Oregon Senate Passes Bill to Provide Tax Relief for Wildfire Survivors, Allowing Them to Keep More of Their Settlements

SALEM, Oregon — The Oregon Senate unanimously passed a bill on Wednesday that aims to provide financial relief to survivors of wildfires in the state. Sponsored by Senator Brian Boquist, the bill, known as Senate Bill 1520, introduces a tax exemption for court awards and settlements related to wildfires.

The legislation comes in response to several lawsuits filed against PacifiCorp, which a jury found responsible for sparking four Labor Day wildfires in 2020. Survivors of these wildfires have received millions of dollars in settlements and awards. However, due to federal tax laws, they have only been able to retain a small portion, sometimes as little as 20-30%.

By creating this exemption, the bill aims to ensure that wildfire survivors can keep more of the money they receive from lawsuits. The tax relief provided would apply to federal taxes as well. Unlike an earlier version of the bill, the updated legislation includes both settlement and jury awards.

Senator Boquist stated that the bill is the culmination of a bipartisan effort to help wildfire victims rebuild their lives and communities. Many survivors have received settlements from PacifiCorp and are eager to start the rebuilding process. However, the burden of owing a significant percentage of their settlement to state and federal taxes has hindered progress. The tax relief proposed in this bill gives them a chance to begin rebuilding their homes, businesses, and communities.

The scope of the bill extends to a class action lawsuit against PacifiCorp, representing wildfire survivors in the Santiam Canyon and Lincoln City areas. Currently, 26 plaintiffs in this lawsuit have been awarded $175 million for damages caused by the Santiam, Echo Mountain, South Obenchain, and 242 fires. However, there are approximately 5,000 fire survivors who could potentially receive an award from this lawsuit.

Senator Lynn Findley, a chief sponsor of the bill, emphasized the importance of easing the burdens faced by Oregonians who have suffered immense loss due to catastrophic wildfires in recent years.

The bill will now move to the House for further consideration.