Oregon Cities

New year, new laws: Here are some of the Oregon bills that take effect Jan. 1

FILE - A Styrofoam container is shown with takeout food at a restaurant in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015. A ban on polystyrene containers goes into effect in Oregon in 2024.

FILE – A Styrofoam container is shown with takeout food at a restaurant in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015. A ban on polystyrene containers goes into effect in Oregon in 2024.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

For Oregon, 2023 was a year of emergencies — from a worsening addiction crisis, to an ongoing housing shortage, to an inability to staff core services like public defense. That meant that lawmakers wanted immediate action. Many of the most prominent bills passed in the 2023 legislative session were enacted well before Jan. 1, the default date for new policies to take effect.

But that doesn’t mean the new year doesn’t bring some notable new laws. As of New Year’s Day, Styrofoam packaging will be harder to come by, speed traps might become more common and people who ride a bicycle while drunk could see lower penalties. Here’s a rundown:

Statewide Styrofoam ban: Some Oregon cities have banned food containers made of polystyrene foam for years. But lawmakers have long eyed a statewide ban, reasoning that the litter-generating threat posed by what most know as Styrofoam is not limited to cities. That ban is now here. Under the bipartisan Senate Bill 543, restaurants and other food vendors are prohibited from offering food in foam containers. The bill also blocks businesses from using foam packing peanuts or selling disposable foam coolers. And it bans food vendors from using containers that use PFAS, the so-called “forever chemicals” that can make material like cardboard resistant to grease. Anyone distributing the banned products can face a fine of between $100 and $500 a day.

Speed cameras throughout Oregon: Autonomous “photo radar” units have, until now, only been legal in 10 cities in Oregon. But with speeding and other unsafe driving increasing since COVID-19, the Legislature is now letting every city in the state get in on the action. House Bill 2095 eased limitations on when and where speed cameras can be installed, offering them as an option as long as cities foot the bill to run them.

Changes to DUII law: It’s long been illegal to drive drunk or under the influence of illicit drugs, but that didn’t necessarily encompass some substances that can impact driving ability, such as kratom. With House Bill 2316, lawmakers expanded the definition of “intoxicant” under state law to account for that blind spot. The bill also reduced fines and other penalties for people caught bicycling while under the influence, reasoning that they pose less of a danger to others than someone behind the wheel. Those carve-outs don’t apply if a person has a blood alcohol content of at least 0.15% or is riding an e-bike.

Tweaks to Measure 110: These days, much of the discussion over Oregon’s pioneering drug decriminalization law centers around whether the state should reverse course as overdoses soar. But during this year’s session, Democrats were focused more on what small changes Measure 110 might need. The result was House Bill 2315, which made a variety of changes that increased the Oregon Health Authority’s role in getting state funding to addiction services around the state. Expect drug policy to continue to be a central issue in the 2024 legislative session.

New tax breaks for kids: Beginning this year, low-income families can pursue a new tax credit aimed at combating early childhood poverty. The Oregon Kids’ Credit, passed via House Bill 3235, grants credits of $1,000 for every child under 6 years old for families that make $25,000 or less. Reduced credits are available if a family makes up to $30,000 a year. Since the credits are refundable, they can be awarded even if a family pays no or little tax.

Laws targeting “paramilitary activity” and “domestic terrorism”: With violent clashes on the streets of Portland in recent years and a spate of attacks on the Pacific Northwest’s power grid, lawmakers were concerned about extremism in 2023. House Bill 2572 allows the attorney general to investigate organized paramilitary activity and to petition a judge to block planned paramilitary activities that aim to intimidate others or infringe on free speech. It also creates a right to sue for anyone injured by a paramilitary group. House Bill 2772 created a new class of felony crime for “domestic terrorism,” activity that includes damaging “critical infrastructure” or dispersing toxic substances.

Cracking down on shoplifting: Changes to laws against “organized” retail theft included in Senate Bill 340 make it easier for prosecutors to charge repeat shoplifters and to seek higher penalties. The bill was one of several to emerge from a sprawling task force that took up the problem of organized shoplifting, where thieves work in concert and sell their goods online. Both Nike and Target shuttered stores in Portland in 2023, citing shoplifting as a central concern.

Streamlining housing conversions: As Gov. Tina Kotek sets lofty goals for ratcheting up housing production and development in Oregon, lawmakers have been looking for ways to help. House Bill 2984 is one idea. It requires local governments to greenlight the conversion of commercial buildings into housing without throwing up the normal bureaucratic hurdles. The law applies only to cities of at least 10,000 people and such developments can’t cut into land zoned for heavy industry.

Insurance immunity for wildfire maps: The state saw intense backlash in 2022 when it released a map showing areas that were most prone to wildfire risk. A concern among many critics: that the map could be used to ramp up premiums on their homeowners insurance, or even to end their policies. Senate Bill 82 is an attempt to address this. It prohibits insurance companies from using wildfire risk maps to make such policy decisions.


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