By State Representative Rob Nosse
In March I wrote this column before the legislative session ended. I tried to avoid making too many predictions, not knowing how all the chips would fall. I have been burned on predictions before. This month I am providing a summary of how the session played out, highlight some important bills and some of what I got done.
But first, I want to say what a nice a surprise it was that the session did not drag on to the bitter end. Republicans had slowed down the progress by requiring that bills be read word for word before a vote, a practice we routinely skipped for many years but have been forced deal with again recently.
This means hours spent with a computer reading bills while we try to accomplish other things. However, the day before we adjourned, Republicans let us to suspend the rules and skip this step. That meant we could get through the remaining bills and adjourn mid-day Friday, March 4. There also wasn’t a walk out.
While the reading of the bills got a bit annoying, behind the scenes I was glad to see friendlier relations in Salem. The 2021 special session had left relations between Republican and Democrats pretty bruised.
While I never want to sacrifice important progressive priorities that Democrats want to pursue, there are ways to create some camaraderie among all of us in Salem and this past session felt like a positive step in that direction.
I think the new Speaker and new majority and minority leaders all gave each other a little bit of grace and hopefully that bodes well for the 2023 session. Of course, we have an election to get through first. We’ll have to see how it all turns out.
Back to the items we passed in this session, we addressed a massive budget surplus and really got a lot done.
We allocated $400 million to respond to and prevent homelessness, increase the supply of affordable housing and keep people in affordable homes. These investments will address immediate statewide needs, including more shelter capacity, rapid rehousing, resource referrals and services.
Students learn best when they are in classrooms five days a week. We knew teachers and schools needed more support to be successful coming off the pandemic. We made a $300 million education investment, including funding to recruit and retain critical staff, like teachers, nurses, school counselors and substitutes, so that our kids can stay in healthy, safe learning environments.
For the second consecutive year, the state will support summer learning activities. This will include support to help high school students stay on track for graduation, provide mental health support for kids and help communities develop day camps, park programs and tutoring.
To help small businesses meet their workforce needs, we supported over $200 million in investments in career pathways and programs to retain and attract workers in critical sectors.
We invested $100 million to stabilize the childcare work force and increase access to affordable childcare statewide.
Oregonians who received the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in 2020 will receive a one-time $600 stimulus payment. This means about a quarter million Oregonians in low-wage jobs will receive a direct payment to help cover the costs of everyday necessities like groceries, prescriptions and diapers.
We passed a bill that prevents police officers from stopping motorists for some minor infractions, in hopes of preventing potentially dangerous confrontations. They will issue a citation via the mail instead.
We also are now one of eight states in the US that will correct an historic wrong and phase in overtime pay after 40 hours of work for farm workers.
One of my bills, to improve pay for workers in the behavioral health space, passed. It has two parts: first, there’s an emergency grant fund to ensure this workforce, which has been underpaid for decades, gets money as quickly as possible; second, another piece that was placed in a different bill increases the payments we make to Medicaid/Oregon Health Plan providers of behavioral health and mental health services by an average of 30 percent permanently.
Lots of these investments are longer term so we will have to monitor them and see how things develop. Hopefully the pandemic is finally behind us as Omicron peters out, more and more people are vaccinated and we learn to “live” with the virus. Ideally, this will mean fewer “special sessions” this summer and fall but you never know.
For the next few columns, I will likely focus on local efforts here in Portland.