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Lawmakers Scuttle Bill to Ax Personal Property Tax Exemption

Approximately 300 bills were introduced in the Oregon Legislature’s short session this February. Oregon blueberry industry lobbyist Roger Beyer labeled one “Public Enemy Number One for Agriculture.”

House Bill 4141 would have removed a portion of the personal property tax exemption that farmers currently enjoy on farm implements and farm property.

Beyer said everything from a farmer’s blueberry plants to his or her processing equipment and irrigation equipment would have been subject to personal property taxes under HB 4141.

“It was very broad in that farmers would get taxed on plants that produce product, but a farm might lose an entire crop one year, and under this bill, still would get taxed at some value that was previously set,” Beyer said. “That’s one reason why the policy was set years ago; to exempt these things from personal property tax.”

Beyer said the Legislative Revenue Office even reported that “the exemption is working well and as intended and shouldn’t be changed.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ben Unger, D-Hillsboro, received a hearing in the House Revenue Committee, but didn’t advance.

The session also included a host of labor bills, Beyer said, including bills regulating whether the state should require paid family leave and others that have surfaced in previous sessions. One was particularly troublesome, Beyer said. It would have created a new lawful employee-action claim if an employee felt their hours of employment had been reduced to avoid the Obamacare mandate.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, would designate the employer action as both an unlawful employment practice, which is subject to Bureau of Labor and Industries regulation, and designate it as subject to a private right of action, which would allow workers to sue their employers directly. The bill also shifted the burden of proof to the employer, meaning the employer would have had to prove that he or she was not guilty, Beyer said.

The good news, according to Beyer, is the bill, Senate Bill 1543, died after a public hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The bad news, he said, is Dembrow has publicly stated he is going to bring the bill back until it passes.

Beyer also reported that an effort to change the ballot title of the Oregon driver card measure that Oregon voters will consider in November failed to pass.

The ballot title will contain language crafted by the Oregon Attorney General. It reads: “Provides Oregon resident ‘driver card’ without requiring proof of legal presence in the United States.” Proponents of House Bill 4054 sought to drop “proof of legal presence” from the title.
If the measure passes in November, undocumented immigrants will have an opportunity to obtain a temporary driver card as soon as 30 days after the election if they can provide proof of identity, can show they have lived at least one year in Oregon and pass a driving test.

On the federal front, water issues continue to be front and center, Beyer said. Under the current language in the Food Safety Modernization Act, which is being written by the Food and Drug Administration, irrigation water would have to be potable for use on food crops. This would obviously be very problematic for blueberry growers, Beyer said, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture Director and others are urging the FDA to relax that standard.

Also on the federal front, the Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to increase the reach of the Clean Water Act beyond the currently stated limits of navigable waters. “This is a huge issue for agriculture,” Beyer said. All waters that connect to navigable waters would be subject to the Clean Water Act under the proposal. “That means all water,” Beyer said, including drainage tiles and drainage ditches.

Beyer said Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, has drafted a letter to EPA proclaiming that in pursuing the new rule, the agency is over-reaching its authority.

The EPA is expected to put the rule out for public comment in early May. Beyer is urging blueberry growers to comment individually or through their Commission.

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