Update on Oregon GE Liability Bills & Canola Bill
Before the session started, Cultivate Oregon and our coalition partners were able to find sponsors in both the House and Senate for identical GE Liability Bills, an updated version of the bill that first was introduced in 2017. Having identical bills in both chambers is a safety mechanism—if the bill doesn’t move on one side, it hopefully will move on the other side, which is the case this year. While we initially thought the Senate version would have more support, it actually was the House version, HB 2882, which made it past the April 9th deadline and is currently being worked on. It is not a bad thing per se that the Senate version SB 434 is “dead.”
HB 2882 was scheduled for a perfunctory Work Session on April 3rd and the bill was moved from the Judiciary Committee to the Rules Committee. This alone should be considered a win because the legislature is overwhelmed with thousands of bills and many pieces of legislation don’t make it past the deadline, regardless of the merits. The Speaker of the House helped move the bill forward and we are appreciative of the Speaker’s support. Rep. Holvey, a longtime champion of GE issues, is the Chair of the Rules Committee and is willing to schedule a hearing when the bill is ready.
What's a work session? A Work Session is different from a public hearing in that no testimony is taken from the public, unless invited, although the public may attend the work session.
Is the bill moving? We are fortunate that the democratic leadership, and some key Senators, recognize the need for something to be done about GE contamination in Oregon. That said, opposition forces have peppered the legislature with many concerns about the bill. For example, that holding patent holders and manufacturers liable for GE contamination will have a chilling effect on business in Oregon; that GE contamination isn’t a problem in Oregon; that other legal remedies exist; that this is an issue that should be managed solely through “farmer to farmer” handshakes; and that there could be negative, unintended legal consequences. We don’t agree with these concerns and are working hard to counter them in both chambers. In the meantime, Speaker Kotek has asked Rep. Wilde to work with the coalition to address these concerns and come up with a version of the bill that can garner broad support. We are hoping that we can find a way forward that still puts liability on the chemical corporations behind GE technology. This is the first time that we have had an ally in the legislature directly working with us so it is a big step forward and Rep. Wilde has been engaging and genuinely open to learning more about this topic.
What exactly happened to SB 434? We were assured from our Chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Frederick, that the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Prozanski, would schedule a hearing. Sen. Prozanski even signed onto the bill and has long been a supporter of GE issues. However, Sen. Prozanski became concerned that there is not a sufficient legal nexus between GE contamination and manufacturers or patent holders. While this is disappointing, Sen. Prozanski committed to holding an Informational Hearing followed by a Work Group because he does see the need to “draw a line in the sand” with GE issues but wants to make sure that he does so in a way that he is comfortable with. Our Chief Sponsor in the Senate has gotten pieces of legislation out of Work Groups before, so ultimately, this is also a step in the right direction and could allow for our voices to be heard in a less-rushed environment, as well as for a group of allies to convene to further push the issue. We will balance continuing to work on the House version while simultaneously addressing potential future solutions with Sen. Prozanski in the Senate.
It often takes multiple tries to get legislation passed, so while some of you may be feeling disappointed, we making progress and the House bill is still moving! We also found new Republican allies this session. Rep. Findley and Rep. Stark are supportive and we hope to find more bipartisan buy in. We also are working with an exciting new coalition partner, Oregon Organic Coalition, and through this relationship, we will be attending quarterly meetings at ODA. These are really great developments.
What exactly does the bill do? HB 2882 will create a cause of action for liability against patent holders or licensed manufacturers for GE contamination events in Oregon. The bill will not pit farmer against farmer. The parties that will be held responsible are the corporations behind genetic engineering, not the farmers who use them since in some instances, contamination is out of the hands of the farmer who planted the seed or cannot be attributed to any one farm. GE contamination, and the threat of contamination, costs farmers--including Oregon farmers--billions of dollars. It is time to level the playing field and hold the corporations behind the technology that is responsible for this contamination accountable. Learn more about HB 2882 on our website.
What you can do: Please do make sure to contact your legislators and tell them that you are concerned about GE contamination in Oregon and increased canola acreage in the Willamette Valley and want protections for our specialty seeds. You can find your representatives here. Also, if you haven’t done so already, fill out our support form and let us know if you are able to write testimony or testify in person once a hearing is scheduled. Sometimes we don't get much notice so it's helpful to have a list of supporters on hand. Please also continue to share information about HB 2882 on social media, and learn as much as you can about GE contamination events in Oregon and the risks they pose to farmers and our specialty seed industry.
What About Canola? As for the limit on 500 acres of canola allowed in the Willamette Valley that will sunset in July, SB 885 will keep the status quo in place and was voted out of committee in early April.
We thought that the bill was going to go directly to the Senate Floor, but at the very last minute ODA attached a cost to the legislation which means that it had to be referred to the Ways and Means Committee to ensure that there is room in the budget for the bill. Senate Dembrow, the sponsor, said that he is confident that the bill will get out of Ways and Means and head to the Senate floor for a vote. ODA is also still convening meetings with the Canola Rules Advisory Committee (RAC) to work on an agency-led solution instead of a legislative mandate. We are attending the RAC meetings and tracking this issue closely.