The February Special Session of the Oregon Legislature wrapped up its business last Thursday, passing 120 bills in an intense 25-day session. Our focus was on jobs, the economy, and helping struggling Oregonians.
We balanced the budget and reined in the cost of the Business Energy Tax Credit. We held true to our commitment to K-12 schools to provide the dollars necessary to ensure a full school year in the coming year. And we passed bills to protect job applicants and consumers in these difficult times.
I hope you will join me at my town hall this coming Saturday, March 6th, to hear more about the session and to add your ideas to our preparation for the 2011 session. Please see the details below.
Legislative Town Hall this Saturday, March 6th with Rep. Tina Kotek, Rep. Lew Frederick, and Sen. Chip Shields
10:00 a.m. to Noon Portland Community College-Cascade Campus Terrell Hall, Room 122
Please join your North/NE Portland legislators for a report on the February Special Session and a discussion about community issues as they prepare for the 2011 Regular Session.
Highlights of the Session
These are tough times for lots of folks. My priority during the session was to pass good bills to help people and our state recover from the economic recession. We did that, despite limited resources, and my hope is that our efforts will keep the recovery moving forward. Here is a summary of some of those actions:
Extended Unemployment Benefits - Unemployment benefits are extended until mid-April for 19,000 unemployed Oregonians, helping them make ends meet while they search for employment (HB 3655).
Balanced the Budget and Filled Some Gaps - Even with the tax measures passing, we came into the session approximately $190 million short because of another drop in state revenue. We tightened our belt to balance the budget, but we also restored child care assistance for working families (theEmployment Related Day Care Program which would have been cut July 1st) and made sure Opportunity Grants promised to college students would be available through the end of this school year.
Provided More Resources for Small Businesses - Knowing that small business growth and hiring will drive the economic recovery, we passed legislation to provide new loans and grants to small businesses who create new jobs and hire Oregonians (BOOST, HB 3698) and increased access to loans from the Oregon Business Development Fund for capital investments (SB 1017).
Protected Job Applicants and Consumers - I was the chief co-sponsor of the Job Applicant Fairness Act, which restricts employers' use of pre-employment credit history checks, thereby removing an obstacle to employment for many Oregonians hard hit by the recession (SB 1045). We also passed bills to protect consumers from unlawful trade practices by banks and other financial institutions (HB 3706) and tightened up requirements for lenders to explain to struggling homeowners why they were ineligible for loan modifications (HB 3610).
Other News from the Session
In addition to my work on the Job Applicant Fairness Act (see above), I was pleased to pass a bill that makes a one-time investment of $150,000 to implement a demonstration project to create a cost-effective, evidenced-based vision screening program that can, eventually, be duplicated statewide (HB 3626).
When one in five children have undiagnosed vision problems that are keeping them from succeeding in school, it is essential to explore ways to provide vision screenings on a regular basis to Oregon school children.
I was also excited to work on and pass an expansion of Oregon Health Plan coverage to young adults aging out of the state's foster care system (HB 3664). This was a follow-up bill to legislation I introduced in 2009 to make sure former foster care youth continue to have access to essential health care until they turn 21.
Senator Jackie Dingfelder's bill to reduce exposure to radon in residential buildings and public buildings will be important to North/NE Portland residents because of the prevalence of radon in our end of town (SB 1025).
The Senator and I also teamed up to re-introduce a bill to provide the Oregon Liquor Control Commission with another tool to work with problem bars and taverns (SB 1026). The bill had a hearing, but didn't advance, so we will be strategizing on new approaches on this issue for the 2011 session.
Finally, at nearly the close of the session, we referred a measure to the voters who will decide whether the Constitution should be amended to allow the Legislature to meet every year in time-limited sessions. The measure calls for 160-day sessions in odd-numbered years and 35-day sessions in even-numbered years. I believe this change would provide more efficiency and regularity to allow the Legislature to meet the complex needs of our state.
It's an honor to serve you in the Legislature.Please contact my legislative assistant Alex Berke at our district office, by phone, 503-286-0558, or email, if we can be of any assistance to you and your family.