Months after deadly heat wave, Oregon lawmakers weigh access to air conditioning

SALEM, Ore. (KGW) — Months after a record-setting heat wave killed close to 100 Oregonians, lawmakers in Salem are taking up a pair of bills aimed at guaranteeing access to air conditioning.

House Bill 4058 would direct the Oregon Health Authority to immediately buy and distribute air conditioning units, while also creating a long-term program to help vulnerable Oregonians install heat pumps in their homes. Those provide heating and cooling.

Senate Bill 1536 would take a number of steps to ensure tenants get access to air conditioning in their rental units and complexes. Among other things, it would largely prohibit landlords from banning air conditioners in leases. Landlords, under this bill, would have to allow window-mounted AC units, as long as they fit a list of criteria. Their installation can’t, for instance, damage the building.

State Sen. Kayse Jama (D-Portland) said both bills have broad bipartisan support in the wake of June’s deadly heatwave.

“These were preventable deaths that happened and any time that any of us lost one of our community members in preventable deaths is really heartbreaking,” he said of the victims.

RELATED: Six months after Oregon’s deadly heatwave, what have we learned?

Groups representing landlords have been weighing in on these bills, suggesting amendments but supporting the overall goal.

Christian Bryant, president of RPM Education, which provides education to property owners, told KGW Friday he’s “neutral” on the bills.

“I will say that those involved in the drafting of these bills did listen to the landlord representatives’ concerns which I am happy about of course,” Bryant wrote. “My concerns are possible unintended consequences. If the rental is in a neighborhood or condo community with an Owner’s Association that restricts the use of window-based AC units then a landlord may be forced to look at installing a ducted or ductless systems costing thousands of dollars. Or will the HOA be required to allow window-based AC units?”

Sen. Jama and Rep. Pam Marsh (D-Southern Jackson County) said they’re taking feedback from property owners seriously and considering amendments.

Rep. Marsh added it’s clear bills like these are becoming the new norm, in an effort to help vulnerable Oregonians grapple with the worst repercussions of our climate crisis.

“I am somebody who always has resisted the idea of adapting to climate change, thinking we should be changing the indicators that are creating this on the ground. We still need to do that work,” she said. “But what we see now is that people have to have support in order to coexist with these changing conditions.”

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