2015 Legislative Session in Review
One of the principal issues this session was paid sick leave: a requirement that employers provide time off to their employees. Workers often have to decide if they should lose a days’ pay or come to work sick. SB 454 has become a nationally recognized legislative measure and I was proud to help craft a policy that will benefit the majority of workers in Oregon.
During the session hundreds of citizens came to the Capitol to express their opinion on the issue. We heard from employees, parents, business owners, as well as representatives from cities that have already passed paid sick leave ordinances (Eugene and Portland). Oregonians overwhelmingly told us how important it is that they have paid sick leave so that they can stay home and recover quickly when they are ill, so that they can care for their sick children, and so that even when they fall ill they are still able pay their bills at the end of the month.
The final bill requires most businesses with 10 or more employees to provide 40 hours per year of paid sick leave to employees. Employers will be able to use their own paid time off policies if they offer equivalent benefits. After spending most of the session working out the details of how to design a paid sick leave policy that took into account the needs of Oregon’s workers and employers, I was honored to have the opportunity to craft this policy and carry this important bill on the House floor and champion its’ passage. It’s time we took a very small step to address income inequality by providing a small measure of job security.
In Oregon if a group of people win a class action lawsuit, the company at fault is required to put the money into a fund to pay the individual claims. Under the previous law, the company at fault would keep any money that remains after all claims have been made. For example, if only half the people who were eligible for the settlement made a claim, the remaining half of the money would revert back to the company.
House Bill 2700 requires that any money remaining after all claims have been made be used to fund legal aid services for low income Oregonians and, if ordered by a judge, money may be given to a charitable organization that works on issues similar to the one the lawsuit addressed.
The purpose of this legislation is to increase the access to representation and benefits for injured workers. It updated attorney fee schedules in areas where these fees have not been previously paid or were inadequate to compensate for the time and work required for attorneys to obtain a successful result for workers. This bill will help level the playing field for workers facing the challenge of getting the benefits that are paid for and they deserve.
This session there were 10 bills in the Legislature to raise Oregon’s minimum wage. (SB130, SB327, SB332, SB597, SB610, SB682, HB2004, HB2008, HB2009, HB2012). I support Oregonians’ ability to earn a living wage and be self-sufficient. Unfortunately none of these proposal had enough support to reach the floor for a vote. We had very informative discussions on these proposals in the Business and Labor Committee. I have been continuing discussions around the merits and impacts of raising wages in an interim work group. It appears likely there will be a ballot measure in the November 2016 election; and the legislature must take that into account when considering any proposals it may take action on in the February 2016 Legislative Session.
Investing in a Strong Education System
The 2015-17 budget includes $7.376 billion total funds ($6.96 billion General Fund and $408.2 million Lottery Funds) for the State School Fund (SSF) which makes up the state portion of the amount distributed to School Districts and Education Service Districts (ESDs) through the school funding formula. The 2015-17 budget represents a $723 million (or 10.9%) increase in General Fund and Lottery Funds for the school fund over the amount available in 2013-15.This investment in public schools will provide a stable budget for school districts while also funding full-day kindergarten for children throughout Oregon for the first time.
We boosted funding to Oregon’s 7 public universities to $700 million along with increasing the budget for our 17 community colleges to $550 million. This is the largest reinvestment into Oregon’s public colleges and universities in the last 20 years. There were also significant increases for early learning programs including $24 million General Fund for Healthy Families Oregon (a home visitation program), additional funding for Early Learning Hubs bringing total funding to $15 million, $9.1 million for Kindergarten Readiness grants, and new funding for preschool programs including an additional $8.8 million for Oregon Pre-Kindergarten. HB 5005 included $125 million in bonds to provide matching grants for school districts and $175 million to provide seismic upgrades and retrofits to K-12, community college, and university buildings. $35 million investment in Career and Technical Education and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education (CTE/STEM) will help increase high school graduation rates and better prepare Oregon students for high-wage jobs.