By State Representative Rob Nosse
I hope you all enjoyed the holidays with your friends and loved ones. Happy New Year! I am excited for what this year will bring and I am not just saying that.
As many of you know, Oregon has a seasonal legislature. We are about to begin the 2023 “long session” on January 9, which goes until the end of June. This month, I am providing a preview of what I am working on and what I expect to happen during the session in terms of broad topic areas that Democrats are prioritizing.
First, I am delighted to be going back to Salem with a Democratic majority and a Democratic governor. During the months leading up to the November election, that was not a foregone conclusion. The “red wave” that was predicted did not show up for a lot of reasons.
I also look forward to tackling the toughest issues facing Oregonians with one of the most diverse caucuses in Oregon history. The Legislature will have a record number of people of color. This is important because we need voices from all of Oregon’s communities at the table. We get better policy when we include multiple perspectives as best as we can. We will also have six legislators, including yours truly, who identify as LGBTQ+.
But even with my party in charge so to speak, that doesn’t mean voters gave Democrats an overwhelming vote of confidence either. In my mind, there is still a strong sentiment out there among my voters here in SE and NE Portland and across the state that things just don’t seem to be working or getting better. That could be any issue whether it is inflation, schools, gun violence, housing costs, houselessness or drug addiction.
While details are still being worked out, my fellow legislators are drafting bills to get at the houselessness and affordable housing crisis; support working families and small businesses; drive down the cost of living; take on the mental and behavioral health crisis; invest in community safety and gun violence prevention; and champion stronger schools.
Another big priority for myself and other Democrats is working with the Governor to get agencies working better. We have invested a lot of money in different programs and agencies over the past few years, but Oregonians are not yet seeing the results from those investments. This session we need to make sure these investments start delivering tangible results.
As for me, I have quite a few priorities/bills that I hope to pass this year. If you read my newsletter, you are aware that I am chairing the House Healthcare and Behavioral Health Committees. In that role, one of my main priorities is to help stabilize our hospital system. We have a shortage of registered nurses and staff in general in our hospitals. We also have a capacity crisis due to seasonal RSV and a winter COVID-19 spike. Meanwhile, we have many hospitals recording financial losses. I am bringing forward legislation to try to address these challenges.
One facet of the problem is that severely mentally ill people are often put in community hospitals, as there is nowhere else they can go. Our state mental hospital is full and we do not have enough secure residential treatment facilities (SRTFs) for people who are ready to leave the hospital but still need a level of care that is like a skilled nursing facility. This also affects our community hospitals’ capacity and finances. In 2021 and 2022 we invested funds to build more SRTFs. While this money has been slow to go out, I expect to see these beds come online and help ease the crisis at our hospitals. I will work this session to make sure this funding is accomplishing its goals and allocate more if needed.
Another big priority for me is implementation of Ballot Measure 110. I am committed to making sure it works the way it was intended to. Money has been slow to go out and there have been speedbumps, but I am fully committed to properly implementing this measure and treating addiction like an illness, not a crime. If you read last month’s edition of this column, you know my views on this topic. I will work to make sure the money invested in addiction and recovery services makes a real impact on Oregonians’ lives and that it helps to solve our addiction and overdose crises.
Those are some of the topline issues I will be working on in 2023, although I will also have bills to help arts and culture organizations and venues and one to help promote Oregon distilled spirits. I am optimistic we will have a very successful session and help move Oregon forward, but I know there will be some political ups and downs. As ever, much more to come.