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Lawmakers have proposed laws, ranging from universal health care to a price on carbon.

PARIS ACHEN/CAPITAL BUREAU - The Oregon State Capitol in SalemHundreds of bills, resolutions and referrals are lined up for lawmakers' consideration during the Oregon Legislature's 32-day session beginning next month.

Among those, at least five concern issues that Oregonians deal with on a daily basis: health care, internet freedom, global warming, gas prices and electricity prices.

Health care

While some Republicans in Congress seek to roll back entitlements such as Medicaid and Medicare, members of Oregon's predominantly Democratic legislative assembly are hoping to receive the OK from voters to make health care a right under the state Constitution.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, has proposed a joint resolution to amend the Oregon Constitution that would obligate the state government to ensure every resident has access to effective and affordable health care. The resolution refers the proposed amendment to voters in the November general election.

The resolution coalesces with a bipartisan bill intended to bring more transparency to the way that pharmaceutical companies set prices for prescription drugs.

House Bill 4005, spearheaded by Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, would require prescription drug manufacturers to report increases in the price of medications and the costs associated with the development and marketing of those drugs. The proposal is modeled after a new law passed last year in California.

Two Democrats and two Republicans are sponsoring the bill: Nosse, Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield; Rep. Ron Noble, R-McMinnville, and Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls.

The intent of the bill is to boost transparency and understanding of steep, and often mysterious, increases in drug prices, said Greenlick, who chairs the House Committee on Health Care.

"The hypothesis is that drug companies might have some shame," Greenlick said. "I haven't seen much evidence that they do, but there is a possibility that if the process (of setting prices) is open and in public, drug companies will be more restrained in what they do."

Net neutrality

House Majority Leader Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, is seeking state regulations to discourage internet companies from blocking or charging more for certain content. The Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 14 repealed net neutrality, a set of rules that prohibited internet companies from charging more or blocking certain content. The act prompted lawmakers in at least 15 states to introduce legislation to restore the protection in local jurisdictions, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Williamson's proposal wouldn't go that far, but it would require state divisions to purchase broadband access from providers in full compliance with net neutrality provisions, as an incentive to providers to keep the internet open to other Oregonians.

The providers would have to guarantee transparency in network management practices, full access to websites and equal traffic speeds, Williamson said.

She announced last week that she plans to amend an internet privacy bill, House Bill 4155, to include the net neutrality rules. That bill renews an attempt from last year to outlaw internet service providers from disclosing or selling customers' personal information without express consent.

Global warming/gas prices

One way to slow climate change is to reduce the amount of carbon emitted into the air.

Democrats Sen. Michael Dembrow of Portland and Rep. Ken Helm of Washington County have filed a bill to put a price on industry-emitted carbon, a concept called "cap and invest." Senate Bill 1507 would require companies to buy permits to emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon per year. Sold at auction, proceeds from the permits would go toward projects intended to curb greenhouse gases.

Dembrow has said that the program would likely drive up electricity and gas prices. While economic modeling has projected carbon pricing could drive up gas prices, there is no evidence of that at the pump in California, where cap-and-invest program has been operating since 2013, said Tera Hurst, executive director of environmental group Renew Oregon.

About 100 businesses emitting 25,000 tons of carbon per year — including fuel suppliers, electricity providers, landfills and manufacturers — would have to buy permits, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Electricity prices

Legislation by Republican Sens. Dennis Linthicum and Herman Baertschiger Jr., both of Southern Oregon, have proposed an electricity Ratepayer Protection Act.

Senate Bill 1552 would cap public electricity providers' rate of return at 4.5 percent and would limit increases in fees.

It's unclear how that would affect residential rates, but the intention is to curtail any steep increases in prices.

The Public Utility Commission has no limit on how much rates can be increased each year, but under law, electricity companies have the right to request, but not receive, a return on par with similar companies.

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
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