Image for Kotek Details Her $130M Homeless Spending Plan
Governor Kotek detailed how she would spend $130 million to address homelessness, including almost $34 million to prevent nearly 9,000 Oregon households lose their homes to victims. It was a highlight for a busy, newsy week two of the 2023 Oregon legislative session

Senate Rs Saber-Rattle and E-Board Okays $10M for Public Defenders

In week two of the 2023 legislative session, Governor Kotek detailed her $130 million homelessness plan, Senate Republicans engaged in saber-rattling and the Emergency Board allocated $10 million to alleviate the public defender shortage.

Committees began reviewing some of the more than 2,000 bills that have been introduced, including a measure to drop the residency requirement in Orgon’s Death with Dignity Act and several masures aimed at regulating pharmacy benefit managers.

Lawmakers heard testimony from Department of Human Services Interim Director Aprille Flint-Gerner about a child welfare initiative to keep families together when possible and teach better parenting skills. The Joint Committee on Transportation heard from transit providers about safety concerns involving persons with mental health issues or addiction that can compromise reliable and comfortable public transportation service.

A child welfare priority will be to keep families together when possible and teach better parenting skills.

The Joint Ways and Means Committee undertook beginning steps to unwind the pandemic public health emergency in state agencies as part of early budget-building. Kotek will submit her initial budget this week.

February 21 is the deadline for introducing new legislation.

Kotek Homelessness Spending Priorities
Kotek has asked the legislature to fast-track a $130 million expenditure to address homelessness. Her proposed breakdown includes:

  • $33.6 million to eviction prevention services and rental assistance with the goal of preventing an estimated 8,750 households on the verge of losing their homes.
  • $23.8 million to pay for 600 new shelter beds and hire more “housing navigators” to help connect people struggling to find shelter with services.
  • $54.4 million to help re-house 1,200 people by helping with rental assistance and leasing vacant homes.
  • $5 million to the nine sovereign tribes in Oregon to support tribal members at risk of homelessness.
  • $5 million for culturally responsive organizations.
  • $2 million to help local communities with sanitation services.
  • $1.8 million to help support emergency responses being managed by the Office of Emergency and Oregon Housing and Community Services.

The new governor said the $130 millionis only part of her housing strategy. The larger strategy includes adding 36,000 new housing units annually, a sharp increase over the current 22,000 annual production rate. Reducing the chronic housing shortage is expected to relieve pressure on the price of housing.

Public Defender Shortage
The Emergency Board allocated $10 million to hire more public defenders under a plan developed by the Office of Public Defense Services. The plan calls for $15,000 retainers to public defenders and a plan to pay attorneys who represent people charged with misdemeanors. There are 80 defendants in custody awaiting legal representation and more than 600 people released into their communities awaiting an attorney. Hundreds of charges have been dismissed in cases where there was no public defender.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp said his caucus would demand bills be read in full to slow down the legislative process until political understandings were reached.

Senate GOP Saber-Rattling
Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp promised to slow down floor action by requiring bills to be read in full until bills back by his caucus, including some bipartisan measures, receive consideration. “If our colleagues in the Democrat majority want a bipartisan legislature, we’re all in,” he said. “If they just want to run a national progressive agenda of Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we’re going to fight them to the last breath of this session. It’s the minority’s responsibility to make sure that everyone is heard and that the majority is accountable.” No list of demands was presented to Senate President Rob Wagner. Knopp said he hasn’t seen any bills introduced to justify a walkout and said none of his caucus members want to test the state’s new voter-approved provision that would disqualify a law from seeking re-election with 10 or more unexcused absences.

38 Constitutional Changes Proposed
Among the 2,000-plus bills introduced are 38 that propose amending Oregon’s Constitution. Senate Joint Resolution 10, which has bipartisan sponsors, would transfer control of redistricting from the legislature to a Citizens Redistricting Committee. There are two similar measures introduced by Republicans. Other measures would require citizenship for voting privileges, permitting election-day voter registration and expanding how motor vehicle tax revenues could be spent. Another proposal would eliminate annual legislative sessions. There is also a measure addressing road tolling.

Report Disses State Water Management
Secretary of State Shemia Fagan released a report critical of state planning and communication about dwindling and contaminated groundwater. “Water is life. And the findings in this advisory report are shocking,” Fagan said in a statement. “Not only are many families in Oregon dealing with water insecurity today, many more are at high risk of becoming water insecure in the very near future. What’s shocking about this report is it shows that we don’t have a plan to address the problem.”

College Readiness
Fewer 2020-2021 Oregon high school graduates enrolled in Oregon colleges and universities than before the pandemic, and many of the nrollees struggled with college-level coursework, according to Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) testimony to the House Higher Education Committee. “Students from communities of color and from low income and rural backgrounds are less likely to enroll in college level coursework right out of high school,” testified Amy Cox, director of research and data for HECC. “In general, incoming freshmen from Oregon at the universities come well academically prepared. Nonetheless, many students do not return after their first year.” Lawmakers this session will consider recommendations on how to address issues of college affordability and the need for supportive services.

Opioid Overdoses
Rep. Maxine Dexter, D-Portland, has introduced legislation to make naloxone kits, used to reverse overdoses, more available in schools and public buildings and for emergency personnel. The Oregon Health Authority reported 745 overdose deaths in 2021, compared with 280 in 2019. National studies show that Oregon has the second-highest overall drug addiction rate in the nation and the state ranks last in access to treatment, according to an Oregon Capital Chronicle report. Dexter also introduced other “harm reduction” bills to make it easier to obtains fentanyl test strips, permit law enforcement to distribute naloxone kits and allow minors under 15 to receive addiction treatment without parental consent.

The initial Oregon wildfire risk map drew strong criticism from homeowners worried it would boost their fire insurance rates. Lawmakers are looking at a new approach to mapping that involves incentives to protect against wildfires.

Wildfire Risk Maps
In response to criticism, wildfire risk maps are being delayed to give lawmakers time to make adjustments or possibly eliminate the mapping project that affects 80,000 residences. A draft map identifying communities most at risk from wildfires came out in March and was greeted with a storm of protest by residents who said the designation would push up their fire insurance rates. Senator Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, said he supports map revisions, but not their elimination. He wants to see changes that provide incentives for landscaping and home improvements to lessen vulneerability to wildfires.

Outlawing Sale of Kangaroo Parts
Senator Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, introduced legislation to ban the sale of kangaroo parts in Oregon. Kangaroo leather, according to Prozanski and animal welfare groups, is used by show manufacturers such as Nike to make cleats for elite soccer players. “I understand this legislation may have financial impact on some Oregon shoe manufacturers, but in the balance Oregon should be standing on the humane side of this issue,” Prozanski said. “There are other materials that can be used in making these high-end cleats.”

Legalizing Rabbit Meat
House Bill 2689 would allow the sale of  rabbit meat directly to consumers in Oregon by farmers who raise and kill the animals themselves. Senator Lynn Findley, R-Vale, says the bill would treat rabbits the same way as home-grown chickens.