Anthony Macuk (KGW), KGW Staff
SALEM, Ore. (KGW) — There are currently only two states in the U.S. that don’t allow drivers to pump their own gas. At some point this week, that number will drop to just one.
The Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2426 earlier this year to legalize self-service gas statewide, and Gov. Tina Kotek signaled Friday that she intends to let the bill go into effect, either by signing it at some point in the coming days or allowing it to become law without her signature when it reaches an Aug. 4 deadline for her to take action.
HB 2426 includes an emergency clause that will make it take effect immediately upon becoming law, which means gas stations throughout Oregon will be free to start offering self-service gas on Saturday at the latest, although they’re not required to do so. The law will also prohibit them from charging different prices for full service and self service.
Even at stations that choose to offer self-service, the attendants aren’t going away; stations will still be required to offer full service on half their pumps, and they can’t offer self-service without providing full service at the same time, e.g. a station can’t leave the pumps running for self-service overnight unless it’s also staffed for full service all night.
The rules are different in certain rural counties, where overnight self-service (even without attendants present) was legalized by a 2015 law and expanded to a 24/7 option in a 2017 update. The current rules still require some rural stations to offer daytime full service as an option, but HB 2426 eliminates that holdover.
Drivers who spoke to KGW at a Chevron gas station on Friday all said the change will make getting gas more efficient, and said they plan to use self-service when gas stations are busy.
“Where we’re from in the lower part of Oregon, it takes probably 15 to 20 minutes to get someone to come out and pump your gas, no matter where you’re at,” said customer Freida Hasko, adding “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go to a different gas station just because there’s nobody available.”
Some customers expressed concern that jobs would be lost in the switch, although station attendant Johnny Connor said he wasn’t concerned about that because stations have had trouble hiring enough attendants anyway.
“I like it because people have choice now,” he said. “Theoretically everyone should be happy about that.”
The announcement of Kotek’s intentions for HB 2426 comes in the form of a planned veto list that her office released on Friday. During a news conference on Thursday, Kotek said the list would include all pending legislation that she intends to veto before the Aug. 4 deadline, so the gas bill’s absence from the list confirms that she doesn’t intend to block it.
Friday’s confirmation comes after weeks of speculation and questions about the future of the bill following the end of the legislative session in June. Kotek’s office previously declined to indicate which way the governor was leaning on the bill, and said she was still evaluating a large amount of mixed feedback about the bill from constituents.
Self-serve gas is a contentious topic in Oregon; voters have previously weighed in and opted to stick with mandatory full service, but more recent polls have suggested that public opinion may have shifted to favor adding a self-serve option. Kotek’s office said it received a large amount of feedback about HB 2426 in the past month that showed Oregonians are still closely split on the issue.
The urban-rural divide
Oregon has required that gas station attendants pump gas for over 70 years, since 1951. It’s been a little more complicated since new rules went into effect in 2018, allowing gas stations in a number of rural eastern Oregon counties to allow self-service at all hours of the day, and in three coastal counties during overnight hours.
Under HB 2426, there will still be a few fiddly rules that divide up the state by urban and rural counties. In 16 of the state’s more populated counties, gas stations can designate up to half of their pumps as self-service. This means that they still need to keep at least one gas attendant on-site at all hours to pump for customers who don’t want to do it themselves.
In 20 of Oregon’s less-populated counties, no attendant is required — meaning stations could go fully self-service if they want to. Regardless, stations across the state have to charge the same price for gas whether it’s being pumped by an attendant or by drivers.
Here are the “rural” counties that don’t have to provide attendants: Baker, Clatsop, Crook, Curry, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Hood River, Jefferson, Klamath, Lake, Malheur, Morrow, Sherman, Tillamook, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Wasco and Wheeler.
The push to divide Oregon up this way came from a bipartisan effort to bridge the divide between the state’s metro areas and rural counties. That’s according to two of the bill’s chief sponsors in the Oregon Senate — one Democrat and one Republican. KGW spoke to them both back in March after the bill passed in the House.
“I really appreciate giving Oregonians opportunity to see Democrats and Republicans working together on issues, and I think this is one example of that, (one) out of many,” said Sen. Janeen Sollman, a Democrat from Hillsboro. “And I just appreciate hearing all different perspectives, and that we see the issue and we come together and try to find a solution for that. So I’ve enjoyed this.”
“I think the bill really highlights that the rural-urban divide isn’t always a negative thing,” agreed Sen. Daniel Bonham, a Republican from The Dalles. “That sometimes it just means some extra consideration. I mean the bill calls out 16 counties to do one thing and 20 counties to do another, and it’s responsive to different parts of the state. And I think, to Senator Sollman’s point, that ability for us to come together and work together and take into consideration what the local needs are, it’s so important. And so, you know, sometimes divide is good and and we can cater a piece of legislation to accommodate the local need.”
KGW Reporter Thomas Shults contributed to this story.
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