Oregon’s 2021 legislative session was truly historic. The session began with a bleak economic outlook that was buoyed by a series of improved revenue projections and a one-time infusion of $2.6 billion in federal aid. Thanks to the advocacy of SEIU members and our partners, these resources translated into historic investments in our essential public services. While our campaign for Essential Worker Pay didn’t materialize before the session ended, SEIU 503 members racked up significant wins in 2021 that set us up to win good contracts and strengthen our communities. We also saw another first: (former) Representative and Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow Mike Nearman was expelled by his peers for allowing rioters into the Capitol.

SEIU 503 members represent the diversity of our state. We are Black, white, and brown. We are multi-generational Oregonians and immigrants who live in rural areas and cities. We reflect the gender and sexual orientation spectrums. Some of us also experience food and housing insecurity, and we are all increasingly feeling the impacts of climate change. Working in coalition with partner organizations, our members were able to secure key victories in housing, health care, immigrant rights, family supports, public safety, broadband, water infrastructure, wildfire mitigation, and climate justice

Housing

HB 5006 and other legislation dedicated $100 million for affordable housing preservation

SB 282 (Tenant Protections) protects tenants by 1) extending the Repayment Grace Period and the 10-day Non-payment Termination Notice through February 28, 2022; 2) protecting tenants’ ability to rent in the future by preventing the use of FED records and credit history from the COVID pandemic period; 3) prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants who have provided temporary shelter to friends or family during the COVID period, through February 28, 2022; and 4) extending the Retaliation Provisions from HB 4401 to Feb 28, 2022.

SB 278 (Emergency Eviction Protections for Rental Assistance Applicants) provides stability for tenants who have applied for rent assistance by ensuring that they cannot be evicted for non-payment while their applications for assistance are pending. It will provide a 60-day pause on the eviction process for rent assistance applicants, and will thus facilitate distribution of federal dollars to address rent debt. The bill also provides increased access to compensation to landlords, and creates a risk guarantee program to offset additional rent debt, if incurred during the application of the bill.

Health Care

HB 2362 (Equal Access to Care Act) addresses the fact that mergers, acquisitions, and other big business deals in health care can increase prices and limit access to essential health care. This bill will help patients, workers, and employers by creating a landmark healthcare transaction review program that centers patients and equity. The program created by HB 2362 is needed to support other efforts Oregon has already started to support the triple aim of sustainable healthcare: better health, better care, and lower costs. 

HB 3352 (Cover All People) will expand the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) for a population who until now have been shut out: low-income Oregonians who would already qualify except for their immigration status. The uninsurance rate of Latinx Oregonians is 50% higher than the general population – and as we saw during the COVID pandemic, that meant more people getting sick, more people dying, more families devastated, and dangerous workplace outbreaks. By extending Medicaid coverage to undocumented people, HB 3352 prioritizes health equity and community health.

HB 2360 addresses changes in federal law in recent years that led to some immigrants who want to become citizens of the United States being barred from accessing public services, including the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid). HB 2360 ensures that immigrants have access to hospital charity care and aren’t forced to threaten their future path to citizenship by signing up for Medicaid first.

HB 3016 takes action to prevent a repeat of the major staffing challenges at hospitals across the state created by the COVID-19 pandemic by clarifying that hospitals must use the expertise of staffing committees during emergencies.  

SJR 12 proposes a HOPE Universal Healthcare Amendment to the Oregon Constitution. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected BIPOC people in Oregon and beyond, has made the importance of universal access to healthcare even more clear. SJR 12 proposes an amendment to the Oregon Constitution establishing the obligation of the state to ensure that every resident has access to affordable healthcare. Oregon voters will consider the amendment on the November 2022 ballot.  

SB 496 would stop “reasonable assurance” from barring vulnerable workers from receiving the modest unemployment benefits they could earn if they didn’t work in schools. Food service workers are the lowest paid education employees in Oregon, and are more likely to be women or BIPOC. Many are essential workers who worked through the pandemic to feed hungry kids and families. For those who could not work through the pandemic, many were denied unemployment benefits available to other workers – because of what is known as the “reasonable assurance” standard. SB 496 removes this unreasonable standard.

Immigrant Rights

HB 3265 (Sanctuary Promise) fills the gap between the protection for immigrants that Oregonians want our laws to provide, and what the reality is today. Immigrants are part of our families, communities, workplaces, and places of worship, and they should be safe from unfair harassment and profiling just like any other Oregonian. The Sanctuary Promise Act protects Oregonians from racial profiling and ensures that local police and resources will not be used for federal immigration enforcement.

Family Supports

HB 3073 reforms how Oregon provides child care assistance so that families most impacted by the pandemic can receive relief now, allows for more seamless coordination and coverage of services, and strategically purchases child care to rebuild the sector after devastating COVID-19 losses. Child care is essential infrastructure and necessary for joyful children, thriving families, and a strong economy. Without major investments in child care and policies that support working families, Oregon will not have an equitable economic recovery. Child care providers will have more financial stability through reforms to the program that prioritize workers.

Public Safety

While the Oregon Legislature fell short on HB 2002, a groundbreaking criminal justice measure, they were able to make progress on criminal justice reform and police accountability including SB 620, which made Oregon the second state to eliminate fees for post-prison supervision, probation, and parole. SEIU 503 is determined to continue fighting to advance racial justice, including reforming our state’s approach to public safety and policing. 

Broadband

The pandemic made it very clear that not all communities across Oregon have access to reliable broadband and internet services, impacting the ability of thousands of people to telework, attend remote school, and more during a dangerous public health crisis. The Legislature is investing significant amounts of funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to address the need for broadband infrastructure across the state. The Oregon Business Development Department received $120 million in the “Broadband Fund” to develop a grant program to support communities in building broadband infrastructure. Various communities are also receiving grants to expand broadband infrastructure via the ARP, including Polk and Yamhill Counties, and the Cities of Sherwood, Springfield, Creswell, and Eugene. Additional funds will be allocated to school districts to improve broadband infrastructure via Lottery Bonds. 

Education

SEIU 503 members helped to secure $900 million in Public University Support Funding (PUSF), an increase of 7.5% and new all-time high investment, and $200 Million for Oregon Opportunity Grants (OOG) for the 2021-23 biennium, a $28.8M increase over the current service level.  

Senate Bill 712 expands Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) voting rights for students, faculty, and staff, giving our members a voice in how Oregon’s higher education system operates. There will not be 2 students, 2 faculty, 1 staff member, and a voting graduate student member to the HECC.

Senate Bill 551 invests $12.91 million for Oregon’s part-time college and university faculty to receive health care coverage under OEBB (Oregon Educators Benefit Board), at no cost or administrative burden to the colleges and universities themselves.

House Bill 2835 invests $5.2 million to establish Benefits Navigators at Oregon’s community colleges and public universities to help students, who are disproportionately food-insecure and housing-insecure, access the public benefits available to them.

House Bill 2590 establishes a Legislative Committee which would evaluate post-secondary institutions statewide and offer an overview of education inequalities in all corners of our state. The bill will ensure that the needs of our BIPOC (Black, Indigeneous, People of Color) students, low-income students, students with physical or learning disabilities, and students from rural communities are heard and acted upon.

Senate Bill 553 provides that students who entered the United States under the Compact of Free Association (COFA) treaty between the United States and the Republic of Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, or Federated States of Micronesia, and who have not previously established residence in any state or territory of the United States other than Oregon qualify for an exemption from nonresident tuition and fees at public universities and are eligible to receive state and university scholarships or other financial aid.

Water Infrastructure

The Legislature invested significant amounts in water resource infrastructure, particularly in rural communities. The Water Resource Department received $30 million to fund water supply development grants across the state. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board received a combined $15 million to administer grants for floodplain restoration and protection of water quality.

Wildfire Mitigation

Oregon continues to feel the impacts of the historic and devastating 2020 Labor Day wildfires, and communities across our state need relief. The Legislature allocated millions of dollars to recovery efforts, including investments at the Department of Forestry. There are permanent increases in budget and finance staff to help the Agency continue to improve its financial practices, including recouping fire costs; 17 new permanent positions in the Fire Protection Division to increase training, coordination, and support general increased workload demands; investments in firefighter life safety infrastructure and equipment; and continued funding of 19 positions added in the 2019-2021 interim that are now made permanent and are intended to promote shared stewardship on federal forestland. Finally, there is a $14 million Special Purpose Appropriation (SPA) to the Legislative Emergency Board for expected 2021-2023 severity costs. 

In addition to investments in the Department of Forestry, the Legislature passed a handful of bills that over time will allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to wildfire recovery and prevention efforts, including $190 million to fund Senate Bill 762, the omnibus wildfire recovery and mitigation bill. Other major investments include more than $150 million to rebuild homes and other structures lost in the 2020 Labor Day fires and millions of dollars for local fire districts.

Behavioral Health

This year the Legislature made a historic $400 million-plus investment in more effective, inclusive behavioral health care, including opening two new units at the Junction City Campus of the Oregon State Hospital, major investments in community and crisis mental health services, and workforce resources. Some of the bills included in this package include: HB 2086, which increases reimbursement rates and invests in data collection and culturally-specific treatment; HB 2417, which adds resources for behavioral health crisis intervention treatment and infrastructure; HB 2949, which establishes incentive programs to increase the capacity and diversity of Oregon’s behavioral health workforce; and HB 2980, which invests in peer respite centers across the state.

Climate Justice

SEIU 503 members made Climate Justice a major priority for our union. After Republican legislators walked out of the Capitol to kill a Clean Energy Jobs bill in 2019, SEIU 503 was able to work with partners to pass landmark environmental justice legislation in 2021. Our efforts were spearheaded by President Mike Powers and our Climate Justice Committee, working closely with the Oregon Clean Energy Opportunity campaign and Fair Shot

HB 2021 (100% Clean Energy for All) will transition Oregon’s electricity to 100% clean energy by 2040 while centering benefits for the communities and workers most impacted by climate change. This energy must maximize economic opportunities to environmental justice communities, meaning rural, low-income, and BIPOC communities, and Tribal Nations.

HB 2475 (Energy Affordability) will help Oregon families afford their energy bills through lower energy rates for low-income residential ratepayers. The State Public Utility Commission will be given authority to allow utilities to provide rate designs, such as discounts, that help reduce the energy burden for low-income or other under-served customers. 

HB 2842 (Healthy Homes) will make homes safer to live in and more affordable to heat and cool. A Healthy Homes Program and Healthy Homes Repair Fund within the Oregon Health Authority will distribute grants to local governments, local housing authorities, nonprofit organizations, community groups, or federally recognized Indian tribes in Oregon to assist low-income households or environmental justice communities with home repairs and retrofits. The Interagency Task Force on Healthy Homes will ensure better coordination between agencies doing home improvement work, which will ensure better outcomes for all  Oregonians.

SCR 17 (Environmental Justice for Oregon Joint Resolution) calls on the state legislature to adopt a vision and set of principles for achieving environmental justice in Oregon, including recognizing the right of all people to clean air and water.