Legislative Report - September Interim
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Karen Nibler and Jean Pierce
Senate Judiciary discussed SB 337 on 9-27. The bill formed a new Public Defense Services Commission, to become effective 1-1-2024. The staff is recruiting new defense attorneys for unrepresented clients residing In jails. Currently, the average time is 16 days without representation. The W&Ms Joint Public Safety heard that the goal is a 10-day limit.
Caseload size and salary levels are under consideration now and regional offices were proposed. The new agency will move to the Governor’s Office in 2025.
The Department of Corrections appealed for increased funding for Community Corrections supervision for those on adult probation or released on parole. The closer supervision results in less recidivism and return to custody.
Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for women has been under review based on complaints and has begun implementing gender-informed practices recommended in a Gender-Informed Practices Assessment Report.
Police and sheriff representatives discussed Ballot Measure 110 impacts. They reported that only 1% of those cited for drug possession got assessments and there was no incentive to go for treatment. Emergency responders and Emergency Rooms were strained by overdose incidents and deaths increased. There is a need for accountability and detox facilities. The House Behavioral Health and Health Care committee heard that each quarter there has been a steady increase in the number of people being served by 110, with most of the services provided for housing and peer support. This committee was also told that the workforce shortage is one of the biggest challenges.
W&Ms Public Safety reviewed agency status with demands on funding. The Oregon Judicial Departments submitted a Compensation Report with a 6.5% increase. The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training reported on the operation of 60-person classes and new instructor positions.
By Debbie Aiona and Nancy Donovan
The Senate Interim Housing and Development met September 27, 2023, as part of the Legislature’s quarterly Interim Legislative Days. The focus of this housing meeting was current challenges, such as ongoing efforts to reduce homelessness and produce affordable housing. Likely, these topics will be addressed in the February 2024 session, along with updates on implementing bills passed in the last session, and other issues needing more work. The following items were covered in the meeting.
Emergency Homelessness Response
Background: Oregon’s Housing Affordability challenge, a state economists’ report, shows homelessness is primarily a housing problem. Individuals make up 70% of the unhoused population . A majority of unhoused people do not have a substance use disorder. Among individuals, the rate is higher (national data: 25 – 40%) than among families.
According to a 2022 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report presented to the U.S. Congress, Oregon has the 4th highest rate of unsheltered homelessness in the nation. There are an estimated 18,000 unsheltered people in Oregon and just under 5,200 year-round shelter beds (2022 data).
In response, House Bill 5019 allocated General Fund dollars to addressing the crisis. LWVOR presented testimony in support of HB5019.
Shelter and Rehousing
Funds were allocated to the Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) groups covering larger cities and to rural local planning group areas separately to foster collaboration and communication. The MAC groups have received $85.2 million to create 600 new shelter beds by January 10, 2024. As of July 31, 2023, 40 households had been rehoused.
Rural local planning groups received $26.135 million with the goal of creating 100 new shelter beds and rehousing 450 households by June 30, 2025. HB 5019 investments are increasing local shelter capacity by funding shelter rehab, acquisition, and operation. Shelter bed funding must be used to add new shelter bed capacity into a region.
Keeping people in homes they already have is the most effective and humane way to prevent homelessness. HB 5019 allocated $33.6 million to support homelessness prevention through two existing programs: the Oregon Eviction Diversion and Prevention program and the Eviction Prevention Rapid Response program. These programs provide rent assistance and other prevention services, including legal services. The goal is to prevent 8,750 households from becoming homeless. Combined, these programs have already assisted 1,261 households through July 31, 2023.
The rapid response program is available to renters on the verge of eviction and provides legal and other services. The goal is to prevent 1,750 evictions statewide. The program helped 45 households through July 31, 2023.
Housing Production Advisory Council
On January 10, 2023, Governor Kotek signed three executive orders to tackle Oregon’s housing and homelessness crisis. Executive Order 23-04 establishes a statewide housing production goal of 36,000 units per year and creates a Housing Production Advisory Council (HPAC) to develop comprehensive budget and policy recommendations to meet this goal. This annual housing production goal represents an 80% increase over current annual trends. The state will need to double its annual housing production to address the current shortage and to keep pace with annual housing needs. HPAC’s final report and recommendations are due by December 2023. The production plan must be equitable and affirmatively advance fair housing
Infrastructure and Housing Infrastructure funding is critical to meeting Oregon’s housing production goals. The League of Oregon Cities described the progress made by the cities of Wilsonville, Newport, Salem, and Baker City. This involves coordinated investments in drinking water, sewer, stormwater, and transportation systems to address Oregon’s housing needs. Infrastructure strategies include utility fees, system development charges, special assessments, urban renewal, reimbursement districts and local improvement districts.
Meeting Basic Human Needs
By Jean Pierce
Implementation of HB3235 (2023) created a refundable child tax credit for families earning $30,000 or less. LWVOR testimony supported this legislation. It is intended to reduce poverty through an equitable and progressive tax system.
At this stage of the implementation, an FAQ sheet is being created The League has been asked to suggest questions likely to arise for the public, for instance:
What do you want to know about our administering the credit?
What information will help Oregonians determine their eligibility for the credit?
What information will help eligible Oregonians better understand and claim the credit?
League members are invited to send their recommended questions to SocialPolicy@lwvor.org.
Mental Health Services for Children and Youth
By Jean Pierce
We anticipate legislation addressing barriers to mental health services for children. The Senate Interim Human Services heard from Chair, Senator Gelser Blouin, who described legislation plans that appear to be related to LWVOR positions. It calls for a well-coordinated comprehensive mental health service delivery plan with community-level services accessible to all income levels, demonstrating coordination of all levels of government.
Senator Gelser Blouin’s “Psych Under 21” bill would improve access to the state Medicaid plan by:
Defining categories of mental health needs covered
Creating evidence-based assessment tools to determine eligibility
Creating the infrastructure needed to access services
Disregarding parental income – Medicaid would cover expenses after their private insurance runs out
Providing targeted case management addressing multiple needs