Carbon Tax Fight Looms Over Health Care Bills In Upcoming Session

Oregon’s legislative leaders aren’t expecting health care to be the wedge issue that divides lawmakers this session.

Democratic leaders will have their hands full enough with trying to pass a cap-and-trade bill that doesn’t spark a repeat of the Republican-led walkout in the Senate during the 2019 session.

Gov. Kate Brown said Friday her priorities for the session are the cap-and-trade bill, putting more funding into modernizing wildland firefighting and preparing for earthquakes, including a plan to fund dam repairs and get Oregon on the ShakeAlert early warning system.

There will be plenty to watch on the health care front, though. Lawmakers will take up a ban on flavored vaping products and a proposal to allow importation of drugs from Canada. Speaker Tina Kotek has a bill that would declare homelessness a state emergency and put more money toward shelters. Oregon Health Authority officials are asking for a combined total of more than $100 million, $20 million of it for opening two vacant 25-bed units at Oregon State Hospital’s Junction City campus to make room for patients.

Brown, speaking Friday to reporters at The Associated Press Legislative Preview, said she expects the request to open two units up to attract attention.   

“I think the Legislature’s going to wrestle with that, but I think it is certainly a request that needs to be filled,” Brown said of the request for more beds.

Brown said she recognizes that homelessness is a problem in the state.

“I’m talking to mayors,” she said. “I’m seeing the tents. This is a huge problem in every single community in Oregon.”

 “I think we have huge challenges in this state regarding behavioral health issues,” Brown said, adding that her office’s stakeholder group for behavioral health issues will help with policy proposals.

She added that it’s important to focus on prevention and support services for people.  Brown said the Student Success Act, passed in 2019, is one tool to get more supports in place for families with young children so behavioral health challenges can be addressed early in life.

Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said she is backing and sponsoring a “safe storage” bill that requires firearms to be secured so they cannot be accessed by children. She said it’s intended to help reduce the suicide rate. The bill is starting in the House, sponsored by Reps. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, and Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn. 

Separately, Burdick is backing a bill that would allow, but not require, local governments to entirely ban firearms from buildings, including concealed firearms.

Kotek, D-Portland, said she’ll ask lawmakers to declare the homeless situation a state emergency and is asking for a one-time infusion of about $120 million to help with a variety of housing and shelter costs and program. The bill, which includes the emergency declaration, is intended to give cities resources for building more shelter capacity.

Work on behavioral health needs is ongoing, Kotek said.

“We will be having additional investments in behavioral health and we’re still trying to figure this out,” Kotek said.

While the cap-and-trade fight is unlikely to die soon, Republican and Democratic lawmakers do agree that homelessness and mental health issues need to be addressed head-on. House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby said there are opportunities to work together and “homelessness is one of them.”

“I think in particular that issue is critical,” she said. “Homelessness is not a Portland issue. Homelessness is a state issue.”

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.

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