When the Oregon Legislature begins its every-other-year “short” session Feb. 5, state lawmakers will have a chance to pass important pieces of legislation, including funding for affordable housing, setting up a system of paid family and medical leave, and establishing a “cap-and-invest” system to limit greenhouse gas emissions in a way that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars for renewable energy and transportation infrastructure.
But if Measure 101 fails, all bets are off. The referendum asks voters to ratify the law legislators passed last year that funds the state Medicaid program; if voters reject it, lawmakers would likely spend the six-week session grappling with how to come up with other revenues — or make painful cuts and take away federally-subsidized health insurance from tens of thousands of low-income Oregonians.
As ever, unions will be at the State Capitol as a voice for Oregon working people. Here are some of the proposals they’ll be following:
- Paid family leave Federal law says companies with 50 or more employees must allow employees to take up to 12 weeks leave to care for a newborn or a family member or their own serious health condition. But workers often can’t afford to use it. California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island have made the leave paid. Will Oregon join them? One proposal, to be taken up by state senator Kathleen Taylor (D-Portland), is to levy a small payroll tax to create a fund so folks could go on paid leave if have a kid or a close relative gets very sick.
- Prescription drug prices State representative Rob Nosse (D-Portland), plans to introduce legislation to require pharmaceutical companies to give 60 days’ notice if they want to raise the price of a drug more than 10 percent a year for drugs that cost more than $100 a month. They would also be required to give state regulators detailed explanations of the price hikes and their effects on healthcare costs. California passed a similar proposal last year.
- More money for affordable housing Alissa Keny-Guyer (D-Portland) will sponsor a proposal to increase the real estate transaction recording fee to $75 (currently it’s $35) to generate $112.5 million a year to build affordable housing.
- Bargaining over class size A bill sponsored by State Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem) would make class size a mandatory subject of bargaining in teachers union negotiations. Up to now, unions have wanted to negotiate limits to class size, but districts have often refused even to discuss it.
- Cap and invest The most impactful proposal lawmakers will take up is the Clean Energy Jobs bill. See the separate article for details.