BILL OF THE WEEK: Legislative Concept 3697
SPONSOR: Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend)
WHAT IT WOULD DO: Require state employees who live full time in other states to pay their own travel costs when they return to Oregon on state business. Currently, state HR policy that went into effect in December 2021 says that “employees who work under the full-time remote work model must be reimbursed by the agency for travel to and from the central workplace.”
PROBLEM IT SEEKS TO SOLVE: Remote work soared during the pandemic. At least 500 of the state’s 45,000 employees live and work far from Salem, according to data provided by the Oregon Department of Administrative Services.
The DAS list contains 494 names but does not include employees at the Oregon Lottery, the State Treasury, Secretary of State’s Office or Department of Justice. Those employees are classified as “full-time remote,” which means they’ve gotten permission to live and work in another state and are now expected to work in Oregon fewer than eight days a year.
The remote worker total includes 29 in Texas and 12 in Florida—states with no income taxes—and four in Hawaii, which levies high taxes but also offers big waves. When managers want these employees to appear in person, it’s on the taxpayer dime. (DAS says it does not have a total for how much the policy cost last year.)
WHO SUPPORTS IT: When WW first reported last year that two Oregon Lottery managers lived in Florida and Texas, Knopp was incredulous. He now says he has 29 Senate and 23 House co-sponsors.
“I was outraged at the unfair policy and that taxpayers were footing the bill for out of state employees to be flown back into Oregon,” Knopp says. “The entire state senate has agreed with me and are sponsoring the bill.”
State Treasurer Tobias Read, a Democrat, is also an outspoken critic of using state dollars for the remote workers’ commuting costs.
WHO OPPOSES IT: State officials do not have a position on Knopp’s bill, but in a statement, DAS spokeswoman Andrea Chiapella defended current state policy: “Offering remote and hybrid work plays an integral role in state government being a competitive employer, both in terms of recruiting a diverse candidate pool and in retaining top talent. As we evolve as a workplace and as an employer of choice, we will continue to reevaluate those policies to ensure that we are providing the important services the public relies on while prioritizing great customer service and accountability.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: As Senate minority leader, Knopp has the pull to get his bill a hearing. And with bipartisan support, he’s likely to get traction for a measure that would show lawmakers being fiscally responsible, although powerful public employee unions like the perk for members. NIGEL JAQUISS.