Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum made special appearances before the Oregon Legislature this week to support three important pieces of legislation. One would create an impactful 100-year environmental clean-up fund using the proceeds of a best-in-the-nation settlement she obtained from Monsanto at the end of 2022. Another would ensure consumers have the right to repair their own computers, phones, and other appliances or go to an independent repair shop, instead of being limited to shops authorized by device manufacturers. The third would improve economic protections from wage garnishments for low-income Oregonians and make improvements to the state’s Unlawful Debt Collection Practices Act.
“Each of these pieces of legislation speaks to the core of my role as Attorney General — looking out for vulnerable and marginalized communities while protecting Oregon consumers and our environment,” says AG Rosenblum. “I wanted to make sure the legislators heard me on these issues, and I was encouraged by their responses to my testimony.”
Use of Proceeds from Monsanto Settlement
The most impactful of these three bills is SB 1561, which would establish the Oregon Environmental Restoration Fund.
In December of 2022 Rosenblum announced the largest environmental damage recovery settlement in Oregon history — a settlement which had the agri-giant Monsanto, a subsidiary of Bayer AG, a massive German pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, pay Oregon the lump sum of $698 million for its role in polluting Oregon with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) for nearly one hundred years. Monsanto’s knowing actions harmed Oregonians and our land, waters, fish, and wildlife. PCBs are known as “forever chemicals,” because they do not break down in the environment. They are now banned in the United States.
At the direction of AG Rosenblum, The Oregon Department of Justice worked with the Legislature and the Governor’s Office to create an endowment fund using earnings from the 2022 settlement. The endowment was crafted with the understanding that the harms caused by PCBs have not affected Oregon communities equally.
In her testimony this week, AG Rosenblum called specific attention to the environmental-justice components of SB 1561. “Fully one-quarter of the earnings of the Fund’s endowment will go to a Disproportionately Impacted Communities Fund,” Rosenblum testified. “Another quarter will go to a Tribal Nation Natural Resource Program Fund. These allocations of earnings from the settlement funds will help make Oregon not just a cleaner and healthier place, but a fairer and more just place for all Oregonians.”
AG Rosenblum thanked Governor Kotek and Senator Steiner for their collaboration on this important bill.
Right to Repair
Too many of our essential devices — from smartphones to computers to appliances — come with requirements that they be repaired under the strict control of the device manufacturers themselves. In particular, the manufacturers often limit access to key electronics parts, making it difficult for independent repair shops to compete and for consumers to make their own repairs.
“As Oregon’s Attorney General, protecting consumers is a core responsibility and has been a central priority of my administration,” AG Rosenblum testified before the Senate Committee On Energy and Environment. “The Right to Repair is a matter of consumer rights and consumer protection. It is also a nonpartisan issue that impacts every consumer and small business. The bill [SB 1596] ensures that consumers have choices as to who, where, when, and at what cost their phones, computers, and other appliances can be repaired.”
AG Rosenblum thanked Senator Janeen Sollman and OSPIRG for championing this bill.
Revisions to Unlawful Debt Collection Practices Act
Oregon’s Unlawful Debt Collection Practices Act is a key source of consumer protection in our state. It has done much to protect consumers but has not kept up with changing times. SB 1595 addresses a number of those concerns, as well as added economic protections in separate Oregon’s wage garnishment laws.
“One of my top responsibilities as Attorney General,” AG Rosenblum testified before the Senate Labor and Business Committee, “is protecting Oregon consumers from deceptive and unfair business practices, scams, and fraud.”
Among the many fixes this bill makes to the debt collection practices is that Oregon consumers will be able to assert their own rights related to debt collectors’ unlawful collection of so-called “phantom debt” — debt that has been discharged or never existed in the first place. “This is an area,” testified AG Rosenblum, “where consumers hold little power, and I strongly support empowering consumers to assert their rights against unlawful debt-collection practices.”
The bill also provides crucial economic protections from wage garnishments for low-income Oregonians, protecting their ability to take home a living wage, pay their rent, stay in their home, and care for their families and children. AG Rosenblum thanked Senator Kathleen Taylor for her leadership on this bill.
“Taken together,” AG Rosenblum said, “these three bills show how government can improve the lives of all Oregonians. The Monsanto money we obtained by a careful and well-thought-out investigation and legal strategy will be put to use for at least the next 50 years. Once the Right to Repair act is passed, Oregonians will have more control over their electronic devices and will experience lower costs repairing them. And improvements to the state’s debt collection and garnishment practices will both make it easier to conduct business in our state while at the same time protecting families and children. I am thrilled to be part of this degree of progress in this year’s “short session” of the Oregon Legislature.”