In Short Session, High Profile Bills Can Be A Long Shot

Oregon state Capitol by Oregon Legislature.jpg

The dead bills are starting to pile up.

High-profile casualties in in the Senate Committee on Health Care include a bill for state licensing of dental therapists and a proposed ban on flavored vaping products. On the House side, a bill reducing insurance rates for dialysis care is not moving forward.

The dead bills reflect the reality of a short 35-day session and the ability of lobbyists to quickly sow seeds of doubt that morph into an unavoidable thicket of questions with too little time left for answers – at least for this session. Thursday was the deadline for committees on health care to move bills forward to their respective chambers or the joint budget committee.

But the work is just beginning for some of these issues, which likely will return in 2021. For example, a work group will be formed to look at the issue of statewide licensing of dental therapists, with a plan to bring back a bill in 2021. Dental therapists, now part of a pilot program in tribal areas, can take care of basic fillings, preventive care and extractions, with the goal of offering much needed care to more people. The Oregon Dental Association, which represents dentists, lobbied against the bill. It said lawmakers should wait until the pilot project is finished to see the results..

“We just didn’t have the votes,” Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham and chair of the Senate Committee on Health Care told The Lund Report Thursday. “It’s a new program and a new way to deliver dental care and so I respect the feelings presented.”

A new idea can take awhile to catch on, she added.

“This is the first time this was proposed,” she said. “Sometimes it takes one, two three sessions to get something through.”

The working group will meet throughout the year and bring back recommendations in September, when lawmakers gather in Salem. Supporters look forward to that work and passing a bill that gives more Oregonians access to dental care, said Miranda Davis, director of the Native Dental Therapy Initiative for the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board.

Monnes Anderson proposed the ban on flavored vaping products. That’s now been replaced with a proposal for state licensure and regulation of vaping shops, with civil penalties of up to $5,000 for violations and oversight from the Oregon Health Authority.

The dialysis bill is also getting a work group to hammer out  a proposal for the 2021 session. The issue needs more information and solutions from dialysis providers, said its sponsor, Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego and chair of the House Committee on Health Care.

Monnes Anderson said the vaping ban was needed with the rise in underage youth vaping that can lead to an addiction  to nicotine. But vaping store owners turned up in force in Salem, calling the proposal unfair for stores that follow the law and don’t sell to minors. They asked for more oversight instead of a ban.

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network also asked for a change: It wants a ban on all flavored vaping and tobacco products.  After polling senators in her caucus, Monnes Anderson determined there was only enough support for licensure, but not a ban.

The vaping industry does not totally support the proposal to license shops that sell vaping products.

Shawn Cleave, a lobbyist with Oregon Vapor Technology Coalition, told lawmakers that the  proposed regulatory framework was a “little aggressive.” The industry group worries that the Oregon Health Authority would be too tough in its oversight.

“Frankly, the client doesn’t feel that OHA, from a regulatory perspective, would be able to be unbiased in their regulation,” he told senators.

The Senate committee moved the bill to the joint budget panel, which needs to sign off on the costs before it goes to the full chamber. It would cost about $1.5 million for the rest of this budget cycle and $3.1 million for the 2021-2023 biennium.

Monnes Anderson said she’s willing to work with the vaping industry to refine the bill.

Other bills are still moving along. The House passed a ban of online sales of vaping products earlier this week.  

The House Committee on Health Care also passed a bill Thursday that caps out-of-pocket insulin costs at $100 a month.  And the committee moved forward a bill that puts more oversight in place for companies that provide language interpretation services at clinics and hospitals. 

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.



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