Oregon AFSCME Mid-Session Legislative Update

The 2022 legislative session is starting to deliver for Oregon workers. Oregon AFSCME started the 2022 legislative session with several priority bills that advance economic and social justice for members and for other Oregon workers and their families. As we move into the last two weeks of the session, we have reached some important milestones in our advocacy. 

Bills are starting to move forward after we held two member lobby days where state senators and representatives heard directly from Oregon AFSCME members about the need for increased investment in child care and behavioral health pay, one-time payments for low-income workers and better staffing at the Oregon State Hospital. Lawmakers from both parties are supporting many of our bills. Members also talked to their lawmakers about how the statewide staffing crisis is hitting all sectors. We are going to continue to demand that state leaders hold agencies and employers accountable for retention and recruitment efforts so that employers aren’t relying on overtime and sacrifices from workers to provide services and care. 

At our two lobby day events, members like Cameron Johnson of Local 1790 were able to directly speak with legislators about the workplace hardships experienced by frontline behavioral health workers who are working in chronically underfunded and understaffed positions.

“We do this work because we believe in serving this population. But all of our workers could easily find higher paying jobs, especially in the private sector, and you’ve got to pay your rent and take care of your kids” said Johnson, an Information Systems Analyst at Fora Health, a behavioral health nonprofit in Portland. One of our priority bills, HB 4004A, would provide immediate salary and retention funding for essential behavioral health workers like Johnson.

The 2022 legislative session is constitutionally dictated to end on March 7th. Over the next few weeks things will be moving fast. Here is an update on key bills for our members and how to follow the bills. 

Child Care Investments

Lawmakers agreed with us that funding child care is a top priority this year. HB 4005 quickly moved through the policy and budget committees with bipartisan votes in support. It cleared an important hurdle on Wednesday, February 23rd, passing out of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means (the budget committee). It could be up for a full vote by the House of Representatives, followed by the Senate, starting as early as next week. This historic investment wouldn’t have gotten this far without all our voices. Our union parents and child care providers have been advocating for this $100 million investment that will increase payments to providers and provide grants to expand child care programs across the state. Oregon AFSCME family child care providers need support to stay open and we have heard from so many members that they cannot find adequate care. This bill is a top priority for us because every child care provider should be paid in a way that reflects the essential work they do and every Oregon family deserves access to high quality, affordable, and culturally relevant child care. And it shouldn’t fall on providers or parents to foot the bill for an inadequate system. You can follow the progress of the bill here. https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2022R1/Measures/Overview/HB4005

Behavioral Health Staffing Crisis

HB 4004 would give behavioral health workers a raise with a $200 million funding package passed out of the House Behavioral Health Committee with nearly unanimous bipartisan support on February 10th after Oregon AFSCME members testified in favor. This bill would provide immediate funding to employers for salaries and recruitment and retention. 75% has to go to salaries and 25% to recruitment and retention. The money has to be distributed by the Oregon Health Authority by May 31st. We know this is a stop gap measure and much more needs to be done. But it is an important and immediate recognition of the behavioral health staffing crisis as we work on long-term solutions. It is currently in the final budget committee and  if passed, will go for a vote before the full House of Representatives and full Senate. You can follow the progress of the bill here. https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2022R1/Measures/Overview/HB4004

Labor Harmony: Our Labor Harmony bill did not pass the policy committee in time to move forward during this short session. We have had good success educating lawmakers on the importance of statewide labor harmony and elevating the issue - and putting employers on notice that we are not going to give up. As is often the case with these kinds of issues in a short session, we laid important groundwork and will be coming back in the 2023 session to get this bill passed. 

Low-Income Worker Payments

The bill for essential worker pay has changed in order to get more money to more people faster than starting up a new program. Due to chronic understaffing, the state has struggled to get unemployment benefits and rent assistance out the door and the original proposal would have taken years to implement. The updated bill, HB 4157, leverages the already existing Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program and by July 2022 will send a $600 check to anyone who received the EITC benefit in 2020. Beneficiaries do not have to do anything to receive the check and we will have more detailed information about this benefit soon. The bill has moved to the full Ways and Means Committee (budget committee) and if it passes will go to a vote of the full House of Representatives and full Senate. 

You can follow the progress of the bill here: https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2022R1/Measures/Overview/HB4157

Oregon State Hospital Funding

Oregon AFSCME continues to push for the release of the $20 million special appropriation funds that were allocated during the 2021 session to address staffing issues at the state hospital. The newly released Disability Rights Oregon/Dr. Pinal’s report calls out the explicit need for additional staff echoing many of the concerns we have brought to the legislature over the years.  In addition, Oregon AFSCME is continuing to work with OSH and OHA leadership on other recruitment retention tools including new scheduling models.

 Increased Funding For Public Defenders

The public defense system is critically underfunded. Gov. Brown recently convened meetings with Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Walters, the Ways and Means Co-Chairs and Legislative Leadership to provide emergency investments in public defense services to ensure all accused of a crime are able to access their Constitutional Right to representation in court. By releasing emergency funding of $12.8 million to begin to address the workforce shortage, those accused of a crime in our state will receive the representation they are entitled to. This funding for additional attorneys and staff will help provide some relief in alleviating crushing caseloads for attorneys and workloads for the investigators, trial assistants, social workers, and administrative support staff.

We look forward to working with Legislative Leadership, the Chief Justice, Gov. Brown  and our partners at the Office of Public Defense Services  and in the community to ensure that the previously approved $100m is also released. WIthout that funding, trial level public defense services will face cuts and undo these steps to improve the system.