws that went into effect Jan. 1 will have sweeping effects on almost every aspect of life in Oregon, impacting ordinary citizens, businesses, landlords, students, veterans and voters.
Lawmaker David Gomberg, an Otis Democrat in his fourth term who represents House District 10, said 750 bills emerged from the six-month-long 2019 assembly — about 30 percent of the 2,500 laws proposed. Nearly 80 percent of those passed, including a law prohibiting “revenge porn” and requirements to teach about the Holocaust in public schools, passed the Democrat-controlled House and Senate unanimously.
During a rare weekend break, Gomberg spoke Saturday from Seattle, where he was attending a jazz festival with his wife of 33 years, Susan. He remarked on several of the measures that Lincoln County constituents will notice immediately, including a clutch of environmental laws banning plastic bags at stores (HB 2509) and single-use straws, except by customer request (SB-90).
“What I’m hearing from people on the coast is they have strong feelings about the environment,” reflected Gomberg, who also voted for SB 256, a ban on gas and oil drilling in the three-and-a-half-mile-wide Oregon Territorial Sea. “They have a heightened sense of awareness on climate issues, and that’s why communities on the coast were running ahead and adopting bans before the state.”
Gomberg said K-12 schools will gain from HB 3427, a new tax on Oregon corporations that do more than $1 million in business. Called “The Student Success Act,” it was passed to address the short school years that put Oregon students at a disadvantage, the result of dependence on income tax revenues that fluctuate with the economy.
“We have three weeks fewer teaching days than neighboring states,” explained Gomberg, 66, who moved to the Oregon coast in 1989 to run the Lincoln City Chamber of Commerce before starting an international kite business. “After 12 years in school, kids have one year less class time.”
He said the bill would help restore teaching days, reduce class sizes, add counselors and restore electives.
Among the hundreds of new laws are some that Gomberg opposed. He unsuccessfully bucked the party line on SB 861, prepaid postage on ballots, saying the $3 million cost “could be better spent elsewhere. He argued against SB 608, which caps annual rent increases to 10 percent, claiming it would “encourage more coast landlords to shift to nightly rentals” and reduce affordable housing.
Gomberg also vainly battled SB 5510, which increases the fee for hunting and fishing licenses to balance a $32 million shortfall at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Fewer people are hunting and fishing, but they insist on paying for the agency with fee increases,” Gomberg commented, saying he wants to spread the fees among “non-consumptive” users, such as bird and wildlife watchers. “I don’t want a charter boat out of Depoe Bay to cost more than one out of Ilwaco, Wash.”
Within the $23.7 billion biennial budget passed last year by legislators is new spending for vulnerable constituencies that Gomberg propelled as the vice-chair of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee.
“Life is good at the beach, but not for everyone,” Gomberg observed. “So what happens with the state budget is that we doubled the amount of money we put into veterans’ programs and made an additional $400 million available for housing and the homeless. We made substantial increases in funding for small business development centers. That’s how we change lives on a large-scale basis.”
Gomberg concluded that the new environmental edicts, though largely symbolic, reveal a determination by Oregon lawmakers to consider more vigorous measures as the 2020 State Legislature convenes again Feb. 3 in Salem.
Among future proposals is a “carbon tax and invest” plan that would likely add an estimated 20 cents to the price of gasoline and increase to as much as $5 in coming years, according to an analysis by the Oregonian newspaper.
“When you try to measure doing the right thing against what it’s going to cost — whether it’s a nickel for a paper bag at the grocery store or another nickel at the gas pump — I will tell you that the great majority of letters and emails I get have supported proactive steps,” Gomberg concluded. “People understand we’re not going to change the world, but we have to do our share.”