February 15, 2008 Volume 109 Number 4

Labor has short agenda for legislative session in Salem

No workers’ rights legislation is up for discussion in the special session of the Oregon Legislature that began Feb. 4. But that doesn't mean unions are going to sit out the month-long experiment with annual sessions. A handful of issues to be voted on would impact union members and working people.

A bill to reform mortgage industry lending practices is the session’s top priority for the Oregon AFL-CIO [See related story]. And trade unionists will also be watching bills that address crime, health care, and the state’s response to global warming.

The Legislature is working to craft a response to a tough-on-crime ballot measure submitted by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix. The Mannix measure would increase penalties for property crimes, burglars and drug dealers, but it would take away discretion of judges and prosecutors, and mandate a new round of prison building that could sap the state's ability to take care of its other priorities. Estimates are that Mannix’s measure could add 4,000 to 6,000 inmates to the state prison system, and cost taxpayers $128 million to $200 million a year. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Oregon Council 75, which represents corrections officers and other public employees, is on board with a compromise put forward by Oregon district attorneys that would be tough on repeat offenders but more lenient with first-time offenders and would stress counseling and rehabilitation for those whose crimes were fueled by drug addiction. The bill would be referred to voters in November as an alternative to Mannix’s measure.

Last year, the Oregon AFL-CIO backed a proposal to expand health coverage to Oregon children by raising the cigarette tax. But voters rejected it. Now, the Legislature is considering HB 3614, which would expand the rolls of an existing kids’ health program to thousands more children; it will come down to whether lawmakers think the state can afford the $15 million a year extra.

Labor will also be watching as lawmakers hash out more details of a state response to climate change. Major state legislation isn’t expected until 2009, but a bill being considered this month will direct state agencies to gather information about the state’s emissions of greenhouse gases.

“We can’t bury our head in the sand and not worry about global warming,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain. “We want to be sure we’re incentivizing [new green] industries, but also that those industries produce good jobs for Oregonians.”

The session is scheduled to end by Feb. 29.


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