Oregon Legislative Session Adjourns

Oregon Social Workers Win on Housing, Minimum Wage, Health Care, and Education 

Lawmakers adjourned March 3rd, closing one of the most contentious and tumultuous sessions in recent memory. Democratic leadership pursued perhaps the most aggressive policy agenda since the creation of short sessions; this agenda included an increase in the minimum wage, a complete phase out of coal-derived energy, and a tripling of the cap on non-economic damages awarded in wrongful death lawsuits (among other items). On the other hand, Republicans, used delay tactics and the threat of denying quorum to slow things down. The clash created significant consternation in the building, but that didn’t stop the National Association of Social Workers from having a productive session. On issues including housing, the minimum wage, and health care, Social Workers saw key policies move forward.

For several legislative sessions in a row, NASW-Oregon has supported lifting Oregon’s statewide ban on Inclusionary Zoning. This session SB 1533, which allows for 20% inclusionary zoning in a given locality, was passed. The story gets better on housing, as House Bill 4143 which prohibits landlords from increasing rent during the first year of occupancy and requires landlords to give at least 90 days’ notice before increasing rent passed as well. Although inclusionary zoning will not solve the Oregon housing crisis, the victory promises to trigger a new chapter for Oregon’s struggle with homelessness and housing inequality.

NASW-Oregon has recognized the need for a higher minimum wage for decades. This session, the legislature heeded the call of Social Workers and many others to raise the minimum wage. The state will now have three wage rate regions with wages eventually getting to $12.50 in rural areas, $13.50 in urban areas outside of Portland, and $14.75 in Portland. This historic victory represents an important first step in the journey towards economic equity for all Oregonians.

Legislators took important steps this session to ensure health care access for Oregonians. HB 4017, which creates a blueprint for the basic health plan (meant to help pay health care costs for those between 130%-200% of poverty) passed. HB 4071 also passed, which requires the state to set up a health insurance assistance program for a group of Pacific Islanders who are legal residents of the state but prohibited by federal law from receiving Medicaid.

On education, the Legislature again took positive steps forward by requiring the Department of Education to develop a plan to address chronic absenteeism and dedicating $500,000 for a pilot program to bring trauma-informed specialists into our schools.

Lastly, NASW-Oregon’s legislative effort this year was anchored by our successful “Day of Action.” Every issue NASW members lobbied on passed.

To join NASW, click here: https://www.socialworkers.org/online-join/join.aspx and save the date to attend our Day of Action in 2017, March 9th in Salem!