Oregon's 2022 legislative session wrapped up with over 60 bills crammed into the final two days of the 31-day short session. Lawmakers added $2.7 billion in spending to a budget passed the year before as the state took in $2.5 billion more in revenue than expected.
Short sessions usually focus on budget adjustments and technical issues from the previous year, but Democrats believed larger challenges like houselessness, building sustainable workforces and child care needed to be addressed.
Housing and houselessness
Oregon has the fourth-most houseless people per capita (35 people per 100,000) in the U.S. behind California, New York and Hawaii. A $400 million bill seeks to address this with investments in services, affordable housing and supporting home ownership.
Some $165 million of the package will go toward expanding shelter capacity — $50 million will go directly toward Project Turnkey, a state program that renovated motels into shelters. Some $80 million of the package would support rapid re-housing, including short-term rental assistance and services. The remaining $25 million would be put in the hands of municipal governments to address to respond to specific local needs. It will build off the legislature's previous work, like House Bill 2006 which will partially fund Bend's Navigation Center that Bend City Council was likely to approve on Wednesday March 16.
On the affordable housing side of the spending package, $215 million is allocated to building and preserving affordable housing. Additionally, House Bill 4123 allocates funding directly toward local governments to set up joint offices coordinating services for the unhoused.
"The goal of this is to provide some money so our cities and counties can start a joint office that can work with our community partners and have an overall vision and strategic plan in a community," said Jason Kropf (D-Bend), who drafted the bill. "Bend will get about $1.9 million in a direct allocation."
Child care and Education
Every Oregon county is a child care desert for families with preschool-aged children, meaning there's less than one available spot for every three children. Last year the legislature consolidated two separate agencies that oversaw child care in the state into the Department of Early Learning and Care, and this year they're paying $100 million to bolster the industry.
"We streamlined that process moving forward, created increased investments, we put another $100 million dollars into child care investments this last session in 2022, in part to bolster that child care workforce," Kropf said.
The legislature also prioritized funding to address teacher burnout and increase summer learning programs for K-12 students. Oregon school districts reported over 1,800 vacancies in 2021, citing high workloads, burnout and pandemic disruptions. The bill establishes grant programs to recruit and retain educators and waives some professional development requirements. Legislators also approved protections for superintendents. The Newberg School board fired superintendent Joe Morelock on Nov. 9 without cause, though Morelock told OPB he believed his firing stemmed from an alleged failure to enforce a policy enacted by the school board banning "political, quasi-political, or controversial symbols."
"The superintendent bill was to make sure that superintendents couldn't be fired for following things like public health guidance, requiring some level of notice if a superintendent is going to be fired without cause, that there'll be some period of time between when that notice is given and before that superintendent can be fired," Kropf said. "The goal is to try to create continuity of leadership within our school districts so that we're not having these abrupt changes."
School districts affected by wildfires will get some percentage of $25 million in aid after declining enrollment led to a reduction in funding.
A $200 million workforce training program will contribute to existing job training, apprenticeship and education programs to connect people to upwardly mobile jobs, and with a focus on supporting people from historically underserved communities, including people of color, adult learners, rural communities, low-wage earners and disconnected youth. The bill, called Future Ready Oregon, was among the top priorities of Gov. Kate Brown.
"I want to thank the legislature for passing Future Ready Oregon," said Gov. Brown in a press release. "And a special thank you to the Racial Justice Council, as well as our business community, and the working Oregonians who shared their stories during the legislative process. Now, it's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work to build a skilled and diverse workforce."
Perhaps the most contentious piece of legislation passed afforded farmworkers the same overtime requirements as every other occupation. Agricultural laborers are the only workers excluded from overtime pay in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Republicans objected to the bill, saying it disadvantages family farms over large corporations. The bill phases in overtime pay for an adjustment period and offers tax credits for farms that offset the increased wages. The tax credits become greater as the farms get smaller.
Oregon Republicans opposed many of the proposals that passed in the short session, but in many cases were unable to override the Democratic majority. Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend) said his party was able to block some of the most extreme proposals, but questioned Democrats' priorities.
"At a time when inflation is out of control, Democrats introduced a new sales tax and new spending. When Oregonians don't feel safe in their homes, Democrats pushed an extreme soft-on-crime agenda that makes our streets more dangerous. As we close the book on the pandemic, Democrats clung to government overreach and mandates," Knopp said. "Even with our big disagreements, we got some good bipartisan things done for Oregon this session. Unfortunately, we left a lot of good policy on the table. Short sessions reveal priorities, and the majority's priorities were misplaced in many cases."
The luxury sales tax Knopp mentioned was still in committee at the end of the session. Regarding crime, there were mixed results; one bill banning police from conducting stops over busted taillights or headlights passed, as did a bill that allows people convicted in non-unanimous cases eligible for a new trial so long as they remained in custody and only victimized adults. The legislature also loosened the requirements for police to use tear gas after complaints that 2021 legislation restricting its use was ambiguous and prevented police intervention in violent demonstrations.
Who's Running, Part Deux
Last week we brought you a list of local candidates running in the upcoming May primary, where candidates from the same party run against each other to see who moves on to the November general election. This week, we've compiled a list of who's running in the races for governor, U.S. House and U.S Senate—but with over 20 candidates for governor alone, we've made that long list available—including links to information on who's donating to their campaigns—available on the News page of our website, bendsource.com/bend/local-news.