2021 LEGISLATIVE SESSION OVERVIEW
2021 was an unprecedented legislative session where historic investments from the America Rescue Plan Act were made to help Oregon begin to recover from the impacts of the pandemic. We also advanced crucial bills to address wildfire recovery, racial injustice, and environmental impacts of climate change.
The pandemic has highlighted the many issues within our society that need to be addressed and has made our work in the legislature more difficult as we navigated working remotely. I am grateful that we were able to keep the public involved through our online remote hearings while the Capitol was only open to authorized personnel following guidance from OHA, OHSU, and regulations from OSHA.
Our state was hit hard economically by the pandemic, but we were able to remain strong together. One of our main duties coming into session was to address the impacts from COVID 19 and help the state recover. We worked hard this session to protect small businesses, working families, essential workers, and low-income communities across the state who have been most impacted by the pandemic.
This session I was once again elected as the Speaker Pro Tempore. I served as the Chair of the House Business and Labor Committee, Chair of the House Special Committee on December 21, 2020 (to consider the Expulsion of Representative Nearman), Vice Chair of the House Rules Committee, and a member of the Natural Resources Subcommittee. I was also Co-Chair of the Capital Construction Subcommittee where I worked with my colleagues on investments across the county and state, which included bonding, lottery, and general fund dollars as well as the allotment of the American Rescue Plan Act dollars.
AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN INVESTMENTS
Oregon received $2.6 billion in stimulus funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). State legislators were each empowered individually to allocate a total of $2 million to investments that we believed needed it the most. I joined a group of Lane County Legislators in pooling our ARPA funds to be able to make more significant investments in our community.
The joint Lane County funding requests include:
$2,100,000 to FOOD for Lane County to renovate their warehouse and increase capacity to distribute and store food, train volunteers, and address community hunger needs.
$3,250,000 to the City of Eugene to establish “safe parking” and “safe tent” sites where people experiencing homelessness can legally park their vehicles or sleep in tents.
$250,000 to the City of Eugene to help prepare temporary shelter sites for people experiencing homelessness.
$500,000 to nonprofit St. Vincent De Paul for costs related to a new 10-unit building for veterans experiencing homelessness.
$400,000 to Lane County for mobile crisis response and health care vans to serve people experiencing homelessness who are not served by CAHOOTS.
$500,000 to Lane County for needed building improvements to a shelter for people with health vulnerabilities.
$522,000 to Lane County to build a seed fund that will provide grants to increase homeownership for low-income families, with a focus on BIPOC communities.
$500,000 to nonprofit Square One to acquire land for the Peace Village project, which will provide 70 units of permanently affordable, cooperatively owned housing for households with very low incomes.
$580,761 to nonprofit Looking Glass to renovate a facility to provide affordable childcare and other services.
In addition to these projects, I allocated $325,00 for McKenzie River Water Quality through the EWEB Finn Rock Restoration Project and also joined Senator Prozanski to invest $750,000 to the Lane Rural Fire Authority for reimbursement of PPE costs during the pandemic, an additional ambulance, and Type 6 Wildland Fire Vehicle for the South Battalion station.
OREGON BUDGET AND CAPITAL CONSTRUCTION INVESTMENTS
This session we have been able to provide funding at more abundant levels than we have been able to accomplish in the past, thanks to our rebounding revenues and federal dollars. This has allowed us to make transformative investments in housing, wildfire recovery, behavioral health, and significant investments in infrastructure around the state. Some of the additional Lane County investments include:
Additional funding for the Eugene Riverfront Project
Several projects in the McKenzie River Corridor
A new building for the Eugene YMCA
Renovation for the Shedd
Statewide investments included:
Transforming Behavioral Health
$302 million for new Behavioral Health Resource Networks and addiction treatment services established through the passage of Ballot Measure 110 (2020)
$130 million for capital, start-up, and operational costs related to increasing statewide capacity of licensed residential facilities and housing for people with behavioral health needs
$31 million for opening two 24-bed patient units at the Oregon State Hospital Junction City campus, which will make more bed space available at the Salem campus
Tackling the Housing Crisis
I want to compliment Representative Fahey on her work chairing the Housing Committee addressing the critical issues of homelessness and affordable housing, especially during the pandemic.
$410 million for the Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) Housing and Permanent Supportive Housing programs
$30 million to cover 100% of missed rental payments for applications submitted to the Landlord Compensation Fund and $5 million for a landlord risk fund (SB 278)
$130 million for affordable housing preservation and affordable housing property acquisition loan programs
$100 million for construction, rebuilding, and financing initiatives for housing for displaced survivors of the Labor Day 2020 wildfires
$94 million for other housing initiatives, including shelter operations, down payment assistance, and affordable homeownership development
This year our focus was to continue to facilitate virtual learning while preparing for students to safely return to in-person education.
$9.3 billion historic investment in K-12 education funding that included investments in social, emotional, and mental support after COVID impacted in-person learning
$250 million for summer learning, enrichment programs, and childcare to support our children and families that are enduring the pandemic, and facilitating students to catch up and prepare for the next school year
$200 million Oregon Opportunity Grant - Oregon's largest state-funded, need-based grant program for college students. Approximately 40,000 students receive Opportunity Grants each year
Another notable highlight is the passage of HB 2166 which establishes a comprehensive approach to create a centralized statewide system for early care and educational programs.
Wildfire Recovery and Disaster Preparedness
In 2020, we saw one of the most destructive and devastating wildfire seasons in Oregon’s history. The fires killed at least 10 people, burned more than 1,000,000 acres of land, and destroyed thousands of homes. SB 762 will coordinate a statewide response to plan for and mitigate wildfires with a focus on community preparedness and public health. It is a bill that has been years in the making and is a huge first step to addressing the increasingly severe wildfires in this State.
$200 million for essential workforce and local communities on the frontlines, managing and mitigating wildfires
$150 million reserved in a special purpose appropriation to address natural disaster preparedness, response and recovery activities, including potential responses to the drought crisis in the Klamath Basin
$150 million for wildfire recovery housing
$75 million for food and shelter for wildfire-impacted communities
$28 million for planning and rehabilitation of high-hazard dams
$23 million for reimbursement to counties for lost tax revenues
Additionally, I was glad to support SB 405 aimed at wildfire cleanup and recovery and HB 5042 to help rebuild and restore the impacted communities.
Investments Focusing on Racial Equity
$100 million for the implementation of the Cover All People program (HB 3352). This is an essential step to address health disparities and accessibility to Oregonians, including DACA recipients and undocumented persons who are often essential workers and help sustain our economy
$11.7 million for the Oregon Youth Employment Program, with increased participation from communities of color, rural communities, or historically underrepresented communities (HB 2092)
$10 million for loan-loss reserve program grants to lenders to address institutional and social barriers that have made access to capital nearly impossible for small business owners, especially those in rural, veteran and BIPOC communities (HB 2266)
Improving Water Systems
$276 million for drinking water, stormwater, and sanitary sewer water projects statewide (HB 5006)
$95 million to capitalize grant and loan funds for water projects
$71 million for enhanced capacity, planning support, stakeholder engagement, water quality, groundwater and surface water availability and allocation, groundwater well and septic system financial assistance programs, and environmental protection programs
Supporting a Strong Economic Recovery
$2 billion of crucial infrastructure investments across the state to spur economic activity
$193 million was invested to strengthen the state’s long-term care system and workforce
$113 million to support higher wages for workers in assisted living facilities, adult foster homes, and skilled nursing facilities
$30 million for the Oregon Essential Workforce Health Care Program (SB 800)
$50 million for the Community Renewable Investment Fund to provide grants for eligible community renewable energy projects (HB 2021)
$50 million for grants to support local independent movie theaters and businesses in the live events industry as they recover from business closures due to the pandemic
PERSONAL LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
I am proud to say the Residential Foreclosure Moratorium Extension passed with bipartisan support. HB 2009 gives homeowners until September 30th to defer their payments without penalty to later in their mortgage loans if they had been affected by the pandemic. The bill also allows for the Governor to extend the moratorium until the end of the year if needed. There is a tremendous amount of federal recovery funding coming to help homeowners and renters but we still need time for state agencies to allocate the money to individuals in need. Having a roof over your head is crucial to protecting the health and wellbeing of Oregonians and provide a safety net while they get back on their feet in the wake of this pandemic.
Another one of my priority bills that I was honored to champion was HB 3389. I appreciate the collaboration of the Employment Department and some of my colleagues to make this a bipartisan effort to help small businesses recover from the economic impact of the pandemic. HB 3389 reduces unemployment insurance tax rates for most businesses that experienced layoffs as a result of the pandemic. The bill will result in a reduction of approximately $2.4 billion in the UI taxes for local businesses over the next 8 to 9 years.
SB 493 worked to codify better wages and benefits on publicly funded construction projects. It’s long overdue for the State of Oregon to recognize community standards established by prevailing wage rate and invest in family wages, healthcare, apprenticeship, and training for the construction industry. Wages have been stagnating under the current system, and industry compensation needs to keep pace if Oregon wants to cultivate a competitive market for a skilled workforce and invest in a vibrant economy.
For several years I have worked on issues related to forest practices, wildfire, and water quality and the science behind our natural resource policies. We have seen the increased severity of wildfire in forests across the state as a result of climate change, but capacity to address the increase has been extremely challenging to the state’s resources and budget and is not sustainable. Since the elimination of the severance tax on timber in the early 1990’s, revenues that were dedicated to schools and counties vanished and the state’s fiscal obligations increased along with the slate of wildfire costs. It is long overdue to bring Oregon’s severance tax on timber back to replace the lost revenues and better fund our forestry agency, wildfire response and mitigating the water quality impacts of forestry practices. For far too long the timber industry in this state has been paying too little in taxes while the cost and impacts of their practices are being subsidized by all of Oregon's taxpayers. The timber industry is contributing substantially less to these investments than they pay in Washington or California. I introduced HB 2379 and a further refined HB 3410 to accomplish this tax reform. Unfortunately, the legislature was unable to act on this reform but I am committed to continuing this conversation in the future.
Following the OPB and ProPublica articles there was much more momentum from the public and legislators to work on reforming OFRI after learning that they have been silencing science, attempting to influence politics, and exaggerating environmental outcomes with tax dollars. I was a sponsor of HB 2357 which would have made changes to OFRI, and although this bill passed the House, it died in the Senate. The Secretary of State’s office just released an audit confirming what the OPB articles had found and specifically found that “OFRI’s Statute Undermines its Public Benefit and the State Agency is Not Transparent About its Statutory Mandate to Support the Industry”. Looking to the future I plan to continue to advocate for eliminating the public funding of OFRI and instead provide funding to OSU to do additional educational programs for students and small forestland owners.
HIGHLIGHTS OF POLICY ACCOMPLISHMENTS THIS SESSION
Addressing Long Standing Systemic Racism and Police Accountability
In addition to responding to the pandemic one of our caucus’s main goals going into this session was addressing long standing systemic racism harming communities across Oregon and continuing our work on police accountability. We approached legislation through a racial equity lens, prioritizing issues like housing, economic development, health disparities, and community safety.
HB 3265 - updates the Sanctuary Promise Act to protect immigrant and refugee communities and prioritize public safety
HB 2935 - The CROWN Act bans public schools and employers from discriminating against hairstyles associated with race or sexual orientation
HB 2086 - provides community-driven programs with a focus on culturally specific and responsive behavioral health services to people of color and tribal communities
HB 3182 - Indian Child Welfare Act incorporates provisions of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act into Oregon law, providing key protections for Native children across multiple state systems
HB 3164 - limiting the use of charging non-violent protesters with “interfering with a police officer”
HB 2928 - regulates the use of tear gas and other crowd control munitions during protest
HB 2513 - furthering our interim ban on chokeholds and requiring officers to be trained in respiratory distress
HB 2481 - curtails the further militarization of police agencies by limiting receipt of military-style gear from the federal government
HB 3355 - creates transparency by specifying what identification must be on a law enforcement officer’s uniform and gear during crowd management situations
Combating Climate Change and Protecting Our Natural Environment
This year's record heat and intensifying wildfire seasons are a constant reminder that climate change is real, and it is happening now. The legislature was able to pass a handful of bills to help combat climate change and protect our natural environment.
HB 2021 100% Clean Energy - Requires retail electricity providers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy production to be 100% free by 2040 and to develop clean energy plans to meet this target. If we can continue to decarbonize our energy, we will achieve a huge step to curbing one of the largest climate drivers.
SB 582 Recycling Reform - While I am frustrated the final bill language was not more aggressive, SB 582 is a great first step to help overhaul Oregon’s outdated recycling system. By requiring large producers of packaging and paper products establish goals for statewide rates for plastic and recycling contamination we will be able to help fund expansion of recycling services in Oregon.
HB 2062 Improved energy efficient standards - As a result of this bill, the Oregon Department Energy estimates cost savings of $30 million annually by 2025 and $100 million by 2035. ODE also estimates a greenhouse reduction of 50,000 metric tons in annual CO2 emissions by 2025, and a reduction of over 100,000 by 2035.
Promoting Electric Vehicles - HB 2165 extends the state’s electric vehicle rebate program to hopefully make electric vehicles more accessible to all income levels. HB 2180 encourages the use of electric vehicles by requiring through building codes that new apartment buildings and commercial buildings be made ready for the transition to transportation electrification.
HB 2475 Energy Affordability - Allows the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to take into account the differential energy burdens on low-income customers and other economic, social equity, or environmental justice factors that affect affordability for certain classes of utility customers.
One late session assignment for me was chairing the House Special Committee on December 21, 2020 to consider the expulsion of Representative Mike Nearman for disorderly behavior.
On December 21 during a special session, armed protesters aided by Rep. Nearman illegally gained entry to the Capitol Building, assaulted and injured State Police with bear spray and other weapons, damaged Capitol property and put the safety of elected officials and Capitol staff at extreme risk. It was later revealed and confirmed that Rep. Nearman’s role included planning and encouraging the December 21 assault, in addition to letting the rioters into the building. House Resolution 3 to expel Rep Nearman was passed out of the special committee unanimously and subsequently the House floor on a vote of 59-1. I carried the resolution on the floor, and it passed with one no vote, which was from Rep. Nearman. It was the first time in Oregon history that a member of the legislature was expelled, which I do not take lightly. But it was extremely important for the legislature to hold him accountable and to protect the integrity of the Oregon House of Representatives, and the rules of law and democracy.