ONTARIO — Two of the Oregon House Bills that the city of Ontario payed $24,000 for a lobbyist firm to see through “are effectively dead on the House side,” according to Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, the lawmaker who introduced the bills this session on behalf of the city of Ontario. However, there may be hope in a new Senate proposal, for which a work session is scheduled on Wednesday.

“We were unable to get the chair to have interest in scheduling a work session on them,” Owens wrote in an email reply to the newspaper last week seeking information on the status of House Bills 2014 and 2015, both of which sought to increase tax revenue from sales of marijuana for municipalities. House Bill 2014 would have amended the current Oregon Revised Statute related to the distribution of collected tax money from the state, and would have required that disbursements be based on a city’s population and number of licenses for marijuana-related businesses.

House Bill 2015, proposed to allow municipalities to increase the local option tax from 3% to 10%; the maximum is currently capped at 3% per state law.

Owens said that Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, had recently tried to gain some ground on the local option tax with a new bill, Senate Bill 864, which was submitted as a priority bill “in order to see if we could have more success on the Senate side.”

Findley, on Friday, said he introduced SB 864 about 3 weeks to a month ago.

“Rep. Owens told me there was no traction in the House to move his bills, so I had a conversation with the Senate President [Peter Courtney], staff and the chair of the Senate Committee on Finance and Revenue, Sen. Ginny Burdick,” Findley said.

Findley’s proposal would allow the local jurisdictions to pass and ordinance to raise the local option tax, which would then be sent to a vote of the people. A public hearing was held in the Senate Committee on Finance and Revenue on May 20 with “favorable comments and discussion from other jurisdictions,” he said.

The reason the House was reluctant to get the bill started, Findley said, was theoretically, that chamber has to start measures related to state tax increases. However, he noted, this was not a state tax increase as it relates only to municipalities, such as cities and counties.

SB 864 is essentially a replication of HB 2015, Findley said. However, after consulting with Burdick and others, a provision was added that states counties, which have not banned the sales of marijuana, would get 20% of that sale, too. Findley noted this would not apply for Malheur County, as it does have a ban in place.

“I don’t know how that amendment is going to fair,” he said, but added that representatives from two cities on the west side of the state loved the bill, but spoke out against the amendment. That pushback came from Eugene and Medford, Findley said.

Ontario City Manager Adam Brown said the city was aware that the House bills had not survived the session, adding that Findley and the lobbying firm hope is there will be more support for the proposal to raise the local option tax on the Senate side.

“They feel if there is support of a Senate bill, the idea might get some legs in the House,” the city manager said.

The firm has not charged the city any more money to start chasing the Senate proposal and see it get passed in this session, as it’s all under the same umbrella, according to Brown.

The city’s lobbying firm testified at the first meeting, with a letter presented by members of the firm. In that letter, Ontario’s actual population of 11,000 people is paralleled with the Boise metropolitan area with 750,000 people, stating that Ontario is the closest access to legal marijuana for that fast-growing metro area. It also notes that Ontario, despite its actual population is the “second-largest retailer of cannabis behind only Portland and accounts for 10% of all Oregon sales.”

It goes on to state that Ontario’s recreational marijuana retailers are grossing about $100 million in sales per year, with about 2,500 daily transactions, alleging that “90% of those sales” are to Idaho citizens.

Ontario officials are keeping a careful eye on Findley’s new proposal as it work its way through the last few weeks of the 2021 Legislative session, which is set to wrap up in 20 days.

“We’re watching it,” Brown said. “”And we’ll be on hand and ready to participate if they need us.”

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