Passage through the Capitol rotunda is restricted to one-way to maintain social distancing requirements during the 2021 session of the Oregon State Legislature.( Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
If local legislators have their way, it’ll be easier to buy cold medicine, the state’s emergency management system will be overhauled and there will be more state troopers on the road.
This week kicks off the first full week of the 2021 legislative session, after meetings were delayed last week over the possibility of disruptive protests.
During the session, which is scheduled to last until June, lawmakers will need to pass a two-year budget amid an economic crisis. Majority Democrats have also rolled out big agendas on health care, racial equity and other issues.
In between all of it are hundreds of bills aimed at local problems or some part of a bigger statewide issue.
We asked legislators from Marion and Polk counties what their top three priorities are for the session and why they matter to Oregonians. Here’s what they told us.
Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, R-Stayton
Priority 1: Prorate and cancel property taxes on property that was destroyed or damaged by the September 2020 wildfires.
Why it matters: September’s historic wildfires badly damaged or completely destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses in the Santiam Canyon. But property tax bills are assessed as if the buildings were still undamaged.
Legislation: Senate Bill 464
Priority 2: Exempt basic necessities like prescription drugs, feminine hygiene products, diapers and baby formula from the state’s Corporate Activity Tax.
Why it matters: According to Girod’s office, the bill is intended to help people already struggling to afford basic necessities.
Legislation: Senate Bill 521
Priority 3: Hire 50 more state troopers than employed on June 30, 2021.
Why it matters: According to Girod’s office, there aren’t enough troopers to keep the state safe. There were 476 state troopers in 1975. The state’s population has nearly doubled but as of 2019, there were 453 troopers.
Legislation: Bill still being drafted
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem
Priority 1: Allow community colleges to merge with public universities.
Why it matters: Courtney’s office did not provide a rationale for the bill.
Legislation: Senate Bill 1
Priority 2: Require health insurance to cover the stabilization and transportation of someone having a medical emergency to the nearest facility.
Why it matters: Courtney’s office did not provide a rationale for the bill.
Legislation: Senate Bill 3
Priority 3: Remove zoning and permitting obstacles to build affordable housing.
Why it matters: Courtney said in a statement that the state needs to do more to help people living on social security or minimum wage afford housing.
Legislation: Bill not yet drafted
Sen. Deb Patterson, D-Salem
Priority 1: Expanding access to health care and lower costs.
Why it matters: Patterson, who previously worked in healthcare administration, made expanding health care her signature issue. She said the pandemic has made it more pressing.
Priority 2: Opening schools, gyms and other facilities and finding ways to support our small businesses and working families through these times.
Why it matters: Patterson said that the economic recovery matters to her and others.
Priority 3: Local budget items, including a navigation center for Salem.
Why it matters: The navigation center, a 24-hour shelter, would direct people experiencing homelessness to resources. It’s a key part of the city’s strategy on homelessness.
Patterson said her bills were still being drafted.
State Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence
Priority 1: “We need to find ways to get workers back on the job.”
Priority 2: “We need to support struggling businesses and get them back on their feet.”
Priority 3: “We need to get the state open.”
Nearman did not provide specific legislation he would sponsor or a rationale for his priorities.
State Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth
Priority 1: Reform of Oregon’s emergency management system by streamlining its command structure and making the State Fire Marshal and Office of Emergency Management into independent agencies, among others.
Why it matters: The budgeting and command relationship between state agencies, such as the state Fire Marshal and Office of Emergency Management, is ill-equipped for modern disasters, Evans has argued. He has pointed to the state’s difficulty securing personal protective equipment during the pandemic as an example.
Legislation: House Bill 2927, House Bill 2426, House Bill 2882
Priority 2: Keeping the construction industry at work during the pandemic.
Why it matters: Evans has said that he’s worried about the construction industry slowing because of the pandemic, which he said will have ripple effects throughout the economy.
Legislation: Did not provide a bill number.
Priority 3: Requiring students to show proficiency in civics in order to receive a high school diploma.
Why it matters: Evans has previously pointed to the decline in citizens’ understanding of their own government.
Legislation: House Bill 2299
State Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer
Priority 1: Make it easier to access medicines like Sudafed, which require a prescription because it’s an ingredient used to make methamphetamine.
Why it matters: Post has argued that the prescription requirement is overly restrictive and isn’t accomplishing its goal. He’s further argued the restriction makes little sense after Oregon voters approved measures decriminalizing most drugs and allowing supervised use of psilocybin.
Legislation: House Bill 2648
Priority 2: Put regulations on kratom, a plant native to southeast Asia, including being 21 years of age to buy it along with labels that it’s free of contaminants.
Why it matters: According to Post’s office, around 15 million people use kratom, a plant that’s related to coffee and is believed to have medicinal uses. However, it’s largely unregulated.
Legislation: House Bill 2646
Priority 3: Helping soldiers exposed to radiation while cleaning up Enewetak Atoll, an island in the Pacific Ocean where nuclear tests were conducted.
Why it matters: Post’s office pointed to a New York Times article about veterans exposed to radiation on the island who have been denied medical care by the government.
Legislation: House Bill 2644, House Joint Memorial 2 and House Bill 2649
State Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn
Priority 1: Establish a task force on student success for underrepresented students in higher education that will identify areas of improvement.
Why it matters: Alonso Leon said in a statement that the bill will help “Oregon take the next steps in centering equity and streamlining Oregon’s education system beyond K-12.”
Legislation: House Bill 2590
Priority 2: Direct the Oregon Health Authority to work with local and community partners to expand the Regional Health Equity Coalition model throughout the state.
Why it matters: Alonso Leon said in a statement that the model serves as a bridge to underserved and underrepresented communities by bringing them into health policy discussions.
Legislation: House Bill 2760
Priority 3: Create the nation’s first universal legal representation program by funding legal service nonprofits, immigration navigation services.
Why it matters: The legislation is modeled after the Oregon Worker Relief Fund, which was created by the Legislature to support immigrant workers not eligible for unemployment insurance. It would provide defensive legal immigration services, which immigrants often can’t afford.
Legislation: The bill is still being drafted.
State Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, R-Salem
Priority 1: Establish a pilot program to put Oregon prisoners on cleanup and beautification work, removing wreckage and other eyesores.
Why it matters: The program would help clean up communities and give people in custody job skills.
Priority 2: Establish a kidney disease prevention and education task force.
Why it matters: The pandemic has magnified the importance of understanding preexisting health conditions.
Priority 3: Block legislative committee from passing bills without first having fiscal impact and revenue statements prepared.
Why it matters: Legislators will have a better idea of the financial details of bills before they advance for a floor vote.
None of Moore-Green’s priority bills have been finalized.
State Sens. Brian Boquist, I-Dallas, and Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, as well as state Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, did not respond.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.
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