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Bend gas station owner testifies in favor of latest self-serve gas legislation in Salem

It's been a long-standing debate -- might lawmakers make the switch?

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The owner of several Central Oregon gas stations went before state lawmakers (in virtual fashion) Tuesday to testify on behalf of allowing self-service at the gas pumps, something supporters have been lobbying to see for years.

The proposed House Bill 2426 would give Oregonians the choice to pump their own gas, rather than requiring they fill up with an attendant.

If enacted into law, the bill would effectively overturn 70 years of Oregon regulation. While some rural counties already allow self-service at the pump, due to some recent changes in state law, the bill would make the choice universal statewide.

New Jersey and Oregon are the only two remaining states that don't allow self-service at the pump.

Supporters say recent polls show a majority of Oregonians support the proposition, and would enjoy having the freedom to pump their own gas. Opponents of the bill argue that the move would eliminate jobs from the workforce, and could even be a safety issue.

Here's testimony prepared by Central Oregon gas station operator Hasseeb Shojai, who NewsChannel 21 also spoke to early last year about the issue.

Here's a news release from the pro-self-serve group 'Oregonians for Choice at the Pump,' who said no opponents of the bill testified at Tuesday's hearing:

Oregon small businesses urge legislators to support House Bill 2426 and allow Oregonians choice in fueling
• Lifting the ban would protect existing jobs and access to fuel
• Attendants would still be available for elderly and disabled people, and for anyone who prefers assistance
• Polling shows majority of Oregonians want the choice to pump their own gas or be served by an attendant

Oregon legislators today heard from small and family-owned businesses calling for their support of bipartisan legislation that would lift the state’s widespread ban on self-serve gas.

Haseeb Shojai, a first-generation Oregonian who moved to the Bend area in 2004, was among those testifying in support of House Bill 2426 at a public hearing in the House Committee on Emergency Management, General Government, and Veterans.

“As a business owner and as an operator of gas stations, the last three years have been increasingly challenging,” said Shojai, who owns and operates four gas stations in Bend, Madras, Prineville and Metolius. “From the pandemic, to intense wildfire smoke, to a huge shift in employment, our ability to operate normally is no longer an option.”

Proponents say HB 2426 strikes the right balance between the needs of consumers, businesses and gas station employees.

Giving drivers a choice is a solution that ensures access for elderly and disabled customers as well as for those who simply prefer for an attendant to pump their gas. The change is that those who prefer to pump their own would be allowed to.

It protects existing jobs and access to fuel, and it streamlines a complicated patchwork of rules that exist across the state.

Gas station owners and operators say HB 2426 would also provide relief they desperately need to remain open and able to meet Oregonians’ needs as a labor shortage continues dragging down the service industry.

“We don’t know if we can stay open tomorrow or the next day or even next week due to the labor shortage,” Shojai said. “We offer very competitive wages in line with major box stores and national retailers – we are not skimping on anything to retain and hire employees – but, unfortunately, it has been really, really difficult to find help.”

“The shortage of labor has not only made it difficult to operate, but at times it also creates unsafe and difficult situations for the only gas attendant at the station,” he added. “Customers are becoming impatient, and the gas attendants have to work a lot harder to cater to customer needs. The different rules in different counties have also created confusion for the customers, as they only have knowledge of the rules for their own county and specifically the town where they live and get gas.”

Louis Hernandez is a veteran who owns gas stations in Multnomah and Washington counties. He has gone from having 24 employees three years ago to 13 employees today.

“I just can’t find reliable folks to come in and do the work,” he said. “It’s the biggest stumbling block for us.”

Hernandez said it isn’t just gas stations and their employees who are harmed by these circumstances, but also customers, who have to wait longer to be served or drive farther to find the gas they rely on.

“At the end of the day, sure, maybe it’s the business owner who will lose, but the general public does too,” he said.

House Bill 2426 has strong bipartisan support. It is sponsored by Rep. Julie Fahey (D-West Eugene/Veneta) and Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis (R-Albany), along with Sen. Daniel Bonham (R-The Dalles) and Sen. Janeen Sollman (D-Hillsboro).

“We have all seen it or experienced it: Long lines at the gas station because pumps are roped off,” Boshart Davis said. “You might see cones or garbage cans or crates in front of those pumps, because they simply do not have enough staff to work all of the pumps. This bill has several benefits: Give Oregonians a choice in how they fuel their cars, speed up the gas lines and ease staffing shortages.”

Sollman added that the bill will allow “businesses to remain open, and give Oregonians the choice to pump their own gas – a concept that two-thirds of Oregonians support and that 48 states already allow.”

“This is smart policy that makes sense and allows people the freedom of choice,” she said. “Oregonians can choose which method they prefer while giving business owners the flexibility they need to serve the public well.”

Fahey said it’s important for legislators to be responsive to the public’s needs and to reevaluate the policies now in place if they’re no longer serving Oregonians.

“Personally, at the grocery store, I usually use the attended checkout lanes, but if there’s a long line and I’m in a hurry and I only have a few things, I’ll use the self-checkout. I expect if this bill passes I’ll do the same thing when it comes to pumping my own gas,” Fahey said. “Giving consumers this choice just seems like common sense to me.”

Polling shows Oregonians widely support the concept. A January 2021 poll conducted by DHM Research found that nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Oregonians support giving drivers the choice of whether to pump their own gas. Majority support existed across all age groups, political parties and regions of the state.

A survey conducted by The Nelson Report in October 2021 found even stronger support for a modified proposal providing a choice between self- and attendant-service fueling. The poll found that 68.8 percent of registered Oregon voters favor having a choice of both self- and attendant-service fueling options.

House Bill 2426 would also begin to simplify a complicated patchwork of self-service rules that Oregon drivers now encounter and that vary based on location, time of day and whether a gas station is connected to a convenience store or other business.

For example, in Clatsop, Curry and Tillamook counties on the coast, self-service is allowed between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., and if the gas station also has a convenience store or other business on the property that is open, the station must provide an attendant to pump gas if a customer requests one.

In many Eastern Oregon counties, self-service is already allowed at many gas stations regardless of the hour.

Under HB 2426, gas stations would be required to offer attended service for the same price as self-service gas.

Eastern Oregon counties would continue to be allowed to offer self-service gas, with Klamath and Umatilla Counties, along with coastal Clatsop, Curry and Tillamook Counties, also allowed to pump their own.

Motorists would have the choice of self-service in other counties as well, although gas stations would be required to designate at least 50% of their pumps for attendant-provided service in the following counties: Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Coos, Deschutes, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Washington and Yamhill.

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Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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Matt Degenhardt

Matt Degenhardt is the evening weather anchor for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Matthere.


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