Monday, July 17, 2017

What just happened in Oregon's legislative session?

We are in a complex situation in Oregon. The recently-concluded legislative session gave the people some victories, but we also took some losses. In the concluding weeks of the legislative session attention shifted from bills and legislative work to political campaigns---who will be running for what. We're still in that period. Brad Avakian, head of the Bureau of Labor and Industries, has announced that he's not going to run for that position again, and Val Hoyle and Diane Rosenbaum have both expressed interest in the position. The right-wing reaction has been to push for the Labor Commissioner to become an appointed position. Talk that Peter Courtney might step down, or that he's vulnerable, is pushing Kevin Mannix forward as a challenger. Kate Brown puts distance between herself and talk that she intends to stay as Governor even as she does fundraising. It seems unlikely that Republican stars will align and that a successful challenger to Brown will emerge, but it also seems unlikely that the Democrats will have a strong candidate running for Secretary of State.

Some people make careers out of speculating about who will run for which office, what their chances are, what deals are being made and what the outcomes will be. People on the left have a higher calling---we need to ask and to know what the working class and oppressed peoples think and what the state of the movement is. The political plays mentioned above all rely on our movements splitting or dividing. Hoyle and Rosenbaum represent, more or less, the same trends within the Democratic Party, but labor forces will divide over which of them to back. One union leader in particular has been Courtney's angel while the most progressive working-class and people of color forces have opposed him. Brown has positioned herself to isolate the people most concerned about environmental justice and housing and play to people more engaged in women's, LGBTQIA+, anti-racist and immigrant rights work. Working-class and genuinely progressive forces are leaving this legislative session divided, and these divisions reflect disagreements which predated the session and which will continue to divide us until we transform the Democratic Party and build a unifying political organization of our own.

The liberal and progressive forces are making a great mistake by talking about bipartisanship and buying into the dominant Democratic Party narrative that the initiative process needs to be sidelined. This is a moment when new political alternatives should be tried and tested, not a moment to step backwards. This is a moment to build a united front or coalition politics from the left and not surrender the principles of solidarity and struggle. We need a strong left program and real left candidates.

Labor has yet to issue a scorecard. The post below comes from UniteOregon and reflects their point of view. I am not crazy about the implied bipartisanship message, and the bill which requires prosecutors to provide either an audio recording or a transcript of Grand Jury testimony to a defense attorney if an indictment results is not mentioned, but this is as good a summary from liberal/progressive forces as I have yet seen. Not happy with the results? Look to the left and join us!    

Despite an atmosphere of fear and anger in the halls of the State Legislature, Unite Oregon worked with Democrat and Republican lawmakers and communities around the state to pass a slate of historic new laws.

Here is a roundup of Unite Oregon’s legislative work, and the work of our allies, in the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session:


End Profiling Law -- Building on our success in outlawing police profiling across the state in 2015, Unite Oregon and our partners in the Fair Shot Coalition have worked to strengthen the law and put more policy in place so it can succeed. Once it is signed by Gov. Kate Brown, this law changes drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor; requires all state law enforcement to start keeping records on the perceived race and gender of the people they stop whether a citation is issued or not; it requires state law enforcement trainers to use the data from those records to help local law enforcement bureaus change their practices; it prohibits state officials from deporting legal immigrants charged with drug possession; and more. The passage of HB 2355 ensures that thousands of Oregonians will have a brighter future; it is a true history-making achievement.

Reproductive Health Equity Act -- This is a first-of-its-kind new law that guarantees all women and female-identified people in the state the full range of women’s reproductive health services free of charge, including contraception, abortion, and postpartum medical care; it requires all health insurance companies to include contraception on their plans; it eliminates barriers to women’s health services for gender nonconforming and transgender healthcare clients, including gender-specific cancer screenings; and ends “grandfathered” insurance plans that forced women to pay out of pocket for contraception.

Cover All Kids -- This new law will extend the Oregon Health Plan to every child in the state, regardless of immigration status or federal poverty level status. An estimated 17,000 kids will now be able to access health care services at clinics instead of emergency rooms.

Privacy Protection for Immigrant Families -- Provides clarity on what personal information government agencies can share with other government agencies about individuals, and increases privacy for Oregonians from federal anti-immigration actions. The bill declares an emergency and takes effect immediately when the governor signs it rather than waiting for Jan. 1 of the following year as usually happens.

Native American School Curriculum -- This bill passed unanimously in both the Oregon House and Senate. It requires the state Department of Education to work with Oregon tribes to develop school curriculum on the Native American experience in Oregon. It also requires the state to provide professional development related to the new curriculum.

Ethnic Studies -- This bill requires ethnic-studies curriculum for K-12 students across Oregon. Directs the Oregon Department of Education to convene advisory groups to develop ethnic-studies standards into existing statewide social-studies standards. Ethnic studies standards would be adopted by 2020, with implementation in schools set for 2021.

Fair Scheduling Bill -- This policy helps workers whose employers post or change their work schedules without notice. It requires large employers in retail, hospitality and foodservice industries to provide new employees with an estimated work schedule, and to provide current employees with seven days' notice of schedule changes. This law is another first of its kind in the nation.

Anti-Union “Right To Work” Attack Stopped -- A recent court decision allowed local communities to pass laws limiting the growth of labor unions. But SB 1040 shuts that possibility down by guaranteeing unions and employees the right to require labor union membership as a condition of employment. Passed as an emergency, the bill goes into effect as soon as the governor signs it.

Falsified Timecards -- Believe it or not, until now there has been no penalty for employers who force their employees to falsify their timecards, which is a common form of wage theft. This bill fixes that, and it goes into effect as soon as the governor signs it.

More Apprentice Jobs on State Construction Projects -- The Oregon Building Trades Council bird-dogged this effort until the end, improving the language. The bill requires contractors working on state construction jobs to fill 10 percent of all work hours with apprentice labor, for contracts of over $5 million. Subcontractors contracted to complete at least 25 percent or $1 million of contracted work are also held to the 10 percent requirement.


Corporate income tax and Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) Reform -- State lawmakers spent months trying to hash out new revenue sources to pay for education and other needed services. Not only did they fail, but they also couldn’t agree on how to slow down the fast-growing state employee retirement costs, which

Paid Family and Medical Leave -- If passed, this would have created a paid family and medical leave insurance program to provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid time off -- making about 90 percent of their usual wage -- to care for themselves or family members after a birth, a death, or a medical crisis. For families who give birth or adopt a child, the bill would have given six more weeks. The insurance would have been funded by small contributions by employers and employees, and self-employed workers could have opted in as well.

Just Cause Evictions -- Oregon legislators could not agree on giving renters across the state relief from quick evictions that have put thousands of people on the streets. This bill was supported by the state House but defeated in the Senate.

The bill only impacted landlords with five or more rental units. If passed it would have prevented landlords for 30-day notices evicting tenants for no reason, after the tenant had lived in the unit for six months. And for people with less than six months residence in their apartment, it would also have required landlords issuing a no-cause eviction to give tenants 90 days notice and refund one month’s rent.

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