Oregon self-serve gas bill unsigned; Kotek says decision coming Friday

SALEM, Ore. (KGW) — It’s been more than a month since the Oregon Legislature passed a bill legalizing self-serve gas throughout the state, but the measure still needs Gov. Tina Kotek’s signature before Oregonians can start helping themselves at the pumps. Kotek has maintained that she’s still evaluating the bill, but she now says she’ll make her decision clear on Friday.

“It’s not the only bill we’re reviewing, and I think what I would say is ‘just because everybody else does it’ is not a good argument,” Kotek said when asked about the bill on Thursday. “Does this work for Oregonians? Do Oregonians want it? Will it be safe? Will it work for communities? And that is the filter that I’m taking to the bill, and you’ll know by tomorrow what my plan is.”

Kotek said she has a Friday deadline to release a list of any remaining legislation that she intends to veto. If the gas bill doesn’t wind up on that list, it would signal that she intends to either sign it or allow it to become law without her signature.

The gas measure, House Bill 2426, was one of more than 300 bills that landed on Kotek’s desk in hectic final days of the 2023 legislative session in late June. The Oregon Constitution gives the governor five days to act on newly-passed legislation, but if the session ends during that period, the cutoff gets extended to 30 days from adjournment, excluding weekends. That means Kotek’s deadline is Aug. 4 for HB 2426 and most other bills passed during the end-of-session sprint.

Oregon is one of only two states that ban self-serve gas, and although the rules have been softened over the years, multiple prior attempts at statewide self-service never made it to the governor’s desk. Some recent polls have showed strong support for self-service, but Kotek’s staff told KGW she has received 5,550 emails about HB 2426 in the past month, with a relatively slim majority of 53% in favor. Recent feedback from viewers of KGW’s The Story has been similarly mixed.

The Aug. 4 deadline means Kotek has a little over a week left to make a decision. Friday’s veto list should make her intentions clear, although it could be several more days before she takes action. Here are each of her options, and what will happen if she chooses them:

If Kotek signs the bill

If Kotek signs the bill at any point on or before Aug. 4, it will immediately become law. New laws in Oregon generally take effect on Jan. 1 of the following year, but the gas bill includes an emergency clause, which means it takes effect immediately upon becoming law.

Any gas station in the state would be free to start letting drivers operate the pumps as soon as Kotek signs the bill — although most drivers would still have the option to ask for full service. The bill mandates that gas stations in urban counties continue to offer full service on half their pumps. The bill also maintains an existing Oregon law mandating that stations charge the same price for full service and self service gas.

If Kotek vetoes the bill

If the governor vetoes the bill on or before Aug. 4, it will be sent back to the legislature for reevaluation. If the House and Senate both re-pass it and at least two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers vote in favor, then Kotek’s veto would be overridden and the bill would automatically become law.

It’s unclear whether the legislature could muster the votes for a veto override. HB 2426 cleared the House by a comfortable 47-10 vote, but it passed the Senate on a narrower vote of 16-9, so it would need to win over at least four more Senators to hit the threshold for a veto override.

However, the legislature is currently not in session and is not scheduled to convene again until next year. The governor has the option to call a special session to take up vetoed legislation, but if Kotek didn’t exercise that power, then the vetoed bill wouldn’t come up until the start of the next scheduled session in February 2024.

If Kotek takes no action

The Oregon Constitution specifies that if the governor does not sign or veto a bill by the deadline, it will become law without the governor’s signature. If Kotek takes no action by the end of the day on Aug. 4, the result would essentially be the same as if she had signed it — drivers would be able to pump their own gas in Oregon starting Aug. 5.

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