2019 Legislative Session in Review
Student Success Act
Since the passage of Measure 5 and Measure 50 in the 1990s our schools have been critically underfunded and our General Fund has become increasingly stressed in the recent decade. This session we dedicated a monumental investment in schools with the passage of the Student Success Act, which raises $1 billion annually from a business activities tax coupled with progressive income tax relief, all devoted to pre-k through 12th grade education. This investment is going towards reducing class sizes, fully funding Measure 98, and providing adequate resources for our schools, teachers, and students to thrive.
Paid Family Medical Leave
Another significant piece of legislation HB 2005, established a landmark paid family and medical leave insurance program in Oregon. When the benefits begin in 2023, employees will have access to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a child after birth, or to care for themselves or a family member with a serious health condition. This is a much needed safety net for workers who can't afford to take time off or lose their job to care for themselves or a family member. This program is designed not to be punitive on small business.
Tenant Protection & Investments in Affordable Housing
While many landlords in our state do right by their tenants, there are still too many cases of rent gouging, sudden no-cause evictions, and ill treatment from landlords. SB 608 works to ensure a fairer approach to many of the problems that tenants experience. The bill establishes just or for-cause evictions standards and also works to prevent extreme rent increases. In addition to increased tenant protections, the legislature included significant amounts of funding to tack the affordable housing shortage. Over the next two years the state will devote more than $350 million in targeted investments to address the state’s housing crisis.
Stable Funding for Healthcare
Ensuring stable funding for the Oregon Health Plan (OHP) was one of the most important tasks at the beginning of this legislative session, as we faced nearly a billion-dollar shortfall in funding for the state’s Medicaid program. HB 2010 extends funding for OHP for the next six years and allows Oregon to access significant federal matching funds. Additionally, HB 2270 refers a tobacco tax increase referral to the voters on the November 2020 General Election ballot. If passed, the measure would increase the price of tobacco products, with 90% going to the OHP and the remaining 10% towards tobacco prevention and cessation programs. The measure would also create a new tax for e-cigarette and vaping products. I’m so proud of the work accomplished by my colleagues to make sure our most vulnerable populations, including 400,000 children and seniors, have health care coverage and also the steps we are taking to discourage teens and other Oregonians from smoking.
Campaign Finance Reform
We also made significant progress on campaign finance reform. Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 18 is a ballot measure referral that will allow voters to decide during the November 2020 General Election on campaign contribution limits. Two other bills that passed will increase transparency for voters. HB 2983 requires more transparency in reporting from 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) non profit organizations that contribute to partisan political activity. Currently, these groups can contribute virtually unlimited and oftentimes unreported money to campaign activity. HB 2716 requires that political advertisements disclose ‘paid for by’ on the advertisement. Another enormous accomplishment was the passage of SB 870, also known as National Popular Vote. National Popular Vote enters Oregon into an agreement with other states to recognize the candidate that receives the majority of the popular vote as the President. The compact becomes operative when 270 electoral votes are committed by states through the agreement and with Oregon joining only 74 more electoral votes are needed for enactment.
Juvenile Justice Reform
A huge victory this session for juvenile justice reform was SB 1008. This legislation modernizes Oregon's juvenile justice system and ensures that youth who commit crimes under Measure 11 will not automatically spend their life in prison without a chance of rehabilitation. Since Measure 11 we have learned more about brain development in youth and realize offenders should have the opportunity to have a “second look” hearing to determine whether the youth has taken responsibility for their crime and have been rehabilitated. This is just one step towards making our justice system work for everyone and giving our judges increased discretion.
In 2007 I championed HB 2620, which required public agencies to consider 1.5% of the overall cost of a public building to be invested in solar technology. The goal of the legislation was to grow clean energy and the solar industry in Oregon, helping make public buildings more energy efficient and resilient. This year we made some huge adjustments to the policy through HB 2496. The legislation adds onsite battery storage (used in conjunction with onsite solar generation) to further a building's resiliency and efficiency. It also allows an off ramp for funds to be used entirely on energy efficiency when solar is deemed unfeasible for the building. In the end I'm proud of this legislation evolving the Oregon Green Energy Technology program and ensuring its continued success in solar and green technology applications.
These are just a glimpse at some of the great, collaborative bills that were passed in the 2019 Legislative Session. There were many substantial bills passed this year, but there is also a significant amount of work that was left on the table for next session.