Dear Friends and Neighbors,
On July 7, the 2017 legislative session adjourned, a few days before our constitutional deadline. Our focus was on helping Oregonians be successful, and we delivered on a range of issues, both big and small.
The session began in a time marked by uncertainty. In the aftermath of the Presidential election, many of our communities were reeling from a spike in hate crimes, harassment and bullying. The state’s budget faced a $1.8 billion deficit, and there was no clear path to resolve it. In the Oregon House, nearly a quarter of our 60 members were sworn in for the first time.
In the face of these historic challenges, we stayed true to Oregon’s priorities. We focused on passing policies and funding programs that will improve people’s lives. Please read on for a few highlights.
Preserving and Modernizing our Transportation System
Every day, people rely on our roads and bridges to get to their jobs, to school, to critical appointments, and to be with their families. We have all felt the strain between Oregon’s growing population and our aging transportation system. Legislative leaders recognized the urgency of this issue last year. After a year of outreach and study, we passed a package of major transportation investments (House Bill 2017) that will support 16,000 jobs, relieve congestion, improve safety, and make the first-ever statewide investment in public transit.
In the Portland Metro Area alone, averaged over the next ten years, there will be:
The safety-related projects included in the package will help us achieve our Vision Zero goals and protect pedestrians and bicyclists (along with the bill we passed to allow Portland to manage speed limits on local roads more effectively). HB 2017 specifically includes $1.5 million for improving the Columbia Boulevard crossing at George Middle School in North Portland.
You can find more details here. And read coverage from The Oregonian here: “Big win for legislative leaders as $5.3 billion transportation plan clears final hurdle.”
Balancing the Budget, Investing in Education
We passed a balanced budget focused on education. Most K-12 schools will be able to hold steady, and we were successful in maintaining funding for full-day kindergarten, Head Start, Preschool Promise, and other early childhood programs. We also invested $170 million in career technical education programs and high school graduation initiatives.
For higher education, we held down tuition increases at universities and continued funding the scholarship program known as the Oregon Promise, which provides nearly free community college tuition to Oregon high school graduates.
We fought very hard to get to a long-term budget deal so we could finally stabilize our finances and make meaningful investments in Oregon’s schools. I want to thank everyone who took the time to come to the town halls our budget committee held in February and March, as well as those who came to the town hall I co-hosted with other Portland-area legislators in June.
We heard strong support for business tax reform – especially from teachers and parents who have been working overtime to advocate for Oregon’s students. They were understandably frustrated after so many years of budget cuts and uncertainty. We proposed a balanced plan that would have contained costs, reformed our revenue structure, and secured greater investments in education and the critical services Oregonians rely on.
My biggest disappointment of the session is that we couldn’t get it done. There simply wasn’t the Republican support we needed for the supermajority vote on tax reform. Still, we laid the groundwork for success in 2019, and I will keep working as hard as ever to make these needed reforms.
Taking on the Housing Crisis
The depth and breadth of Oregon’s housing crisis made this issue a front-and-center topic for this year’s session. We made good progress, especially in providing more resources to communities to prevent homelessness, investing in affordable housing preservation, and growing efforts to increase housing supply. Still, we need to do more to protect renters from staggering rent spikes and unfair no-cause evictions. In 2018, we will push to finish this session’s unfinished business on housing.
Read my full summary of housing bills and budget allocations approved during the 2017 session here.
Improving Fairness and Fighting for Working Families
We made progress in many policy areas that will improve fairness and give more Oregonians an opportunity to thrive. Highlights include:
Protecting Access to Health Care
While President Trump and Congressional Republicans are working to repeal the Affordable Care Act and strip coverage from millions of Americans, we passed a critical funding package that will lower premiums and preserve health care for the more than one million Oregonians who get their health coverage through the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program.
We also ensured that all of Oregon’s children, regardless of their citizenship status, will have access to health care, and passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which will preserve and expand reproductive health care for all Oregonians.
Standing Up for Working Families
This session, we continued our work to improve the lives of working families across the state. We created the strongest equal pay law in the nation. We became the first state to pass a Fair Work Week law, giving more workers certainty and predictability in scheduling. We also strengthened overtime laws for workers in the manufacturing sector.
Reforming our Criminal Justice System
We also made major strides in criminal justice reform. We continued Oregon’s work to end profiling by law enforcement by passing a bill that will expand law enforcement training, increase data collection, and reform minor drug possession charges.
We reformed a key part of our criminal justice system by finally requiring electronic recording of grand jury proceedings. Until this session, Oregon was one of only two states in the country that didn’t have this requirement in place.
Finally, we passed the Safety and Savings Act, which will realign drug and property crime sentencing laws. This major reform will help Oregon avoid additional prison construction, creating savings that can be invested in intensive supervision, addiction and mental health treatment, and programs for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Promoting a Healthy Environment
First, some good news. We secured $100 million in state-supported bonds to keep the Elliott State Forest in public hands. Given our serious budget constraints this session, this was a big accomplishment. The transportation package included funding for public transit, more bike and pedestrian projects, and a rebate program to support the purchase of electric vehicles – all top priorities for Oregon’s transition to a clean energy economy. We also protected the state’s Clean Fuels Program to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation fuels.
Still, I want us to do more to improve Oregon’s air quality and protect our environment, especially as we face new threats from the Trump administration. This is the area where we have some of the most unfinished business, which means environmental issues will be at the top of the agenda for the 2018 session.
A few items I’ll be tracking during the interim months and pushing for next session:
The Clean Energy Jobs Bill (Cap and Invest)
Senator Michael Dembrow and Representative Ken Helm have already introduced legislation that will be the starting point for 2018 action to place a statewide cap on climate pollution, a price on greenhouse gas emissions from the largest polluters, and invest that money back into our communities to support Oregon’s growing clean energy economy.
Cleaner Air Oregon
I fully support Cleaner Air Oregon. This session, there was a proposal to assess one-time emissions fees to pay for research that will help develop rules on toxic air pollution. I believe these fees will be an important part of successfully implementing the regulatory framework that is now under development. Unfortunately, the Senate did not have the support necessary to pass the bill this session. I will push to get it done in 2018.
Oil Train Regulation
House Bill 2131 would have provided a consistent West Coast approach to planning and safety by requiring railroads that ship oil or other hazardous materials to provide their plans for safety and spill mitigation and allow the state to establish geographic response plans for the rail lines where these trains travel. Unfortunately, the bill ran into problems in the final weeks of session. We must make progress to strengthen Oregon’s regulation of oil trains in the wake of the Mosier derailment, and I will keep working with Rep. Barbara Smith Warner and other champions to make sure we succeed in 2018.
Diesel Engine Standards
Senate Bill 1008 invests about $20 million of Oregon’s $73 million in Volkswagen settlement funds to retrofit or replace old diesel school buses. That’s progress, but I will keep pushing for tougher additional regulations that will phase out heavily polluting diesel engines in Oregon.
Please Stay Engaged
Thanks to everyone who engaged with my office and other legislators during the 2017 session. Now more than ever, we know that a successful democracy requires active public involvement. Your emails, phone calls, and visits to the Capitol make a difference.