By Shelby Sebens
PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Oregon, one of only two U.S. states where drivers cannot legally pump their own gasoline, is considering a bill that would allow for some self-serve stations, mostly in rural areas, lawmakers said on Thursday.
The Oregon House has unanimously passed a bill that would allow limited self-service stations, and the bill is expected to be heard in a Senate business and transportation committee later this month, state officials said.
The legislation would allow gas stations in rural Oregon with limited hours to let drivers pay with a credit card and pump their own gas when the stations are unstaffed, said state Representative Cliff Bentz, the bill's sponsor.
“The idea is to make sure we have fuel available across this vast area,” said Bentz, a Republican whose rural and sparsely populated district covers 31 percent of the state's territory.
Bentz pointed to several stretches of road, such as a 150-mile jaunt from Burns to the Nevada border, where gas stations are sparse.
"So many people have no idea how far it is from Nevada to Burns," he said. "People start down that road and there’s nothing there."
At The Fields Station in Fields, Oregon, people will call 911 in the winter if they run out of gas. Owner Tom Downs said local law enforcement will call him at home if they are out on a call to make sure they have enough fuel to return to their stations.
"Oregon's no self-service law just doesn’t work in rural counties," Downs said, adding that in summer people will wait by the pumps before he opens at 8 a.m. He can't afford to staff the station 24/7 and doesn't feel it's safe given the isolated locale.
Officials said the bill will not eliminate full-service stations and will still require rural stations to pump gas when they are staffed.
Oregon voters have rejected multiple initiatives to remove the self-service ban that became law in 1951. The only other state that bans self-service gas stations is New Jersey.
Though the legislation drew no opposition in the House, many people in the state still favor the ban on self-service stations, according to a 2014 Public Policy Polling survey that found 46 percent of Oregonians favor ending the ban while 44 percent support it.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)