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Oregon lawmakers have hundreds of millions of extra dollars to spend in short session

The state received an optimistic revenue forecast, opening up an extra $800 million.

SALEM, Oregon — Bills concerning child care, broadband access and criminal justice continue to gain steam as Oregon lawmakers wrapped up the second week of the 35-day short legislative session. 

The state also received an optimistic state revenue forecast, freeing up more dollars for lawmakers, and controversies continued over a bill to give agricultural workers overtime pay.

Here’s what you need to know about the past week in Salem:

Lawmakers get an extra $800 million

This week’s revenue forecast showed lawmakers have an extra $800 million to spend this session. Economists said this is because both corporate and personal income tax revenues are surging.

In short, Oregonians are making more income with higher wages. But economists say this is partly due to inflation, meaning people’s money doesn’t go as far.

Oregon state economist Mark McMullen said in a Wednesday presentation that “the vast majority of that is getting eaten up in terms of price increases.”

A total of $2.7 billion is now available to lawmakers to spend this session — though a large portion of this will go to state reserves in case of another economic downturn.

“After two incredibly difficult years, today’s news means we can make critical investments in our schools, working families, and small business,” House Speaker Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) said in a statement.

Democrats called for more money for schools, job training, housing and mental health services. 

Meanwhile, Republicans called for investments in law enforcement, crackdowns on illegal marijuana and thinning to prevent wildfires.

According to a statement from Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend), “As Democrats introduce bills to increase taxes, Republicans are looking at ways to cut them.”

RELATED: Oregon legislative session may be short, but long list of issues to be addressed

Lawmakers to vote on bills to help low-income households, child care

This week saw an important deadline for pending legislation. Bills in most committees had to be scheduled for a work session by Monday this week or they would not move forward this session. 

One bill that made the cut is a measure to make child care more affordable for families: $100 million could go towards initiatives like grants for child care providers and incentives for workers to stay in the workplace.

Other bills that passed out of committee include a policy to distribute air conditioners to low-income households, one to help families with unpaid rents and other expenses and another to limit police traffic stops.

And on the senate floor Thursday, lawmakers voted 16-7 in favor of a bill to protect superintendents from being fired. The bill comes in the wake of the Newberg school board firing its superintendent in November, amid controversies over displaying political images.

“The Legislature has a responsibility to step up and protect our kids from political backlash at the school board level,” Senator Gelser Blouin (D-Corvallis) said in a statement. “Our superintendents deserve basic employment protections, just like teachers and many other education professionals.

RELATED: Police could no longer stop drivers for minor violations in Oregon under proposed legislation

Policies to limit governor’s power, tax luxury goods don’t make the cut

Many other bills failed to meet important deadlines and will not advance this session. 

This includes many Republican-led initiatives, such as a bill that could have limited the governor’s authority and one that would require school districts to post all curriculum online.

A Democrat-led proposal to tax luxury goods, like high-end cars, guns and jewelry, also will not move forward this session. Modeled after a similar California program, funds from the sales tax would have gone towards monthly payments for former foster youth and low-income pregnant women. 

The bill died amid opposition to sales tax in Oregon, but the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie) plans to continue the fight in future sessions.

RELATED: Farm owners and workers weigh in on overtime bill

Overtime pay for agricultural workers continues to spark controversies

Another controversial bill would give agricultural workers overtime pay. Oregonians proved divided over this issue in a public hearing on Tuesday that lasted longer than three hours.

Advocates and farm workers say this policy is long overdue: workers have been excluded from earning overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act for eight decades.

“Excluding farmworkers from overtime was wrong in 1938 and it is still wrong today,” Rep. Andrea Salinas (D-Lake Oswego), one of the bill’s chief sponsors, said in a statement to KGW.

Under the Democrat-led proposal, Oregon would follow California and Washington in phasing this policy in gradually. The state would also give tax credits to employers to offset the additional costs. 

But, Republicans — and many farm owners — say this isn’t enough. They have come out in full force against the bill, saying it will hurt small business and result in workers’ hours being cut.

Rep. E. Werner Reschke (R-Klamath Falls), wrote in an email, “Such a bill will cause farmers and ranchers to cut farm worker hours, produce less and charge more for their products. A lose-lose-lose.”

On Monday, a committee will continue discussing the bill in a work session, where they could vote to move it to the House floor.

Monday is also the last day for lawmakers to move bills out of most committees. Bills will then move to floor votes, and — if passed — head to the other chamber for consideration.

Oregonians can visit the Oregon Legislature Information System to follow bills, watch public hearings and submit testimonies.

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