Government, Salem, Washington County

Week one: Western Washington County’s legislators busy in first week of short session

The Oregon Capitol building in Salem. Photo: Chas Hundley

Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis), Oregon’s first new Speaker of the House since 2013, told OPB the 2022 legislative short session that began on February. 1 is “the most important short session” of the state’s history, and with inflation, Covid-19, and homelessness on the minds of many Oregonians lawmakers have a lot to do in the allotted 35 days.

The legislators who represent western Washington County’s five voting districts have their own unique set of priorities and budget requests within the general assembly, including requiring ODOT to conduct a safety review of Oregon Route 6, compensation for people wrongfully convicted, adding diseases to newborn bloodspot screening tests, monthly income stipends for low-income families and a sales tax on “luxury goods,” and increasing the number of children allowed in a child care home.

Here is a look at what each representative is up to in Salem.

Suzanne Weber (R-Tillamook) 

Many citizens learning about the seven deaths and dozens of injury accidents on Oregon Route 6 during the past year are inclined to feel disillusioned about the chances of anything ever getting done to improve safety on one of the state’s most-traveled corridors. 

Rep. Weber says whatever lawmakers do in the interim for Route 6 “won’t be fast and it won’t be cheap,” and although her efforts aren’t constantly headline-making she is the chief sponsor of HB 4053, which ODOT to study the Wilson River Highway and report its findings to the Joint Committee on Transportation no later than September 15, 2023.

“We have to identify the deficiencies on Highway 6 and learn exactly what is needed to correct them,” she said. “I have no allusions that this report will be anything but sobering. When it’s completed, each policymaker and budget writer will have a full assessment of what needs to be done. I will tell you that this bill is getting a hearing.”

It also helps that District 29 Rep. Susan McLain (D-Hillsboro) is co-chair of the transportation committee. 

HB 4053 received a public hearing on Feb. 8 in the Joint Committee on Transportation but is not yet scheduled for a work session or floor debate.

Weber, a first-term representative, also is the chief sponsor of  HB 4039 and HB 4124.  

She said HB 4039 would make a “small rule change” allowing coordinated care organizations, such as Columbia Pacific CCO in Tillamook County, to allocate 3 percent of their budget to invest in community care. The bill is scheduled for a public hearing by the House Committee on Health Care on Feb. 9 at 3:15 p.m.

HB 4124 would require the Department of Education to conduct a survey of assessments school districts administer to students and report the results to the legislator by Sept. 15, 2023. The bill is scheduled for a House Committee on Education work session on Feb. 10 at 3:15 p.m. 

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Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie)

Witt originally offered to talk to the Banks Post about HB 4079, which would establish the so-called Oregon Freedom Pilot Program in the Department of Human Services to provide a three-year monthly stipend of $750 to low-income pregnant women and foster youth who have aged out of the system. Participants would be issued a special debit card that will be “tracked for analytical purposes only.” 

The stipend would be funded is the proposed creation of a 3 percent luxury sales tax on items like airplanes, expensive watercraft, high-end cars, jewelry, and guns. 

“Oregon will be the first in the country to use a guaranteed income model with public dollars to support some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Witt said in a press release. “We’ve tried many programs to allow people to live with dignity, free from poverty. These haven’t always been successful so it’s time we try something new. This is similar to social security in that we are offering a vital safety net to those who need it most.”

“Based on 2020, (he) expects the 3 percent luxury tax to bring in roughly $28 million per year,” Witt policy director Melinda Bernert said via email. “That will serve about 2,000 people in the pilot program.”

The bill currently sits in the House Committee on Revenue and is not scheduled for a hearing or work session.

HB 4078 would authorize lottery bonds to provide revenue for the City of St. Helens to upgrade its stormwater management system at the city’s industrial park. The bill currently sits in the Joint Ways and Means Committee and is not scheduled for a work session or public hearing.

Rep. Susan McLain (D-Hillsboro)

McLain said HB 4109, which would direct the state Newborn Bloodspot Screening Advisory Board to create a process that is transparent, pristine, and that will be adaptive to changes that scientific breakthroughs bring in the field of genetic testing.

Bloodspot screening tests detect genetic conditions and metabolic disorders in newborns, allowing for early intervention in babies at risk of developing a serious health condition.

“ passing this bill we can detect and treat diseases, like Krabbe, that currently cause devastation and loss for Oregon families,” McLain said. 

HB 4109 is a rare-these-days bill with bi-partisan and bi-cameral support, including the backing of Health Care Committee Chair Rep. Andrea Salinas (D-Lake Oswego). McLain wrote a letter to the committee urging its members to prioritize the bill. A House Committee on Health Care work session is scheduled for Feb. 11 at 8:00 a.m.

Sen. Janeen Sollman (D-Hillsboro)

Sollman, recently appointed as Senate District 15’s legislator, is the chief sponsor of five bills – SB 1576, SB 1584, SB 1590, HB 4098, and HB 4147.

SB 1576 establishes a product stewardship and recycling program for the disposal of mattresses. Violations of the program would receive fines not to exceed $100 for retailers, $1,000 for producers or renovators, and $1,000 for stewardship organizations. Currently, it sits in the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment with no scheduled hearing or work session.

SB 1584 would create a procedure for victims of wrongful conviction to file to petition the state for compensation. Oregon is one of 13 states that does not compensate people wrongfully convicted. The bill sits in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

SB 1590 would make STEM education available to all Oregon K-12 public education students. “It will grow our workforce and prepare our students for the jobs of the future,” Sollman said. “We need not fall further behind other states and put forward computer science standards in order to remain globally competitive.”

The Senate Committee on Education is holding a work session on the bill on Feb. 10 at 1:00 p.m.

HB 4098 was brought forward by the Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission, of which Sollman is a member, to help it better fulfill its goals of decreasing the high addiction rates prevalent in the state. It’s scheduled for a work session and public hearing on Feb. 10 at 8:00 a.m.

HB 4147 would allow people convicted of a felony to register to vote or update their voter registration and vote in elections while incarcerated. “Civic engagement, specifically voting, increases the ability to reintegrate, reducing recidivism and making communities safer,” Sollman said.

The bill currently sits in the House Committee on Rules and is not scheduled for a public hearing or work session.

Sen. Rachel Armitage (D-Warren)

Recently sworn-in Sen. Armitage did not respond to a request for comments. She is the chief sponsor of SB 1591, which would increase the number of children that can be cared for in a certified family child care home to 20. 

The bill is scheduled for a work session and public hearing on Feb. 10 at 3:15 p.m.

In other General Assembly news, the state still has more than $1 billion in federal funds that haven’t been allocated, the Department of Administrative Services’ quarterly economic forecast released last November predicts Oregon will receive $700 million more than budgeted thanks to rising wages increasing tax revenue, and Gov. Kate Brown recently floated a $200 million workforce spending plan with almost half set to pay Oregonians $95 million in direct stipends to subsidize transportation, child care, housing, and to pay for apprenticeships to help employers who are having a hard time finding workers.

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