Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Oct. 21, 2020

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Oregon lawmakers lay out session priorities

Democrats intend to pursue legislation to hike minimum wage

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Oregon Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, clockwise from top left, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, talk about 2016 legislative session priorities Tuesday at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore. (Photos by Timothy J.
Oregon Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, clockwise from top left, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, talk about 2016 legislative session priorities Tuesday at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore. (Photos by Timothy J. Gonzalez/Associated Press) Photo Gallery

SALEM, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown and legislative leaders on Tuesday presented their priorities for the legislative session that starts next week, and her fellow Democrats made it clear they intend to press ahead with passing legislation to raise Oregon’s minimum wage.

Brown and her fellow Democrats — who control both chambers of the Legislature — also spoke out on finding ways to make housing more affordable and government more transparent, as well as how to improve graduation rates and close loopholes in gun sale background check legislation passed last year.

The minimum wage debate, however, dominated the discussion for Brown and Democratic legislative leaders during a Tuesday forum with journalists organized by The Associated Press.

“We must act now, it’s imperative. Oregon families who are working full-time should not be living in poverty,” Brown said. “We know right now that there are 90,000 households headed by women with one or two children who are making roughly $22,000 a year … Pretty tough to live on for one person. I would ask you if you would be able to live on that. I certainly couldn’t.”

Brown is planning to propose legislation that would raise the statewide minimum wage from $9.25 an hour in stages. Starting next year, her two-tiered approach would raise metro Portland’s minimum to $11.79 and the rest of the state to $10.25. By 2022, wages would climb again to $15.52 in Portland, and $13.50 everywhere else.

If the Legislature doesn’t act this year, lawmakers fear that special interest groups will take two initiatives to the ballot in November, both of which propose higher increases and on faster timelines.

Brown said Tuesday her proposal gives businesses more time to adjust to the increases while at the same time giving low-wage workers an immediate boost to their paychecks. Fellow Democrats overall think it’s a good compromise, although they have different views on the specifics. Republicans generally oppose the hike largely because of the impact it could have on businesses and rural areas where local economies have yet to recover as rapidly as Portland.

Minimum wage is just one of several major issues, including renewable energy, corporate sales tax and liquor privatization, that Democrats are looking to tackle next month in hopes of thwarting ballot measures that special interest groups are proposing for November.

But Republicans argue there just isn’t enough time. They also accuse the majority Democrats of taking advantage of the short 35-day session to ram through their agenda.

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