Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Rhode Island to add nonbinary gender option on state IDs … Seattle mayor proposes tax on home heating oil … Minnesota governor urges tariff relief for farmers.
The city council of Portland, Oregon, voted to impose a $60 annual rental registration fee on landlords. The revenue raised by the fees will fund the city’s Rental Services Office, a new unit that tracks tenant complaints about negligent landlords, and then enforces fair housing laws. The office also answers questions about local housing law for tenants, landlords and the city council. The office is currently funded in part by marijuana tax revenue, but is facing a $6 million gap, which the $60 fees are expected to close. The fee follows a move last year by the city council to create a registration program that asks landlords to register any unit they rent in the city. Previously, the registration program had no fee, and landlord’s compliance was optional; still,17,100 units were registered voluntarily. Now, the city hopes to have all the estimated 120,000 rental properties registered within the year through the mandatory system; the only units excluded from the fee are those that are government-owned or licensed affordable housing options. Members of the city council said that the fee is necessary due to the housing crisis in the city, which some fear will lead to worse apartment conditions as people become desperate for available units. Mayor Ted Wheeler, who has made housing a priority of his administration, praised the council’s efforts. "Quality data is something that both landlords and developers and tenants’ rights organizations have requested. This is the way we help fund the program to do that,” he said. But others were afraid that the cost will simply be passed down to tenants, and some property managers, including Jessica Greenlee, who sits on the city’s Rental Services Commission, said that the Rental Services Office’s budget was out of line. “A third of the cost for the rental registration fee is being dedicated just to administrative and software costs. Right now there is not a line item in here for inspections, which is where the majority of rental registration fees typically go in other cities,” Greenlee said. Commissioner Amanda Fritz was the lone ‘no’ vote on the council, and said she was concerned that landlords are already hit with too many fees. “I would have supported this if it had come to us last year, before all the other changes. I agree that we need a rental registration program that continues to be funded—however, on top of all the other additional regulations that we’ve put on landlords, and the fact that this fee is not going to help pay for universal inspections … it’s regressive,” she said. [The Oregonian; Portland Mercury; Oregon Public Radio]
NONBINARY OPTION | Rhode Island will soon add the option of a nonbinary gender on driver’s licenses and state IDs. Gov. Gina Raimondo said that she decided to push for the policy after hearing from transgender and nonbinary residents of the state who did not want to identify as male or female on documents. Instead, residents will be able to forgo an ‘M’ or ‘F’ designation for an ‘X.’ Raimondo said the option will likely be available next year. “It’s just basic fairness, so that everyone is treated fairly and recognized by their government for who they are. We have heard about it from the community, the transgender community, the LGTBQ community,” Raimondo said. She noted that the change will be easy to implement in Rhode Island, and does not require legislation or statutory changes. Rhode Island is not the first state to debut this—about a dozen other states also give residents the option to choose nonbinary on IDs, and some even allow parents to choose this on birth certificates in an attempt to empower children to choose their gender when they are older. Ethan Huckel, the president of a transgender activism organization in Rhode Island, said that having a gender on an ID “that doesn’t comply with your reality is really discomforting” and prevents people from engaging in activities that require showing an ID. “We have been in conversations [with the Raimondo administration] for a while, and there has not been a clear statement on how long it would take to happen. Now that the governor has made a statement saying she supports it, that is good. There could have been a more definitive timeline, but it could have been worse,” Huckel said. [WPRI; Providence Journal]
HEATING OIL | Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has proposed a home heating oil tax in an effort to convert the 18,000 homeowners in the city who rely on crude oil to electric heating systems. The mayor’s office drafted legislation for the city council to consider. “Moving faster to convert Seattle’s homes off of dirty fossil fuels is good for our climate, our economy, and our children’s future,” Durkan said. Crude oil is not very efficient for heating, and converting 18,000 homes would be equivalent to removing 9,000 cars from the road. Durkan’s proposed tax of 24 cents per gallon would fund a program to help households switch to cleaner heat sources by the year 2028, and about 1,000 low income households would be eligible for a free conversion. Councilmember Mike O’Brien said he will sponsor the legislation in the council, and argued that the city needs to be entirely off fossil fuels by 2030. “This is relatively easy to do, to say, hey, we want to help you pay for a conversion and your utility bill will go down,” he said. The mayor estimated that electrically heating a house costs about half what heating it with oil does. Robert Lauch, of the Ballard Oil Company, a heating oil provider, said that the proposal is a “tax on old people,” because many heating oil customers are elderly and the tax will largely be borne by them. “Business never pays for anything. If you don’t pass the cost on to the consumer, you’re not in business anymore,” he said. [Seattle Times; Patch.com]
TARIFF RELIEF | Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said that the trade war between the U.S. and China, and the resulting tariffs, is hurting farmers in his state. Walz, a Democrat, told farmers this week that while he hopes to help them, trade policy “comes through the executive branch through the president.” Walz then urged President Trump to change course. “Instead of going to political rallies in Ohio, fix the trade war. This is a president that during the campaign told us trade wars were easy to win and painless, tell that to producers across Minnesota. Tell that to consumers across Minnesota,” he said. Walz also cautioned that new tariffs, set to begin on September 1, will impact hundreds of items from China. [Associated Press; Grand Forks Herald]
LGBTQ EDUCATION | New Jersey this year became the second state to pass legislation mandating that schools point out when historical figures were gay, and more broadly, requiring schools to teach LGBTQ history. Now that the policy is set to be enforced, one mayor is pushing back, and urging localities to pressure the state’s governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, to repeal the law. Alfonso Cirulli, the mayor of Barnegat, said that the government has no right to teach children morality. “They’re just forcing an issue on kids, where I don’t think the state has any interest sticking their nose. Everybody has a right to live their lives the way they want—I have friends of all ethnicity and color and persuasion—but they crossed a line with this,” he said. New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, the sponsor of the bill, said that Cirulli did not understand the bill’s intended purpose. “To me, he’s leading with ignorance. We’re trying to promote tolerance and understanding. We’re teaching our kids. By having our leaders condemn it, it’s sending a very wrong message,” she said. [Asbury Park Press; Washington Post]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.