Budgets are being drafted and approved in what could be the final week of the 2021 legislative session, following the dramatic expulsion of Rep. Mike Nearman and the untimely death of Senator James Manning’s wife last week. The unexpected challenge facing lawmakers is how to spend all the money they have.
A $9.3 billion K-12 budget has already been approved. Other budgets in the works include:
- $900 million for operations and programs at Oregon’s seven public universities;
- $703 million for the state’s 17 community colleges;
- Up to $500 million investment to address behavioral health, mental health and homeless issues;
- $920 million for wildfire recovery efforts;
- $650 million for affordable housing; and
- $9.7 million for emergency shelters.
Budget-writers also must decide on one-time expenditures with funding the state is receiving under the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Water infrastructure projects appear to be emerging as a key component, with $200 million being invested to buy down investments totaling nearly $23 billion over the next two decades. A rival idea is to use $450 million for an essential worker bonus that could range from $1,000 to $2,000 per person, depending on their hourly wage. An agreement between House Democrats and Republicans ensures each of the state’s 60 House districts receives at least $2 million from ARP funds.
Nearman became the first Oregon lawmaker in state history to be expelled. The vote in night session of the House was 59-1, with Nearman casting the only ‘no’ vote. His expulsion was a fait accompli after a video surfaced showing the Republican lawmaker coaching future protesters on how to gain entry to the Capitol closed to the public during the pandemic. All members of the House GOP caucus, minus Nearman, signed a letter urging him to resign.
Nearman showed no remorse for his actions in testimony before a special committee considering a resolution to expel him and later when the resolution came to the House floor. The expulsion ignited a social media explosion among political conservatives who took aim at Nearman’s Republican colleagues for deserting him.
The death of Lawanda Joyce Manning, who served as an aide to her husband and known affectionately as “Miss Lawanda”, ended the week on a solemn note. Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, referred to Mrs. Manning as a “legislative grandma” who welcome her and her family to the Capitol. “They loved going to the Manning office to get an ice cream sandwich or jug of chocolate milk,” Bynum said. “She took them to lunch and let them hang out in their office. Miss Lawanda made them feel special, loved, and seen. She made the Capitol feel warm.” Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, called her one the legislative family’s “kindest souls” who was “generous and full of compassion”.
Water infrastructure projects appear to be emerging as a key component of funding from the American Rescue Plan, with $200 million being invested to buy down investments totaling nearly $23 billion over the next two decades.
Following bipartisan legislative approval, the first verse of the state song has been modified to eliminate lyrics viewed as racially insensitive. The change replaces references to “conquered and held by free men; fairest and the best,” with new lyrics emphasizing Oregon’s natural beauty and “rolling rivers.”
It is time to begin flagging what is unlikely to pass this session. Two of the biggest casualties are campaign finance reform and changes to Oregon’s voter-approved minimum prison sentences.
Oregon continues to edge closer to the 70 percent vaccination goal set by Governor Brown that would result in a relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions. Facing pushback, Brown defended her decision to relax restrictions, even though many rural parts of Oregon lag far behind the 70 percent target. The $1 million vaccination lottery incentive hasn’t generated the anticipated results before the June 28 drawing, which may lead to additional incentives. Oregon is one of 11 states, along with Washington, to turn to financial incentives to boost vaccination rates.
Meanwhile, it now seems unlikely President Biden’s national goal of a 70 percent vaccination rate by July 4 will be met. Data indicates nearly 64 percent of US adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine. It also shows a correlation between vaccine rates in states that supported Biden and that supported Donald Trump. All the states that have met or are close to meeting the 70 percent target were Biden states in the 2020 election. Black and Hispanic people remain under-represented in vaccinations, though in recent weeks their rates have been increasing with more aggressive efforts to improve vaccine access.