Oregon’s 2019 legislative session is upon us. With a supermajority in both the House and Senate chambers, Oregon Democrats are poised to pass a landslide of progressive bills that in the past might have been scuttled by conservative lawmakers. As the session rolls forward, lawmakers will be looking to local advocacy groups to find out what issues their constituents want prioritized. To get a peek at those priorities, we asked Portland advocacy organizations where they’ll be focusing their energy this legislative session.
The one issue that shows up in every advocacy group’s list of legislative priorities comes as no surprise: basic access to affordable housing. Unions, transportation nonprofits, teacher organizations, and civil rights groups are throwing their weight behind a bill that would prevent no-cause evictions from occurring after a year of tenancy while setting a yearly maximum for rent increases.
Tenant advocacy groups, however, are split on the legislation—while the Community Alliance of Tenants (CAT) call the limits a major step forward for a rent-burdened state, Portland Tenants United (PTU) say this “watered-down” measure still panders to landlords.
Criminal justice groups like Oregon Justice Resource Center are ready to start chipping away at Measure 11, a state law mandating that offenders between 15 and 17 years old who are charged with violent crimes are automatically tried and sentenced as adults, meaning their prison time can often span decades.
Bills expected to go to a vote this session include overturning parts of Measure 11 affecting minors, banning life without parole sentences for minors, and mandating transfer hearings for 18-year-olds before they’re moved from a youth correctional facility to an adult prison.
Oregon’s tenuously structured Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) continues to eat up resources otherwise reserved for funding public schools. This has unfairly pitted public employees against public school students, according to union representatives, who are calling for the legislature to find an alternative revenue source.
The Portland Association of Teachers would like the legislature to pass a budget that increases funding to reduce class sizes, provides additional mental health services in schools, and invests in pre-kindergarten programs.
Unions representing public employees, like AFSCME and SEIU 503, want to see lightened workloads for public defenders in hopes of allowing low-income defendants a better shot at avoiding prison—a move that could also prevent burnout among overworked and underpaid attorneys. Unions are also looking out for their members at the other end of the justice system, calling on the state to free up more worker’s compensation dollars for public corrections staff with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Governor Kate Brown has made campaign finance reform a priority for Salem lawmakers in 2019, calling for financial limits on Oregon’s currently limitless campaign contributions.
While fair election advocates in Portland support Brown’s proposed caps, it’s not the only area of election reform they’d liketo be taken on by representatives. Notably, organizers with the Bus Project—a group working to make politics accessible for younger Oregonians—want the state’s voting age lowered to 16 and require Oregon-issued ballots to include postage-paid return envelopes.
Local transportation leaders like OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon are ready for Oregon to turn over state-owned highways like SE Powell and East 82nd to Portland’s Bureau of Transportation. Local control over these busy thoroughfares could allow the city to regulate environmental air quality and public transportation access in some of Portland’s more disadvantaged communities.
At the same time, OPAL’s pushing state representatives to introduce stronger environmental protections than those currently on the table. OPAL has joined forces with organizations representing people of color—like the NAACP and Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO)—to propose an Oregon-centric “Green New Deal” to state legislators, one that tightens limits on transportation emissions and phases out state reliance on fossil fuels. Portland leaders like City Commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Jo Ann Hardesty have already signaled their support, but it’s up to state lawmakers to place it on the agenda.
According to FBI data, Portland saw 18 reported hate crimes in 2017. Eugene, a city with nearly 500,000 fewer people than Portland, saw 72.
Portland organizations working regularly with folks who feel targeted based on their perceived race, religion, gender, or any other identifying factors say this data shows that Portland is failing at tracking these types of crimes. That’s why groups like Unite Oregon and the ACLU are working with Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to strengthen the definition of a “bias crime” as well as the penalties—along with creating a more accessible support system for people who believe they’ve been targeted.