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Week 4 in the Oregon Legislature: Housing, climate packages move forward, $100 million set aside for Republicans

Controversies also continued over masking and overtime pay for farmworkers, as lawmakers work to pass bills before the session ends.

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon lawmakers only have about a week left to get bills past the finish line and they’re working at high speed. 

Key Democrat-led packages related to housing, climate and working families are moving forward, plus Republicans have $100 million to spend on rural Oregonians.

Also, controversies continue over masking and overtime pay for farmworkers. Here’s the rundown of the past week in Salem: 

$400 million could go to housing and homelessness

Lawmakers could spend more than $2 billion this session and it’s becoming more clear where all that money may go.

This week, Democrats announced a $400 million package to respond to and prevent homelessness. Lawmakers say this would address immediate needs around homelessness, along with increasing the supply of affordable housing and helping to keep people in affordable units.

This package calls for $80 million for increasing shelter capacity and supporting rapid rehousing services and resource referrals. It also would put a $50 million investment toward Project Turnkey, an initiative to buy hotels and convert them into affordable housing and shelters, and $35 million toward buying manufactured home parks, among other items.

Lawmakers also called for a $100 million investment in climate action, aiming to protect Oregonians from future heat waves and provide drought relief.

This package would also update Oregon’s fuel storage infrastructure — which is highly vulnerable to earthquakes — and work to reduce emissions through moves like incentivizing Oregonians to drive electric cars. 

Bills to make childcare more affordable and give low-income families one-time payments — and tax credits — continue to move forward, along with a $150 million investment in summer school programs. 

RELATED: Washington's proposed gas tax angers neighboring states

$100 million could go toward rural Oregonians and Republican priorities

State Democrats formed most of the big budget packages, but Republicans do have an opportunity to push their own priorities forward.

Majority Democrats set aside a pool of $100 million to spend on rural Oregonians. 

Some Republicans initially saw this as a buy-off, but the new House speaker, Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis), told reporters Monday this money has no strings attached. 

“This is not an exchange for anything,” Rayfield said. “This is about making meaningful change in communities across this state.”

And, according to Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend), “It’s a good day when Republicans and Democrats can come together for the good of all Oregonians.”

Lawmakers say this money will go towards creating hundreds of good paying jobs across Oregon and repairing aging infrastructure across Oregon, such as senior centers or fairgrounds. The specifics of the full package had yet to be announced as of Friday. 

It’s no secret that fierce partisanship has marked past sessions. According to KGW political analyst, Len Bergstein, this $100 million allocation is an attempt by Democrats to demonstrate a different kind of leadership and build a bridge with Republicans. 

RELATED: Oregon lawmakers consider stronger protections for election workers

State Senator kicked out of chamber for refusing to wear mask

But, in the Senate, tensions live on as debates over masking continue.

Sen. Dallas Heard (R-Myrtle Creek), who is also the head of the Oregon Republican Party, has continuously refused to wear a mask on the Senate floor.

Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) has kicked him out for refusing to wear one on multiple occasions. But, on Thursday, Heard refused to leave the chamber, resulting in debates about the effectiveness of masking. 

This all happened as a group of anti-mask protesters blared truck horns outside in protest of ongoing regulations. It also came as Gov. Kate Brown announced the end of Oregon's mask mandate on March 19.

Lawmakers ultimately voted along party lines to temporarily kick Heard out of the building.

RELATED: New Senate bill would shift Oregon pot taxes from treatment to police

Bill to give overtime pay to farmworkers will move to House vote

Another ongoing controversy: overtime pay for farmworkers.

The bill to give tens of thousands of farmworkers time and a half after working 40 hours a week will finally go to the House floor for a vote. 

A joint committee voted along party lines to move the bill forward after hearing hours of testimony from advocates, farmers and workers on Thursday. These were the same arguments we’ve been hearing for weeks. 

Democrats, advocates and workers have said this move is only fair, since farmworkers have been excluded from earning overtime for eight decades. The bill calls for tax credits for farmers and a gradual phase in over five years. 

But, Republicans and the majority of farmers said this would only hurt small businesses and called for extending the 40-hour threshold, along with more flexibility for employers during peak seasons. 

Democrats voted this amendment down, and the full House will vote on the bill on Monday. 

So far, only a small portion of bills have been passed in both chambers, and lawmakers are working nights and weekends to get bills past the finish line in the next week. 

Oregonians can visit the Oregon Legislature Information System to follow bills and watch public meetings.

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