What happened in the legislative session?

Oregon’s 2023 legislative session ended on June 25th, and if you’re like us, it was a bit overwhelming to keep up with the flurry of headlines as our lawmakers voted on dozens of bills in the final days! Now that we’ve caught our breath, what are the big takeaways from the session? Read on for an update on the Republican walkout, victories worth celebrating, and a few disappointing losses on issues we’ll need to double down on next year. 

A historic walkout: will these legislators be held accountable? 

One of the most frustrating things about this year’s session was that it was interrupted by the longest walkout in state history (and second longest ever in the country), as Republican lawmakers abandoned their job for six weeks. In last November’s election, Oregonians overwhelmingly (68% to 32%) passed a ballot measure to change our constitution to prevent boycotts like this one. While the session did eventually get rolling again, vitally important bills on issues like healthcare, climate change, gun safety, and more were on hold for so long that the ones that did get through were rushed to the finish line at the last second, often with little or no discussion, making it difficult for meaningful public participation. 

Measure 113, which passed in every district last November thanks to human dignity organizers, amended our state constitution to say that state legislators who are absent from 10 or more legislative floor sessions without permission are disqualified from re-election. The legislators who skipped out on 10 or more sessions this spring and brought a core part of our democracy to a halt are already promising to challenge the measure in court and started a new PAC to fundraise for their attorneys. How are we holding our representatives accountable for disregarding the view of the majority of the people they represent?

Big wins for human dignity and democracy

Despite some Republican lawmakers’ best efforts to prevent the functioning of our democracy, many really exciting bills made it through both houses and onto the governor’s desk including expanded automatic voter registration! Let’s take a moment to celebrate all of the organizing that went into making these wins happen. 

Housing

  1. Stable Homes for Oregon Families (House Bill 2001 & Senate Bill 611): This new law includes eviction reforms and a $200 million package to invest in safe and affordable housing. Rent cap reduction (SB 611-B) says that tenants who have occupied their home for a year can’t receive rent increases higher than 7% of their current lease, plus inflation, or 10% altogether, whichever is lower.
  2. We also put millions of dollars into new rent assistance across the state (SB 5511) and $10 million for community-based housing for farmworkers (HB 3395).

Democracy

  1. Ranked Choice Voting: This legislative referral means that there will be a question on the November 2024 ballot asking Oregonians to consider Ranked Choice Voting, a system in which voters rank candidates based on preference instead of casting one vote for their favorite candidate.
  2. Civil Disorder (HB 2572): This new law intends to prevent the armed activity of private paramilitary organizations that violates a person’s constitutional rights, such as voting. It gives law enforcement and residents new tools to combat illegal intimidation, including through lawsuits. 
  3. Oregon Kids’ Tax Credit (HB 3235) created a fully refundable $1000 tax credit per child between the ages of 0 and 5 for families earning $30,000 or less. The bill will provide much-needed relief to families impacted by the rising cost of living. 
  4. Reproductive Health Care (HB 2002 B) passed, but a number of major pieces of the original bill were cut out in order to get the Republican legislators who walked out to return to the session. The bill expands legal protections and access to reproductive health care and gender-affirming treatment, especially for students. It also protects providers and any person who offers support to individuals exercising reproductive health or gender-affirming rights, protects access to reproductive health care and gender-affirming treatment for those traveling from out of state, and more. 

Climate

  1. Climate package (HB 3409): Many bills were combined into this one, including Climate Resilience Hubs, which will create a grant program that will go directly to communities to build or strengthen local disaster response resources. Natural Climate Solutions was also a part of this package, which will establish a state policy regarding natural climate solutions to trap carbon in our natural and working lands. Read more about the climate package here!

Infrastructure 

  1. Indigenous Language Justice (SB 5506): This new law includes $2.5 million in funding for Indigenous language interpretation, which will support the creation of language proficiency evaluations for interpreters of Indigenous languages of Mexico, Central, and South America; establish a fund to pay living wages to indigenous language interpreters; and ensure that individuals do not have to pay for their own interpretation.
  2. In Defense of Humanity(SB 337): is an initial effort to reform the state’s public defense system and make sure that everyone who qualifies for public defenders has access to competent and effective legal representation.
  3. We won a $7.2 million investment into Universal Representation! In 2022 we passed Universal Representation so that the state would provide culturally sensitive, free immigration legal services to Oregonians facing deportation who can’t afford a lawyer on their own. The program is responsive to massive raids, sudden influxes of asylum seekers, and any other changes in the immigration system. More funding will only improve its strong foundation!
  4. Universal Health Care Governance Board (Senate Bill 1089): This new law creates a board that is in charge of figuring out how to provide access to affordable health care to all Oregonians. 

Some disappointing losses 

  1. Food for All Oregonians (SB 610): This bill would have provided SNAP-like benefits to those who are ineligible for the federal program because of their immigration status.
  2. Right to Rest (HB 3501): this bill would have granted people experiencing homelessness in Oregon the right to sleep in public spaces and the right to be compensated $1,000 if they’re denied access to the public space. 
  3. Funding for the Secretary of State’s programs designed to combat false election information was reduced from $370,000 to $150,000. In the lead-up to the 2024 election, we know that threats and intimidation will be just as bad as if not worse than 2020, from militia members intimidating people at ballot drop boxes to election workers being threatened for making democracy work. We have our work cut out for us!
  4. Affordable Housing (HB 3482): This bill would have provided $20 million in grants and revolving loans to help nonprofits, faith entities, tribes, and others build affordable housing.
  5. Guaranteeing the Right to Vote (SB 579) This bill continued efforts from multiple prior legislative sessions to return voting rights to currently incarcerated individuals. After the walkout paused the session, the bill couldn’t make it out of the Ways and Means Committee. 

What’s next?

We know that passing legislation is just the beginning; how is your human dignity group planning to hold your legislators accountable for making sure the impact of these bills is felt by those who need them the most? Are there other legislative victories or losses from the session that you’ve been reflecting on? Let us know what plans you have in the works by emailing sidra@rop.org

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