Senate passes bill that’s expected to expand child care options in Oregon

The Oregon Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would require landlords to allow child care services to operate in rental homes when tenants meet certain requirements.

The upper chamber passed Senate Bill 599 with a 27-3 vote that drew bipartisan support.  

The measure would help establish more child care options in both rural and urban parts of Oregon as the state faces a shortage of providers, said Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland, a co-chief sponsor of the bill. 

“This will appeal to a wide variety of people and it protects landlords in terms of liability,” Steiner said in an interview.

The Legislature also is considering other child care bills that would help finance new or expanding child care centers and plan a long-term strategy for expansion. 

Sixty percent of Oregonians are in a child care desert, or a region that either has no child care or lacks options, according to a report by Center for American Progress, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank. The center considers a Census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 with no provider or not enough providers to be a child care desert.

“This bill is an important step to provide more affordable child care options so that working families can stay in their communities,” said Sen. Dick Anderson, R-Lincoln City and the other chief sponsor, in a statement. “This security will have a compounding effect on increased workforce performance, longer tenure of employees, and more stable home lives.”

In an interview, Anderson said the child care shortage is not unique to his coastal district, though smaller child care options in homes are more common.

“The smaller in-home child care is much more prevalent on the coast and it’s because we don’t have the big facilities that are in the urban areas,” Anderson said. “That’s why Senate Bill 599 made a lot of sense.”

The bill has requirements for tenants and landlords. Tenants would have to be registered child care providers with the state, notify the landlord and, if required by the landlord, pay in advance for any remodeling on the property needed for the operation. 

Landlords could not raise rent or evict tenants due to child care work. 

Landlords also would have liability protections from lawsuits. They could require the tenant to have their clients sign a document acknowledging the owner is not liable for damages. The landlord also could require the tenant to maintain insurance. 

Local zoning rules would still have to be followed.

The bill now goes to the House. 

“I am thrilled that we were able to deliver such a strong bipartisan win for working families in Oregon,” Steiner said in a statement. “Too many parents are struggling to afford child care – if they can even find a place in their community that provides it. This is one small but important step towards making sure every Oregon kid has a safe place to learn and play while their parents are at work.”

The bill is one piece of what Oregon needs as it faces the shortage of child care providers – not the entire solution, Steiner said.

“There’s not one solution that’s going to fix this,” Steiner said.

The measure drew wide support from child care advocates and providers. They said it would be especially helpful for providers and families who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, immigrants and refugees, the Child Care for Oregon Coalition said in submitted testimony. 

“These providers are more likely to live in rental housing,” the coalition of nonprofits, labor unions and providers, said in a letter to lawmakers. “And families from these groups often prefer home-based care as they see it being a better fit to their cultures, backgrounds, and values.”

Other child care bills

Lawmakers are considering other bills to bolster the state’s child care options: 

  • House Bill 3005 is aimed at child care providers who want to expand but cannot get financing. It would create a new $100 million fund for child care providers planning renovations, expansions and new building projects to serve more children. The fund would be managed by the Housing and Community Services Department, the state’s housing agency, and the money would be provided as grants or loans.
  • House Bill 2727 would create a workgroup to look at strategies for expanding facilities in the state. The proposal seeks to help providers navigate complex zoning and code requirements, which can pose a challenge to opening a new facility. 

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Ben Botkin - Oregon Capital Chronicle

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.