Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum congratulated and thanked legislators throughout the state today for an extremely productive 2021 Oregon legislative session, and for passing her agenda of bills that were introduced at her request.
The new laws requested this session by Attorney General Rosenblum will help Oregonians saddled with student loan debt; fund environmental contamination clean-up; eliminate online sales of vaping devices; protect Oregonians’ private health data; clarify protections against discrimination on the basis of “gender identity” throughout Oregon statutes, and support seniors who are also crime victims.
“This session has been historic in many ways. My agenda, as always, was focused on advocating for some of our most vulnerable Oregonians. Children, seniors, crime victims, students, LGBTQIA+ people, and consumers will reap the benefits of these new laws as they go into effect,” said AG Rosenblum. “I want to congratulate and thank the many legislators and advocacy groups who worked with us to draft, review, hear and vote on these important bills, and I look forward to them becoming part of Oregon statutes.”
Regulating Student Loan Servicers (SB 485)
This bill, which AG Rosenblum refers to as the “Student Borrowers Bill of Rights,” will help Oregon’s 540,000 student loan borrowers who are amassing student loan debt at a staggering rate. The bill institutes basic regulations for student loan servicers and creates a student loan ombudsperson within the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS) to assist in resolving complaints and providing guidance on repayment options. Student loan servicers will be required to obtain a license from DCBS to do business in Oregon, and to refrain from fraudulent, deceptive, or dishonest dealings with borrowers.
In Oregon, outstanding student loan debt has surpassed $20.5 billion, with the average debt load per borrower at over $38,000. This includes debt owed by over 44,208 borrowers over age 65 and 88,506 borrowers in rural parts of Oregon.
Environmental Accountability Act (HB 2377)
The Environmental Accountability Act holds parties responsible for environmental contamination at massive clean-up sites like the Portland Harbor Superfund Site by allowing the state to access insurance assets of businesses that polluted but are no longer operational. Defunct companies that polluted in Oregon may have purchased insurance coverage for environmental contamination, but the state was unable to reach those assets because of a technicality in Oregon law. The technicality relates to the way in which a defunct company dissolved, and whether they filed appropriate paperwork. This bill closes this loophole and has the potential to substantially reduce the cleanup costs to taxpayers.
Prohibits Online Vaping Device Sales (HB 2261)
In 2017 the Oregon Legislature outlawed the remote sale of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Despite similar age restrictions on the purchase of electronic cigarettes and other nicotine vaping products, minors in Oregon can easily purchase vaping products online. HB 2261 closed this loophole by adding inhalant delivery systems (e-cigarettes) to the existing ban on online cigarette sales so that purchases must be made face-to-face where a seller can physically verify the purchaser’s age.
E-cigarette use is a significant – and avoidable – health risk to young Oregonians. In 2019, 1 in 4 high school students and 1 in 10 middle school students in the United States reported that they had vaped in the past 30 days. The vapor in these products includes heavy metals, cancer-causing chemicals, volatile organic compounds, and large amounts of nicotine – which is especially toxic for adolescents with developing brains. E-cigarettes are marketed in kid-friendly flavors and models that come in shapes and sizes that look like USB flash drives.
Protected Class: Gender Identity (HB 3041)
In 2019, the Attorney General’s Hate Crimes Task Force championed Senate Bill 577, which clarified for the first time that gender identity is a protected class in Oregon.
House Bill 3041 builds upon that work from 2019—adopting the definition of gender identity that appears in the hate crimes law and separating protections based on gender identity from the statutory definition of “sexual orientation” throughout Oregon law, clarifying the two distinct definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity. Now, gender identity will appropriately be listed as a separate protected class in our other anti-discrimination laws related to housing, employment, public accommodations, education, and health care.
Protection of Personal Health Data/ Contact Tracing (HB 3284)
In June 2019, AG Rosenblum formed a Consumer Privacy Task Force to answer the growing call for comprehensive state consumer privacy legislation. While that work is ongoing, emerging issues related to COVID-19 created a need to focus on privacy issues posed by data collection for contact tracing and exposure notification purposes. HB 3284 is the result of this Task Force and can serve as model legislation for the rest of the country.
Protections for Victims of Crime and Abuse (SB 176 and SB 177)
Two additional bills, SB 176 (Elder Abuse Reporting) and SB 177 (Protections for Victims of Crime), were also introduced at the Attorney General’s request. SB 176 adds a new section to the elder abuse law, as well as to the law governing abuse of developmentally disabled persons, to expressly provide—just as the child abuse reporting law does—that privilege is not a ground for excluding evidence of elder abuse in court cases. SB 177 helps strengthen protections in Oregon law for victims by preventing victims of crime from being arrested and jailed just to secure their testimony in criminal trials.
Other Bills and the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) Budget
In addition to the successes of the AG’s requested bills, Attorney General Rosenblum supported certain other key law reforms that will help eliminate systemic racism in Oregon as well as reduce gun violence and accidental shootings. These include important new policies around policing, including increased training, accountability, and transparency in policing (HB 2162, HB 2575, HB 2928, HB 2929, HB 2930, HB 2932, HB 2936, HB 2986); establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday (HB 2168), updating DUII laws (SB 201), safe gun storage and keeping guns out of the Capitol and schools (SB 554), and strengthening Oregon’s sanctuary laws (HB 3265).
Finally, the Oregon DOJ budget was adopted! “I am honored to lead the Oregon Department of Justice,” continued AG Rosenblum, “and never more so than when I get to participate in our budget presentations to the Ways and Means Committee. I appreciate in particular the Public Safety Sub-Committee’s meticulous review and the many members of the public who testified in support of our work. The DOJ’s budget includes new funding for the work of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to support victims of bias crimes and bias incidents and prioritized funding for our Crime Victims Compensation Fund, and our Environmental Crimes and Cultural Resources Enforcement work.”