By State Representative Rob Nosse
As you have hopefully heard, we held a special session of the Legislature in December to allocate additional rental assistance and deal with other pressing budget challenges.
After the holidays (and maybe just a bit during them too) I will start to devote my focus to the upcoming “short session” which starts in February.
The Oregon Legislature is a seasonal legislature. We used to be a biannual body that met every two years for a session that went as long as we could stand but in 2010, we changed the rules to meet every year.
Now we have a 160-day “long session” every odd year and a 35-day “short session” every even year, plus special sessions whenever the need arises.
The short session is done in a jam-packed time frame. Every legislator is limited to two bills. (During the long session there is no limit.) I thought this month I could go over the two bills I’m sponsoring as well as one from the Behavioral Health Committee I am working very closely on, as well as other things to watch for during the session.
The first of my two bills requires pay parity for Naturopathic physicians. Oregon has an ongoing shortage of primary care providers. The state and federal government spends nearly $60 million every biennium to retain Primary Care Providers in underserved areas of the state. This includes payments to the over 1000 Naturopathic Doctors across Oregon.
Right now, Naturopaths are consistently reimbursed at only about 60 percent of billing when compared to medical physicians. With the average load of debt for Naturopaths graduating from university being $250,000, this level of reimbursement is not sustainable and means Oregonians lose access to care.
My district has many Naturopaths and I think it is important that these doctors are paid properly. The only way to prevent this practice of underpayment is legislative intervention. That is what I hope to pass this coming session.
My second bill would create a system of grants for the arts and culture sector, so they have help keeping their doors open for when it safe to be fully open again. The arts and culture sector has suffered massively due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
These institutions are important to our communities and must be kept afloat. I will work to secure funding for them in February so they can get financial assistance and keep their lights on.
There will also be bills that build on the work done in the 2021 long session, to support communities and families most impacted by COVID-19, the lopsided economy, wildfires, the climate crisis and the ongoing impacts of structural racism.
There will be bills ensuring that K-12 students and teachers have the resources they need to catch up after a year of online learning and deal with other classroom impacts.
Other bills will support frontline workers who keep our economy going and our communities safe through the pandemic and bills rebuilding our broken childcare system so every child has access to quality childcare.
We will be working to make big investments in workforce development, so workers and businesses are ready to come back stronger than ever. There will be bills to continue our work of making policing more transparent and accountable, in order to keep all of our communities safe.
Lastly, most of you know I serve on the Behavioral Health Committee and that during the last session, we made a historic $350 million investment in all things behavioral and mental health. This historic investment was needed, but it was focused on long term investments and solutions.
Unfortunately, since the long session ended, the behavioral health system has been experiencing an unprecedented workforce crisis. Across the board, providers are struggling to attract and maintain a workforce, which has forced the closure of some programs and threatened many more.
We cannot afford to reduce access to behavioral and mental health care when many people are struggling with their mental health. We must pay this workforce better.
In the long-term, we need to raise the rates we pay these workers, but ensure these long-term investments are effective we need an emergency investment to keep the system functioning.
In February, I will be working to create a grant program that providers can draw from that will allow them to pay their workers better and give them financial assistance for meeting workforce challenges.
I’m sure the 35 days of this session will fly by (whether fun is being had or not). Hopefully there will not be a Republican walkout like there was in 2020.
In the meantime, I hope you all got quality time off during the holidays and are able to stay warm and safe from the Omicron variant.