By Senator Suzanne Weber, Senate District 16
The 82nd session of the Oregon Legislative Assembly is now in full swing after its members were sworn in last Monday. I am very grateful for this opportunity to serve our community and for your support. I wouldn’t be able to do this without you!
Bills, Bills and…Hey Look! More Bills!
Legislators are already hard at work. Thousands of pieces of legislation have been introduced in both the House and the Senate so far, and I expect we will see many more before the deadline to submit bills comes in a month or so.
Some legislators introduce dozens, even hundreds of bills. That’s just not how I work. I want to ensure that I can personally work to ensure my bills have a strong chance of passing. Because of that, I personally only introduce a handful of bills every session. It’s important to me that these bills be answers to real problems that people in Senate District 16 face every day. I don’t introduce bills to make political points or with the next election in mind. That’s why you may see that I introduce far fewer bills than some of my colleagues.
However, I often find that my colleagues come up with some great ideas that will positively affect my constituents. I’m proud to partner with them as a co-sponsor their good ideas and even help shape them to ensure that those in rural Northwest Oregon benefit from them as much as possible.
Governor Kotek’s Executive Order on Housing
Presiding officers of the house and senate as well as Governor Tina Kotek gave speeches addressing their concerns and highlighting their legislative priorities for the session. Homelessness, behavioral health, and housing supply are some of the primary focuses. Governor Kotek even went so far as to declare a state of emergency regarding the homelessness issue. Her plans include developing 36,000 new homes each year to increase the housing supply and reduce costs for people transitioning out of homelessness.
However, some rural counties are not being provisioned with the resources that are outlined in the executive order. Areas considered for homelessness support are called Continuums of Care which are regions originated by the Federal Housing and Urban Development Agency (HUD). Seven of the Continuums are made up of counties clustered around larger metropolitan areas. The final Continuum contains the rest of Oregon, or the 26 counties called the Rural Oregon Continuum.
Counties outlined in blue were not included in the executive order issued by Governor Tina Kotek.
The Emergency Declaration only provides support in Continuums where homelessness has increased by 50% since 2017. Our problem is that as dire as our homelessness problem may be in the North Coast when we are averaged together with all of Eastern Oregon, we fall below the 50% threshold. As a result, the Rural Continuum is the only one where the Executive Order did not apply, which holds serious implications.
Homelessness counts are determined through a census called the Point In Time (PIT) count. Across the Rural Oregon Continuum, you find Oregon’s least populous counties and smallest cities. Smaller communities have fewer resources to complete a thorough and accurate PIT count. And as a result, the true conditions regarding homelessness in our community may be worse than what is reported.
Lastly, the Point In Time surveys specifically exclude homeless students who may be temporarily sheltered. This could result in inaccurate reporting of the number of students who may be living involuntarily doubled-up on friends’ couches, living room floors, or basements. As many as one-in-five coastal students do not have a safe, secure, long-term place to sleep, and this is of obvious concern to our community. This prompted the Coastal Caucus to draft a letter of concern to Governor Kotek where concerts of underrepresentation were expressed. You can read that here.
It appears that the governor did take notice of the situation in rural Oregon regarding homelessness and responded with a letter in kind. You can read that letter here.
Homelessness isn’t just a Portland issue, it is a statewide issue. This is why I will continue to fight for the resources that we need to reduce homelessness in our community.
Movin’ on up to the Senate side
Moving from the House to the Senate has certainly brought some changes. With there being half as many members in the Senate compared to the House, the most noticeable change is the noise level, or rather the lack thereof. Halving half as many neighbors also introduces a welcome change and that is floor space. Having more room in the office makes it easier to accommodate guests and organize legislative materials.
Another noticeable difference in this legislative session is the construction that is being undergone at
the capitol. This is being done to install seismic retrofitting beneath the building to protect the building from potential earthquakes, as well as several other upgrades such as 4 more hearing rooms, an upgraded fire suppression system, and a new café and lounge area. This means locations such as the rotunda have been made off-limits to visitors and staff alike. What is most notable about the construction is the sounds of drilling and hammering occurring throughout the day, some of which are reminiscent of a trip to the dentist’s office.
Committees – Where the real work happens.
After being formally read for the first time on the Senate floor, bills are assigned to committees that then hold public hearings on them. Committees play a pivotal role in the legislative process, because it’s there that work really gets done. Through committees, legislators are able to closely examine legislation and hear public testimony in favor or against them. This allows for participation and provides transparency by being open to the public. These sessions are also made available remotely for ease of access. Legislators pay attention to this testimony, I can assure you (at least I do!). After hearing the bills, the testimony of those in favor and opposed, we often prepare amendments to bills to make the bills better, or sometimes, to make them less bad.
This session I will serve as Vice-Chair for the Senate Committee On Education, and will serve on the Senate Committee On Human Services and the Joint Ways and Means subcommittee on Education.
As Vice-Chair of the Senate Committee On Education, I will oversee legislation pertaining to education and matters such as funding, accessibility and much more. My experience as a teacher will be highly applicable to my time serving on this committee. I look forward to working on making education more efficient and effective in our state.
The senate committee on Human Services plays an important role in reviewing and interpreting legislation regarding childcare, welfare and health.
While progress is being made since the pandemic ended, there are issues that have only increased in severity in recent years. From matters of health crises to staffing shortages, our hospitals have been feeling the impacts in major ways as described in the Oregon Hospital’s Q3 2022 Financial Report. You can read more about it here.
Other matters of health and safety have also been brought to our attention. Concerns about the impacts of Measure 110, which decriminalized many hard drugs, have been increasing. As a result, many of us in the Legislature have made requests for hard data about what this measure has done to our communities. You can find a report on the impact of measure 110 here.
From the District!
Serving as your representative in Salem is one of the most incredible jobs I’ve ever had, and I love to talk about all that is going on! It’s our hope to do one of these From The District chats at least 2-3 times per month, and maybe even more. Please enjoy our first one of the legislative session!
We’re here for YOU!
My staff and I are here to help you! If you have a problem, question or comment, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. I do ask you to PLEASE include your phone number and your address. This allows me to call you to follow up or ask any questions I might have. Your address lets me know that you’re a constituent. I get thousands of emails every week, but I always make sure that constituents get top priority. If you’d prefer, you can also call us at 503.300.4493.
If you’d like to visit me in Salem, you’re always welcome to come by! If you drop by without an appointment, I’ll do my best to meet with you, but to ensure that I don’t have any other commitments, please call or email first for an appointment. That way I can make sure to give you my undivided attention.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to be your State Senator. It truly is the honor of my life, and I look forward to being your voice in the Senate for the next four years!
Capitol Phone: 503-986-1716 District Phone: 503-300-4493
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE, S-405, Salem, Oregon 97301