2009 Legislative Wrap Up – Highlights and Challenges Ahead

The 2009 Oregon Legislative Session concludes with some notable victories – passage of safe schools legislation that protects kids from harassment, a budget that funds schools and increases veterans benefits, improvements to tax fairness on the revenue front, and the failure of all anti-immigrant legislation to name a few.  These successes were supported by more than 50 ROP members who consistently wrote letters, made calls, sent emails and faxes, and wrote letters to the editor to keep our priorities clear and present.  Thank you, ROPers! 

Despite these hard won victories, many needs are still unmet and multiple challenges lie ahead.  While we appreciate these successes, we must continue to hold our state and our elected representatives accountable to the real needs and priorities of rural Oregonians.  We continue to call on our legislators to show the backbone required, especially in these tough economic times, to do what it takes to fund human needs, support tax fairness, protect civil liberties and civil rights, and advance peace at home and abroad. 

Democracy Bailout Day of Action: ROP organized a Democracy Bailout Day of Action at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem in March 2009 along with 5 partner organizations, PCUN/CAUSA, American Friends Service Committee, Center for Intercultural Organizing, Community Alliance of Lane County, and Oregon Action. The day brought together a multi-lingual, multi-racial and multicultural surge of people from all corners of the state to demand that the needs of the people not be overshadowed by the needs of banks and business in this time of economic crisis.

The Democracy Bailout Day of Action platform focused on stopping the deployment of the Oregon National Guard, stopping attacks on immigrant communities and protecting all workers, advancing racial justice, civil rights, and civil liberties in Oregon, healthcare for all, and economic justice. 114 people participated in the Day of Action and met with more than 80 legislators.  For many participants it was their first visit to the Capitol and first time ever meeting with an elected official


Tax Fairness: Facced with one of the worst recessions in decades, legislators took bold steps to protect essential services like education, healthcare, and public safety.  Instead of increasing the burden on everyday Oregonians—who are already struggling in this crisis—lawmakers wisely passed two crucial bills that will increase tax fairness and make sure that large corporations and the wealthiest Oregonians are carrying their share of the burden.

The package passed by the legislature will keep schools from having to lay off more teachers and make sure that seniors are able to stay in their homes.  At the same time, large corporations will finally be paying more than the $10 minimum income tax they’ve paid since 1931.

By passing these important tax fairness bills, Oregon lawmakers have made sure that the burden will be carried by those who are doing well in this economy, not the families and vulnerable Oregonians who are already hurting the most.

Campaign to Keep the Guard Home: The Campaign to Keep Oregon’s National Guard in Oregon kept consistent pressure on our State Reps and Senators as well as forced our elected officials to see the burden of the war on our communities – psychologically, economically, and through loss of life. HB 2556 directed the state to deploy the National Guard for federal activity only with a valid Congressional enactment. While ultimately the campaign failed to garner enough support to move from committee, ROP members were critical in the last surge of pressure on Representative Boone to get one of the final yes votes that were needed for it to pass the State House while also keeping this campaign and the larger call for an end to the war in Iraq on the radar of our representatives and communities.

Oregon Safe Schools Act: Governor Kulongoski signed the Oregon Safe Schools Act with overwhelming support from the House and Senate.  Here’s a report from ROP member, Bonnie Cameron, who represented ROP at the signing:

"Last Friday, ROP provided me with an exciting opportunity. My partner, Devon, and I were on hand to see Governor Kulongoski sign the Safe Schools Act into law, providing more safeguards for all students in our state. As an educator for youth with disabilities, I know that many of our students have struggled with harassment and bullying in our schools. In March of 2009, I was able to attend Basic Rights Oregon’s Day of Action in Salem where we listened to presentations about the new legislation, heard youth tell their stories about the difficulties they face in schools, attended workshops put on by different organizations, lobbied with local legislators and attended a rally in support of this legislation. I love that the legislation included all groups of marginalized or minority youth—LGBTQ youth, students of color and students with disabilities. It was so special to be able to be a part of this day, with an issue so close to my heart.

I’m also active in our local PFLAG group in Grants Pass. One of our chapter’s interests this year is to help a local high school start at Gay Straight Alliance. At the signing, I was able to connect with people from different parts of the state and get ideas about how to make this work for us. This was such a great celebration for all youth in our state. Thanks, ROP, for letting us be a part of it!"

House Joint Memorial 22:  The Oregon Senate joined the House in voting unanimously to support House Joint Memorial 22 – which condemns the March 21st hate crime targeting two gay men visiting Seaside, OR and urges Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation.  Local ROP leaders on the Coast and in Eugene were instrumental in advocating for this legislation along with our allies in Salem from Basic Rights Oregon.

What’s Next?  We must continue to defend our gains while also pushing toward a vision of the world that we are trying to create.  Most notably, we expect that tax fairness legislation will be challenged at the ballot in the coming year and considered again in a Special Legislative Session in 2010.  We must continue to carry our message of fairness and shared responsibility not just to our legislators in Salem and DC but to our friends and neighbors who may ultimately end up deciding whether or not the gains we made this session will stick.

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