Legislature May Consider Access to Abortion, Police Profiling, Closing ACA Gaps

The legislative kickoff, held earlier this week, brought together advocates and legislators to discuss proposals for the 2015 session.

The Oregon Health Equity Alliance will introduce six proposals in the 2015 session to improve health, according to its 33-member alliance, among them three priorities to provide healthcare to people left out of the Affordable Care Act.

“We can’t be the healthiest state without healthcare for all children,” said Linda Roman of the Oregon Latino Health Coalition. “In Oregon, 17,600 children are excluded categorically” except for emergencies due to their residency status from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Roman told of a boy in Madras with four broken ribs after an accident. “And he’s six years old, with no way to manage pain.”

For Oregonians who are low-income but not poor enough to qualify for subsidies and cannot afford healthcare, a Basic Health Plan would use federal tax credits to help fund a group plan to cover 85,000 Oregonians earning between 138 and 200 percent off the federal poverty level. They would include 10,000 legal permanent residents from Pacific Islands who are not eligible because of the agreements their territory has with the U.S. government that covers healthcare only on military bases on their home island.

A comprehensive women’s’ health bill would fill gaps in Oregon law and codify elements of federal law to ensure access to a full range of reproductive healthcare, including access to safe and legal abortions.

Other initiatives include creating a statewide earned sick leave standard similar to measures passed in Portland and Eugene, and an effort to close a loophole in Oregon’s ban on the sale of junk food at K-12 schools that would also prohibit marketing of sodas, sweets and pizza.

“If something can’t be sold on campus, it should not be marketed on campus,” said Kasandra Griffin of Upstream Public Health. “Kids born after 2000 for the first time in the history of civilization are expected to live shorter lives than their parents, and that’s due to diet.”

A “Ban the Box” initiative would remove questions about criminal history from job and housing applications to ease barriers to employment and stable housing, as 10 other states have done. Some 65 million Americans have been incarcerated, said Midge Purcell with the Urban League. “That’s the population of France.” The Ban the Box would not prohibit employers from asking someone about their criminal history if it’s related to the job but the initiative would “give people a fair chance to tell their story,” she said.

Bills to end profiling would “prohibit law enforcement from stopping, searching or questioning people of color, the homeless, the LGBTQ people without reasonable proof,” said Kayse Jama of the Center for Intercultural Organizing, who called for a moment of silence for the family of Michael Brown during the kickoff. “There is no question the issue of profiling is one of the most difficult our nation is facing.”

Other bills would authorize the Oregon Attorney General to collect citizen complaints and require law enforcement to track data on stops, questioning or searches of minority individuals.

Legislators attending the kickoff offered varying levels of support.

“I promise I’ll be right at the heart of all these issues,” said Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer (D-Portland). “I’m honored to work on this agenda.”

“The great mobilization on Measure 88 (the safe drivers measure that failed on the November ballot) will get us to victory on a number of these issues, said Sen.Michael Dembrow (D-Portland). “This really excites me. And it scares me.”

Rep. Julie Parrish (R-Tualatin, the only Republican legislator at the kickoff, said her father immigrated from the Middle East legally while her uncle didn’t enjoy the same legal status, giving her a better understanding of the differences in their lives. But, she said, some of the proposals have “big budget issues that my caucus cares about.” Still, she told supporters to “keep showing up” in the offices of Republicans. “It’s important we work on what we can agree on.”

Jan can be reached at [email protected].

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