By Rob Nosse, State Representative
I’ve had some time to reflect on the 2017 session since it ended in July, and it’s safe to say things were harder this time around than they were in my first term. We started with Donald Trump installed as our President, M 97 failing at the ballot, and a budget deficit of $1.6 billion short of what we needed to fund schools and avoid deep cuts in the services we offer.
In spite of tougher working conditions, we accomplished more than a few things that I am proud of.
Just about every Oregonian has health insurance. We are almost at universal coverage. We found a way to generate enough savings within the Oregon Health Authority and among the Coordinated Care Organizations that deliver the Oregon Health Plan as well as raising enough taxes on hospitals and insurance plans to cover the cost of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Health Care Act. We can afford to continue to offer 1 million Oregonians – a quarter of our state’s population – health care via the Oregon Health Plan.
Given the make-up of the US Supreme Court we are likely to see an attempt to roll back Roe v. Wade. Knowing such a threat is looming, we passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, insuring that access to all reproductive health options including abortion services would be available for all Oregonians, regardless of a person’s ability to pay.
We passed a transportation package so we can maintain roads and bridges and make meaningful state investments in transit and “Safe Routes to Schools” – a first in our state’s history. There have been a number of high profile traffic deaths in our district. The funds this bill raises will go a long way toward protecting Oregonians on the road and pedestrians who walk on the sidewalks.
We also passed a bill to lower the speed limit on the residential streets in our fair city. Who knew that ODOT pre-empted a local jurisdiction’s ability to lower its speed limits?
Despite laws on the books that clearly say it is illegal to discriminate in pay and benefits based on gender, we know that women still earn up to $.30 cents less per hour than men. In recognition of that problem, we passed one of the most aggressive pay equity bills in the Country.
We passed the most progressive legislation of its kind in the United State regarding scheduling for workers in the service, retail, and hospitality industry. No more “just-in-time” scheduling. Workers in these sectors will be given an actual schedule a week in advance and up to two weeks in advance starting in July of 2020 that cannot be changed without their consent.
We made it easier for a transgendered Oregonian to change their identity documents – driver’s licenses and birth certificates.
With that said here is what needs to get done and is still worried about.
We did not reform our business tax structure, and thus we did not raise the revenue we need to shore up state services and make investments in our K-12, and community college and public university system. We could not find the one Republican vote necessary for a 3/5 majority in either the House or the Senate. I hope the 2019 session will be different.
While we improved funding for statewide housing programs, we barely made a dent in this problem. HB 2004 was weakened to the point of almost being meaningless, and we still could not pass it in the Senate. As long as the state preemption exists, some form of rent stabilization or rent control will remain elusive.
The Bullseye Glass issue is still fresh in my mind. I am disappointed that we did not provide the funding we need for the Cleaner Air Oregon initiative. Industry lobbyists convinced too many of my peers that the modest fee needed to run the program was too much. Hopefully we can fix that in the short session in February of 2018.
Finally I am worried about the funding for the Oregon Health Plan. Some Republican lawmakers are pushing a measure to repeal the carefully crafted tax package we passed with bi-partisan support to stand up and fund our state’s Medicaid Program. If this gets on the ballot, we are going to have a divisive campaign over the holidays that could put this program and federal matching dollars at risk, potentially causing over a million Oregonians who use this plan to lose health care.
Candidly, the election season of 2018 is already looming large in my mind. If we want to make progress on all of the things that stalled, people in SE Portland are going to have to join up with others around the state and help change the makeup of the legislature.
Watch for future columns about what I hope to prioritize in the coming short session in February of 2018.