Funding for behavioral health in school-based health centers, emergency shelters, and wildfire recovery and preparedness were among the legislative victories discussed at April’s East County Issues forum hosted by Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann.
Commissioner Stegmann welcomed seven East County legislators to recap their highs and lows of the 2018 session at the monthly issues forum.
“They’ve all worked incredibly hard and we are grateful they’re here to share the successes and challenges faced this session,’’ Commissioner Stegmann said. She cited House Bill 4152 which provided funding for emergency response training for Multnomah and Hood River Sheriff’s Offices and House Bill 5201 which allocated $5.2 million for affordable housing as wins for this short session. “Multnomah County's portion of these proceeds will have a huge impact on the work we do to serve our most vulnerable communities.”
While Commissioner Stegmann was disappointed that House Bill 4042 - “Prosperity 1,000” was not successful, she vowed to keep fighting for it. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Reardon, would have appropriated career coaching and job placement for up to 1,000 job seekers in struggling communities, many of whom live in East Multnomah County.
Lawmakers highlight challenges, wins
State lawmakers representing communities in East County shared policy areas they’ve been working on this session and priorities they’ll bring back to Salem next year. Rep. Carla Piluso highlighted her work addressing the backlog of SAFE kits (sexual assault test kits.) “I am really happy to report that we anticipate by July this year we will be under 100 untested SAFE kits. We started with more than 3,000 kits three years ago, so to bring it down that far has been tremendous work done by the Oregon State Police and advocates.” Her other priorities included extended grants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to keep folks working toward self sufficiency. And closing the “boyfriend loophole”, which now prohibits a person from possessing a firearm if they have an abuse conviction or conviction for stalking which the governor signed last month.
Rep. Chris Gorsek highlighted a bill giving voters the ability to authorize government bonds for the construction of affordable housing which will be on the May 2018 ballot and their work in greater drug pricing transparency. Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, also supported the drug transparency bill saying, “Prescription drug costs are a huge issue for my constituents. It will hold drug manufacturers accountable as to why costs of drugs are going up and up.”
The conversation around Oregon’s housing crisis was also a topic of discussion this legislative session. In addition to the $5.2 million allocated for affordable housing across the state, creating more housing units was also important for Rep. Janelle Bynum who said “I never thought I’d be a tiny home advocate, but I find it a different intersection of multifamily living. It also touches on sustainability, how do we live in a frugal manner and disrupt land less. And bureaucracy and how do we cut through that?”
Jeston Black, director of government relations at Multnomah County, highlighted the County’s priorities that passed during the session. Among the wins was funding for behavioral health which included almost $1 million more for mental health in school-based health centers and increased reimbursement rates of treatment facilities to retain staff. Black also worked with state agencies to avoid $12 million in benefit reductions for Oregonians with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. He also worked on increased funding for housing and homeless services, as well as the document recording fee that will almost triple the amount of state money to help fund affordable housing.
Another significant priority for the County was to address the opioid crisis with a potential bill that provides more education to doctors around prescribing. This bill could also include funding for the four counties to initiate pilot projects that will enable a person experiencing an opioid crisis who presents at an emergency room to receive appropriate treatment more quickly.
“I want to thank everyone up here,’’ Black said. “Our legislators, especially those in East County have done incredible work.”