Grant Stringer

(Oregon Capital Chronicle) A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is once again trying to give Oregonians the power to pump their own gasoline.

House Bill 2426 would allow for self-service gas pumps. But it would require gas stations in some counties to keep attendants for drivers who might need help filling up — and to protect those jobs.

The bill would require gas stations to keep no less than half of their pumps full-service in 16 counties that are mostly in western Oregon. Stations could be totally self-service in eastern Oregon or on most of the coast.

Self-service gas has long been a white whale for Oregon drivers frustrated with long waits at the pump and, lately, understaffed gas stations. Oregon law has required attendants to pump gas since 1951 in part to provide jobs and prevent spills.

Lawmakers carved out an exception for counties with less than 40,000 residents in 2018, making the state a confusing patchwork of different rules, the bill’s sponsors say.

similar bill died in last year’s short legislative session because of a last-minute shakeup, Willamette Week reported.

Four lawmakers are pushing the bill this year: Republican Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis of Albany, House Majority Leader Julie Fahey of Eugene, Republican Sen. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles and Democratic Sen. Janeen Sollman of Hillsboro.

The chief sponsors met for the bill’s first hearing Tuesday afternoon in the House Committee on Emergency Management, General Government and Veterans.

Boshart Davis emphasized the bill would give drivers the choice to pump their own gas and speed up queues. She said gas stations are suffering from a labor shortage spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic that’s made it impossible for employers to hire attendants.

That’s the case for Louis Hernandez, who owns four gas stations in the Portland  area.

He testified that he’s raised wages to $18 an hour but still can’t find enough employees to pump gas. When Hernandez can’t staff the pumps, he closes for the day, he said. He sometimes pays homeless people in the vicinity for help.

“It’s become a very challenging time for us all,” said Hernandez.

Haseeb Shoja, who owns gas stations in central Oregon, said the attendants he can hire struggle to stand for long hours in extreme heat and firesmoke.

In July, former Gov. Kate Brown temporarily allowed self-service pumping to protect workers during a blistering heatwave.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal enforces Oregon’s law at the pump. During the hearing, Chief Deputy Travis Medina said the office received no safety complaints when the rules were relaxed.

The Northwest Grocery Association supports the bill as does Oregonians for Choice at the Pump, an advocacy group. Both are represented by lobbyist Shawn Miller.

Not everyone on the House committee appeared convinced the bill should pass.

Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, said  attendants might not be available at required stations if the bill becomes law, leaving drivers with no options.

“It seems like you’re trying to sell it as choice when, in fact, it won’t be choice,” he said.