Oregon Legislature closes a tumultuous 2024 session

The Oregon Legislature closed its 2024 session Thursday night, March 7, a few days ahead of the constitutional deadline, having passed major legislation dealing with housing production and homelessness — and addiction treatment and renewed criminal penalties for possession of some drugs.

Adjournment came at 8:15 p.m., three days before the deadline of March 10 for the 35-day session.

Lawmakers even passed limits on campaign contributions in the first such legislation since the 1973 session limited campaign spending, a measure overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court in 1975. The new contribution limits take effect in 2027; Oregon was among five states with no limits.

“We did these things by putting people over politics,” said House Speaker Dan Rayfield, a Democrat from Corvallis who is leaving the Legislature to run for attorney general. He resigned the speakership at 7:42 p.m. and turned the gavel over to Speaker pro tem Paul Holvey, a Democrat from Eugene who also is leaving the Legislature after this year. (Both plan to complete their House terms.)

On a party-line vote, the House advanced Majority Leader Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, to the speakership over Republican Leader Jeff Helfrich of Hood River. Fahey was first elected to the House in 2016, Helfrich in 2022 after serving by appointment in the 2018 session. Fahey became caucus leader in early 2022, Helfrich in fall 2023. Fahey emerged as the Democratic choice over Rep. Tawna Sanchez of Portland, who nominated Fahey on Thursday night.

Both chambers normally choose the presiding officers at the start of the two-year cycle. Fahey will be speaker until the 2025 Legislature convenes on Jan. 13. The full chambers choose the presiding officers, but for the past 50 years, the majority party’s choice usually has prevailed. (The Senate was tied 15-15 in 2003 and 2004, and the House 30-30 in 2011 and 2012.)

The House speaker and Senate president name members and leaders of committees, where the Oregon Legislature does most of its work on legislation, assign bills to the committees and determine when they come up for votes in their chambers.

About 300 bills were introduced in the short session, far fewer than the 2,500 to 3,000 during the 160-day session in odd-numbered years. 

In the end, majority Democrats and minority Republicans came to agreement on many of the key issues, though some bills did pass along party-line votes.

Democratic and Republican leaders held separate sessions with reporters after adjournment.

They did reduce the $500 million that Gov. Tina Kotek requested to jump-start housing production by about half, though they granted all of the $100 million she asked for continued state aid to shelter beds and other local and regional programs to avert homelessness.

They spent $376 million on that package, plus another $211 million to expand addiction treatment and to provide money for enforcement of renewed criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of specified drugs.

Democrats and Republicans agreed to reverse part of the 2020 ballot initiative, which voters approved as Measure 110, that removed criminal penalties in favor of traffic-type citations and $100 fines. The fines could be waived if people agreed to drug evaluations.

They disagreed initially on what criminal penalty should be imposed, but settled on an unclassified misdemeanor — a maximum of six months in jail, but no fines, and with the opportunity for “deflection” to treatment. That option will be available in 23 of Oregon’s 36 counties, accounting for 85% of the population.

The legislation also clears away barriers to insurance coverage for treatment, expands services under the Oregon Health Plan that serves 1 million low-income Oregonians, and provides medication-assisted treatment to help jail inmates break addiction to the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Lawmakers also passed a budget reconciliation measure that spends about $400 million more from the state general fund, which consists largely of personal and corporate income taxes. This amount is in addition to the $600 million from the housing and addiction bills.

Housing legislation: Senate bills 1530 and 1537, House Bill 4134.

Addiction legislation: House bills 4002 and 5204 (budget).

Campaign finance: House Bill 4024.



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