The 78th Legislative Assembly is now in the final weeks of session. Policy Committees are wrapping up their work on bills before their June 5 deadline. After June 5, the only committees that will remain open until adjournment  include Ways and Means budget committees, Revenue and the Rules Committees in each chamber. 

That means the focus is on passing the 2015-17 budget and a few ‘go home’ policy priorities for the Governor and legislative leadership. Here’s a snapshot of some big picture issues still in play as the Legislature nears their projected adjournment date of June 26:


Budget: The State Revenue Forecast is up.The State Economist’s May Revenue forecast revealed revenues are up by $463 million since the last quarterly forecast. The guarantees an additional $105 million for schools, due to a prior agreement by legislators to dedicate 40 percent of any new revenues for education. Economists are also certain the kicker will kick, estimating personal income tax credits of $473 million. The release of the May Revenue forecast is a critical piece to wrapping up the 2015-17 budgets for 90 different state agencies and boards.


Repeal or adjust wrongful death caps in statutes: OCEP joined a coalition of providers, hospitals and insurers, opposing Senate Bill 409, which would repeal the $500,000 limit on noneconomic damages recoverable in civil jury lawsuits. Opponents to the bill contend the costs of defensive medicine are driving up the price of health care for everyone and harming patients in the process. Proponents, including trial lawyers, were able to amend the bill to triple the cap to $1.5 million. The bill is now in the Senate Rules Committee as proponents try to find the votes to pass it.


Transportation Package: This is Governor Brown’s ‘go home’ bill. Republicans walked away from the negotiating table for a transportation package after the Democratic majorities in both chambers passed SB 324, a low-carbon fuel standard bill. Meetings resumed in mid-May but Republican leaders say they won’t vote for a transportation package unless Oregon’s low-carbon fuel standard (already signed into law) is repealed. Word is that the Republican-sponsored speed increase bills (opposed by OCEP) won’t move forward until a transportation package is passed.


Marijuana Regulation: The Legislature convened a joint committee to oversee the implementation and regulation of Measure 91, which legalizes the sale of recreational marijuana in Oregon. By mid-May, the Joint Committee on Measure 91 has not been able to reach agreement on any legislation largely due to differences over the ability of local government to ban medical marijuana dispensaries. The Senate wanted local control, the House wanted the decision to be left to voters. Senate President Peter Courtney announced the creation of a Senate Special Committee on Implementing Measure 91 to break the impasse, although the joint committee will continue to convene. 


Since then, proposals to allow retailers to sell both medical and recreational marijuana, and a proposed tax, appear to have support. The Senate, in response to the estimated $1 billion per year of black market medical marijuana, passed a bill to limit the number of plants allowed on medical marijuana farms. 


Measure 91 goes into effect July 1. 


Paid Sick Leave: This is a priority issue for Democrats, who hold a super-majority in the Senate and a commanding majority in the House, yet bills to allow paid sick leave are still in committee.


Background checks for guns: SB 941, which would require background checks on private gun sales passed in early May. Current law requires background checks only for people buying a firearm from a licensed dealer or at a gun show.


OCEP Legislative Activity

To date, nearly 2,800 bills have been introduced this session. OCEP has testified on over two dozen priority bills that have an impact on emergency department patient care. Here’s where things stand as the critical deadline to close policy committees approaches:


Bills in play

OCEP supported HB 2948A, which would allow providers to share certain health-related information for patients in mental health crisis to caregivers. OCEP participated in the Oregon Association of Hospital and Health Systems mental health workgroup which put forward SB 840B, allowing licensed independent practitioners such as psychiatric Nurse Practitioners the ability to perform 2-person involuntary holds for crisis patients as long as the other provider is a physician.


A bill to allow legal immunity for people seeking emergency care for victims of drug overdose (SB 839A) has passed. A bill to limit liability for sobering centers (HB 2641) is still in House Rules. OCEP supported both bills along with SB 79, the Heart Association Hands On CPR training bill.


OCEP members invested much time and effort to block SB 874 which, in the original form, would have required emergency departments to institute protocols and prioritize treatment for patients suffering from adrenal insufficiency. OCEP and other emergency providers argued that medical protocols and patient evaluation and treatment shouldn’t be codified in statute. The amended bill in the House now just requires the Oregon Health Authority to identify training and educational materials on the subject of adrenal insufficiency and to distribute them to professional associations.


Dead bills

OCEP opposed HB 2302, which added disclosure requirements for out-of-network billing. OCEP also testified about possible EMTALA violations inherent in SB 891, a price transparency bill. A bill to refer ED patients to primary care for ‘non-emergent’ conditions failed after OCEP discussed the patient safety implications with the chief sponsor. 


OCEP supported SB 132A to expand the crime of assault to health care providers in hospitals. The bill passed the Senate Health Committee but was referred to Senate Judiciary Committee where it died. OCEP also supported a bill to require safety belts for all occupants of a vehicle (SB 495). The bill was referred back to committee from the Senate floor.


Finally, SB 186, the Epi-Pen bill, which would have allowed public access dispensing machines for the drug, failed after OCEP raised concerns about the use of Epi-Pens in the hands of untrained laypersons. 


OCEP Advocacy for Psychiatric Emergency Services

Dr. Sharon Meieran testified on behalf of OCEP at the City of Portland and the Multnomah County budget hearings this month. She supported city and county general fund investments in the Unity Center for Behavioral Health. Mayor Charlie Hales’ proposed budget (accepted by the City Council) provides $500,000 and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury’s budget proposes a $1 million. An amendment by Commissioner Jules Bailey proposes the amount be tripled to $3 million.

Unity is based on the successful psychiatric ER facility in Alameda County, California, and is a collaboration between Legacy Health, Adventist Health, Kaiser Permanent and Oregon Health & Science University. OCEP strongly endorses the Alameda model and the Unity Behavioral Health Center slated to open late in 2016.

For more information about the legislative process, please contact Katy King.

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