After a 2021 lightning legislative session adjourned on Saturday, Oregon lawmakers in the Black, Indigenous and Colored Caucus (BIPOC) held a press conference Monday to discuss what they were able to achieve and what is left on the table that they are still eager to accomplish.
With some work on issues ranging from police accountability and social equity to health care and housing, the 12-member BIPOC caucus was involved in nearly every major issue submitted. to the Oregon legislature this year. Not to mention the significant efforts being made to meet the needs of many Oregonians who are still in recovery mode after the pandemic.
With more than 140 bills passed by Democrats holding a majority in both chambers, the majority of them bear the fingerprints of BIPOC lawmakers.
Before diving into their accomplishments, lawmakers observed a minute’s silence for Lawanda Manning, the wife and chief of staff of their colleague Senator James Manning, Jr., who died two weeks ago.
“I think our biggest tribute to Lawanda is to make sure we give James Manning our extra support,” said Senator Lew Frederick, D-North Portland. “She and James had plans for them to change the future. The plans are still there, Lawanda’s force of nature will keep them going.”
Some of the highlights the caucus focused on during the session included the passage of more than two dozen bills related to police accountability. These efforts were led in large part by Senator Frederick in the Senate and Representative Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, who have been strong advocates of reforming systems that perpetuate the oppression of BIPOC communities, particularly black communities. .
Law enforcement accountability bills ranged from measures to improve the way Oregon recruits and trains police officers, to building a community’s capacity to oversee police. New laws are also changing the way police interact with protesters and seek to have law enforcement officials speak or intervene when they see misconduct by their colleagues.
“Behind all of these concepts is a shift from police officers as warriors to police officers as protectors,” Frederick said.
Representative Teresa Alonso-Leon spoke briefly about efforts to improve Oregon’s education system.
One of these bills is the Student Voice Bill, which will create a legislative task force that will allow lawmakers to hear directly from students about their needs and concerns.
School districts are now required to allow Native American students to wear culturally significant badges at public school events. Another bill aims to end disparities in early childhood education around suspensions and expulsions.
This all follows a historic $ 9.3 billion school budget, the largest ever passed by the legislature.
“This will allow many students to catch up and prepare for next year,” Alonso-Leon said.
Rep. Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha, spoke of the legislature’s efforts to not only address housing issues exacerbated by the pandemic, but also to attempt to overcome the housing crisis in Oregon and apply an equity lens to the how the state provides services to the homeless.
House Bill 2100, which has passed handily in both chambers and awaits Governor Kate Brown’s signature, is trying to modernize Oregon’s homeless service system. This is the first major bill to address this issue in 30 years.
“The bill does many things, including seeking to increase the availability of culturally appropriate services to address the well-documented disparities for people of color in homelessness and housing instability,” Campos said.
For Representative Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, responding to the rising cost of healthcare and protecting access and affordability for all Oregon residents was a focus of this session.
She and her colleagues were able to take ambitious steps such as HB 3352 – also known as “Cover All People -” which allocates $ 100 million to extend Medicaid benefits to undocumented residents who would be eligible for health care. health without their immigration status.
“This commitment to our state’s fairness will help everyone in Oregon access the health care they need, when they need it,” she said.
Salinas has also worked on legislation that requires health care providers and insurers to collect data to help the state identify gaps and inequalities in the way they deliver services.
In a related health care vein, Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-North / Northeast Portland, spoke briefly about attempts by the legislature to strengthen the behavioral health system in the state where Oregon currently ranks near the bottom. .
HB 3069 is implementing a new “988” telecommunications system, much like 911, but for a trained and targeted response to mental health crises. HB 2470 enables mental health programs to partner with law enforcement to ensure that people responding to mental health crises have the skills and training to respond, as well as connect those in their communities. communities to the resources they need.
For some of the first term BIPOC caucus lawmakers like Campos, the help of more experienced lawmakers like Salinas and Leon to help them defend their bills was crucial.
“We were really encouraged to feel comfortable and ask questions about the ambitions we had this session,” Campos said. “We also had a pretty fantastic first year course. We were able to lean on each other to learn from each other’s point of view.
Some of the main things left unattended include mandatory minimum prison sentences. A Senate bill that would have closely scrutinized Measure 11 – a topic lawmakers have long said they wanted to address – died in the closing days of the session as deals were made and other priorities took center stage from the scene.
HB 2002, another effort around mandatory sentences that contained many other provisions regarding police reform, also died without a vote.
Overtime for farm workers and universal representation are two other issues that have been dropped over time, but on all of these topics BIPOC lawmakers say they are still determined to find solutions and pass laws.
“By approaching legislation from an intersectionality perspective, we will continue to advance the race for racial justice launched by the leaders who paved the way for us all to be present,” said Representative Ricki Ruiz, D- Gresham.
Caucus members agreed that they will all take a well-deserved break from their legislative work in July to spend time with their families, relax and rejuvenate as they consider a huge effort to redraw the legislative maps of the State and Federal Government of Oregon which likely have an uphill battle between Democrats and Republicans in August and September.
“It’s clear we’re celebrating all we’ve accomplished this session, but we’re not done,” said representative Khanh Pham, D-East Portland. “We are already looking ahead to what our top priorities are for 2022… We are so excited and so proud of what we have accomplished, and we look forward to continuing to advance our racial justice and equity priorities. across the state. “