Legislative Preview: Addressing the ongoing Covid crisis
Democratic Whip Rob Nosse on the House agenda
Since 2014 I have represented House District 42 in inner southeast and northeast Portland. In fall 2020 I resigned as a union organizer for the Oregon Nurses Association to focus on the legislature. This year I am serving in leadership again, as Democratic whip.
Our 2022 “short session” is only 35 days. Every legislator is limited to two bills to help speed this along. Here is some of what I expect.
Democrats will propose bills that build on our work in 2021 to support communities and families most harmed by Covid and on the lopsided economy, wildfires, climate change, and effects of structural racism.
We will propose additional funds to ensure that K-12 students and teachers can catch up after a year of online learning. We will address the instability some school boards, most notoriously Newburg’s, have created by overriding state health and safety directives and suppressing free expression and support for LGBTQ students and BIPOC students.
Other bills would rebuild our broken childcare system so that every child has access to quality childcare. We will invest in workforce development, so workers and businesses can come back stronger.
Some other concepts I have been hearing about:
Funding overtime pay for agriculture workers—who do harsh jobs yet are among the lowest paid; they have been left out of federal overtime laws since the 1930s.
Compensation for other essential workers who have provided services throughout the pandemic
Criminal justice reform to improve the chance of success for people on parole, invest in racial equity, and change the way minor traffic violations are handled
Legal representation for immigrants in federal immigration court
My first bill would provide pay parity for naturopathic physicians. Oregon spends nearly $60 million every biennium to retain primary care providers in under-served areas. This includes payments to over 1,000 naturopaths—who are reimbursed at only about 60 percent of billing compared to medical physicians. This rate is unsustainable; Oregonians are losing access to care.
My second bill would create grants for the arts and culture sector, which has suffered from the pandemic. I secured $50 million in funding in 2021, but I’m hoping to secure more and get those funds out faster.
Lastly, I serve on the Behavioral Health Committee. Last year we invested almost $1 billion in all things behavioral health. This historic investment funded assistance for addiction and houselessness and helped all Oregonians access behavioral healthcare.
Since then, the behavioral health system has experienced an unprecedented workforce crisis. Providers are struggling to attract and maintain workers. Some programs have closed and more are threatened.
In the long term, we need to raise the rates we pay these workers. But to ensure our investments are effective, we need an emergency funding to keep the system functioning. I will seek a grant program that providers can draw on for these challenges.
This is a lot. Another legislator would offer a different flavor for the session. The 35 days will fly by (fun or not).
Whether we address any of these issues depends on whether our Republican colleagues remain in the building. Democrats hope they will—as they did in 2021—after walking out of the 2020 and 2019 sessions. Perhaps they agree that mending the social disintegration set off by Covid is more important that scoring political points.
State Representative in Oregon for Inner SE and Inner NE Portland. Openly gay man who also worked at Oregon Nurses Association and SEIU Local 49 and 503. Got my start in Oregon politics in the early 1990s with Oregon Student Association.