By State Representative Rob Nosse
We are around what I would consider the midpoint of the 2023 legislative session. Admittedly, a lot of the heavy lifting is done toward the end of the session in June, but there are big deadlines still looming and bills still waiting for funding. I thought I could give you all a look at the big decisions that are still to come. Here we go, in no particular order.
We have a proposed bill, House Bill 2005, which would ban ghost guns, raise the legal age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21 and allow cities and counties to ban concealed weapons if they so choose. That bill is scheduled to be debated on the floor in early May.
The goal of this package is to crack down on criminal activity while respecting responsible gun ownership. It aims to strike a balance between community safety and individual liberty. Taking these steps will make our communities safer, help law enforcement do their jobs and keep guns out of the wrong hands. Of course, any legislation that relates to guns is controversial in our country and this state, so expect lots of debate around HB 2005.
I am sure many of you have heard about the I-5 bridge replacement between Portland and Vancouver. The Joint Committee on Transportation held an informational meeting about the project on April 13. Kris Strickler, the ODOT director, and Greg Johnson, program manager for the project, gave us a project and funding update. The really tough questions remaining for this project revolve around total cost, the timeline to begin the process of building the new bridge, as well as how many lanes it will have.
On the subject of transportation, a very pressing question is how much tolling we will allow on our highways to pay for roads and bridges. ODOT already has the authority, and with the rise of electric cars, gas tax revenues are down. Some way of paying for roads and bridges is going to be needed. Meanwhile, we have repairs to make and investments to attend to, including a certain interstate bridge you just read about.
Another open question is what the school budget is going to be. Funding for K-12 schools is one of the most important decisions we make. The school districts across our state feel that we need to allocate $10.3 billion, but so far we only feel like we can afford $9.9 billion. While a lot of us, myself included, would like to do more, there is only so much money available. If we allocated another $400 million, it makes it hard to afford investments we need to make in healthcare and other vital public services.
I think it is crucial that we stand up for abortion access and the rights of transgender people to get gender affirming care. House Bill 2002 is an important step towards protecting reproductive healthcare in Oregon and ensuring access to gender affirming care. While other states may be attacking those rights, Oregon is continuing to make progress. This is a big bill and will elicit some intense debate. It already has in my Behavioral Health and Healthcare Committee.
I am really worried about the survival of the Shakespeare festival and I am worried about the survival of other arts and culture organizations and the venues they perform in. Can we find $50 million to pass HB 2459 which would help this sector recover?
Another big topic this session that I am directly focused on is hospital staffing ratios. Can we make the workplace safer for nurses and their patients and help the health care system recover from the post-pandemic burnout that caregivers are experiencing? I have a package of bills around this topic and have been working with the nurses’ union and other health care unions and the hospitals to come to a compromise. I hope we can land it.
Housing and homelessness remain top concerns for Oregonians and it is for sure the top concern of people in my District. House Bill 2001 already allocated $200 million statewide, but that money is for housing and rental assistance. Another pressing issue is whether we find the $130 million the mayors of this state have asked for to better address the problem of camping and houselessness. Our city stands to get $26 million to help operate the Temporary Alternative Shelter sites but it hasn’t been green lighted just yet.
There are also open questions around how to fix our public defense system, increase access to behavioral health services and enact campaign finance reform as we still currently have no donation limits.
These are just a few of the things still left to figure out that come to mind. There are tough decisions, but I am not whining. Well, maybe a little, but I know what I signed up for.
As I am fond of saying, stay tuned. If you have thoughts about any of this, reach out to me at my office in Salem, where I am spending the bulk of my time these days.