The 2024 “short” legislative session came to a close after 32 days, with 291 bills introduced, and 135 bills passed. By all accounts, this session was one of the least divisive in many years, with bipartisan agreements reached to pass budgets and large policy packages dominated by housing and public safety issues.

The Joint Committee on Transportation (JCT) met a number of times, taking up policy and committee bills, but primarily focusing on informational sessions regarding the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) deficit, 2025 revenue, local tolling, and the Highway Cost Allocation Study. With workgroup support from the Oregon Association of County Engineers and Surveyors (OACES) and Association of Oregon Counties (AOC), the legislature also passed Senate Bill 1566, county right-of-way permit fee authority.

More information is below on the successful passage of SB 1566, a full recap and 2024 OACES Legislative Summary will be available soon.

Legislature grants counties long-sought right-of-way permit fee authority

Until the passage of Senate Bill 1566 during the 2024 short session, Oregon law prohibited counties from charging fees for the permit issued to water, gas, electric, and communications utilities for construction, repair, or maintenance work in the county right-of-way.

The statutory preemption on permit fees meant that precious State Highway Fund dollars intended for county road improvements and maintenance were instead subsidizing public and private utility operations. AOC and OACES have prioritized the lifting of this preemption through legislative action for several legislative sessions.

The concept was introduced as Senate Bill 635 in the 2023 session, and AOC participated in a months-long work group with utilities that was ultimately fruitless. Before the end of the 2023 session, AOC successfully advocated for an interim committee work group sanctioned by the Joint Committee on Transportation. That workgroup was led by committee co-chair Senator Chris Gorsek and committee member Senator Lynn Findley. Five county representatives participated in several meetings around the state during the interim and negotiated the language that became Senate Bill 1566, which was introduced as one of JCT’s three short-session bills. AOC and counties are grateful to staff and commissioners from Multnomah, Polk, Union, Jefferson, and Lincoln counties, as well as the leadership and dedication from Senators Gorsek and Findley, without whom SB 1566 would not have passed.

SB 1566 removes the preemption in ORS 758.010 and allows counties to charge cost-recovery fees for permits issued to the utilities that could previously operate in the county right-of-way free of charge. The language includes negotiated permit fee exemptions for vegetation management, routine maintenance, and emergencies. Completed fee-eligible permits must be approved or denied by the county within 15 days. SB 1566 sunsets in 2031, so the legislature will have to review and renew the authority it provides to counties during a future session.

SB 1566 is permissive – if a county wishes to pursue the fee structure the bill authorizes, it must pass an ordinance. SB 1566 contains language that allows a county to begin ordinance development immediately and includes an emergency clause so it will be in effect upon the governor’s signature. AOC and OACES will create opportunities to collaborate on ordinance development and track the efficacy of this new authority over the next five years.