Oregon Department of Agriculture

Oregon legislators are considered a bill that would allow the state Department of Agriculture to close food establishments that don't pay their state license fees.

An organization representing grocers is supporting a bill to empower the Oregon Department of Agriculture to shut down food establishments for failing to pay license fees.

A lobbyist for the Northwest Grocery Association said House Bill 2060, which would give ODA the closure authority, is only fair since such firms are still receiving food safety inspections.

“We feel it’s really just after the bad actors,” said Shawn Miller, lobbyist for the group.

The proposal didn’t come up against any opposition during a Jan. 22 public hearing before the House Committee on Agriculture and Land Use.

Currently, the ODA has the power to fine food establishments, including manufacturers and grocers, for disregarding their license fees, but some refuse to pay for years, said Lauren Henderson, the agency’s assistant director.

“We are continuing to inspect food establishments, even those that don’t renew their licenses,” he said, adding that ODA can currently close those firms with food safety problems.

House Bill 2060 would give the agency “without a doubt the clear authority” to order shutdowns for failing to pay license fees, he said.

The agency licenses about 12,000 food establishments in Oregon, but about 600 fail to obtain their initial licenses or pay renewal fees, which equates to about $135,000 a year in lost food safety funds.

Henderson said it’s unlikely ODA would use the closure authority right away, and would probably invoke it with firms that ignore civil penalties for the violation.

Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, said he has a “healthy skepticism” of government and would like to have the procedure “codified” so future ODA leaders follow the same process.

The committee was expected to take a vote on HB 2060 at its next meeting on Jan. 24.

“It’s not fair to the law-abiding businesses that are paying these fees,” said Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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