The Oregon Legislature’s 17-member Black, Indigenous and People of Color Caucus released an agenda Wednesday that includes a range of issues, from equity and health care to justice and environmental problems that affect underserved communities.
The four-year-old caucus, now at its largest with the Legislature more diverse than in the past, is supporting 18 bills this session. Some would make incremental changes, such as House Bill 2996, which would ban the dental board from requiring that dental assistants undergo a costly radiological test. Others would be more sweeping, like Senate Bill 610, which would create a state-funded program for an estimated 62,000 undocumented immigrants, mirroring the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
All of the proposals aim to chip away at social and economic barriers that Black, Indigenous and People of Color face, Sen. Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha and co-chair of the caucus, said in a news conference.
One of the caucus’s top priorities is ensuring that minority communities have equal access to health care and other services.
“Oregonians across the state struggle to access quality, affordable health care, nutritious food and mental health services on average,” Campos said. “We have so much work to do to advance racial equity in our state and these pieces of legislation are an important step toward meeting that goal.”
The agenda also tackles the impact of climate change on minority communities and language barriers faced by Indigenous people.
The release of the agenda comes late in the session – it’s about half over. Caucus co-chair Rep. Ricki Ruiz, D-Gresham, said the priority list was released now because the caucus wanted to be thorough and ensure everyone was onboard – it includes several new legislative members – and to make sure all of the bills had been vetted.
He said caucus members believe all of the proposals can pass both chambers.
Some are controversial. House Bill 2002, which many Republicans oppose, aims to shore up protection for abortions and gender-affirming care in Oregon by protecting doctors and other health care providers from losing their licenses or facing other repercussions for providing care. It would require the state’s Medicaid program and private insurers to cover a range of reproductive and gender-related services, make it a crime to interfere with medical facilities and create a grant program for rural reproductive health clinics.
Others are not. House Bill 3016, which has the support of environmentalists, Portland General Electric and the nursery industry, would create a fund to protect trees in areas where residents are vulnerable to high heat.
Ruiz said fixing equity and other issues is a community-wide effort and will take time.
“We are aware that a caucus such as this one won’t fix racism in our state,” Ruiz said. “The fact that this caucus is getting larger with each legislative session, it tells us that our communities are paying attention and want to roll up their sleeves to do the work that needs to be done.”
Caucus supports range of issues, the other bills that the caucus supports include:
Senate Bill 849, which would require culturally responsive training for staff of professional licensing boards, prohibit the Oregon Medical Board from imposing a deadline for completing the medical licensing exam and create a grant program for entities providing career guidance to internationally educated students.
House Bill 3235, which would create refundable child tax credits.
Senate Bill 611, which would increase the amount landlords would have to pay renters when landlords force them to leave.
House Bill 3431, which would direct a portion of marijuana tax money to fund an equity investment program that helps minority communities buy homes and start businesses.
House Bill 2918, which would allocate $4 million to continue two pilot mobile health units focused on serving low-income communities where people might not have access to health care.
Senate Bill 612 and Senate Bill 911, which would create a fund to ensure that Indigenous residents have access to quality interpretation services.
House Bill 2802, which would establish a work-study programs at Portland State University and Eastern Oregon University that would allow students to take 20% off their tuition if they work for a small, local nonprofit.
House Bill 2757, which would create a telecommunication tax to fund the 988 suicide prevention hotline.
By Lynne Terry of Oregon Capital Chronicle