Oregon's unprecedented five-month virtual legislative session came with a slew of historic bills that representatives from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon say is a victory for healthcare and racial and economic equity at large.
Bills like the Equal Access Care Act, Telehealth Equity Act and Cover All People helped expand health equity to marginalized and hard-to-reach communities, while bills like PrEP and PEP Medication Accessibility and the LGBTQ2SIA+ Student Success Act increased HIV prevention medication services and funded more support systems for for LGBTQ students.
"I think we were able to get some really big things done," said Oregon Planned Parenthood Executive Director An Do. "We also were able to get things done in a session that was going to be so challenging for a lot of different reasons."
One of those reasons being the virtual nature of the session. The 2020 legislative session ended right before the nationwide shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, most were bound to their homes, making it difficult to navigate the already complicated nature of day-to-day politics, Do said.
On the other hand, giving folks the opportunity to testify on issues remotely made the process more accessible.
"I mean the ability to just provide testimony remotely in front of a hearing is huge because then you were able to have folks who don't have to drive to Salem, in order to make their voice heard, and I think that was incredible to be able to have people take 10 minutes, 15 minutes out of their work day, log in provide testimony from, you know, all different corners of the state," Do said.
Planned Parenthood field director and Beaverton native Linsdsey Sadlou said there were quite a few folks from Washington County who had the ability to advocate for themselves at the Legislature from their homes.
"We were able to bring our patients, and folks who benefited from telehealth grants and sort of shepherd them through the process of developing their story and turning it into testimony and submitting that testimony, either virtually as a written letter, or testifying in person in front of the committee," Sadlou said. "And so that included folks from Beaverton, from Forest Grove, and all over Washington County to be able to have their voices heard in our Legislature, which I'm really proud of."
In addition to bills advancing health equity, PPAO also pushed for HB 3291, which ensures that every ballot postmarked by Election Day is counted.
"We have seen that the tenets of voting have been incredibly under attack right now. The barriers that we have, that have been put into place, specifically to prohibit or to prevent or to make it more difficult for communities of color to vote, like we've seen that ... be rampant, especially in this last year," Do said.
PPAO, along with several other Oregon labor groups and racial justice organizations, also pushed for a number of bills meant to address racial, gender and economic inequality under the Fair Shot for All Agenda.
Three bills under this agenda were signed into law including Child Care for Oregon, which improved access to childcare and financial stability for childcare providers; the Sanctuary Promise Act, which aims to protect immigrants from racial profiling; and Healthy Homes, which puts funds toward investing in home repairs to improve energy efficiency and safety.
While at first glance, many of these bills appear to be outside the realm of sexual and reproductive health equity, Sadlou said their organization believes no one should be a single-issue voter.
"Making sure that we're thinking holistically, not just about the basic access to birth control and access to comprehensive sex education, we want to think about people's whole lives and the intersections of issues that we feel are impacted, whether or not we're able to raise a family, have wanted a family, and unwanted pregnancy, and live in a safe and sustainable community," she said.
But there were a number of bills left on the table, including a bill meant to transform public safety through a racial lens; a bill meant to provide universal legal representation; and a bill that would have guaranteed farm workers overtime pay.
"There were a number of issues that really are deeply impacting racial justice, economic justice, workers justice and criminal justice reform that we weren't able to achieve in this session that we'll be coming back to," Do said.
"I think with the 2020 census, we had a really exciting opportunity to engage and have some validation of what we already know — which is that Washington County has a robust and rich community assemblage of communities of color, and I definitely experienced that growing up there, and that we should be building our political power together." -- Lindsey Sadlou, Oregon Planned Parenthood Field Director
Washington County has been the center of quite a few organizing efforts toward social equity, Sadlou said.
"I think with the 2020 census, we had a really exciting opportunity to engage and have some validation of what we already know — which is that Washington County has a robust and rich community assemblage of communities of color, and I definitely experienced that growing up there, and that we should be building our political power together." she said.
Sadlou pointed to organizations like Washington County Ignite and the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon as both having a significant presence in the community.
"Hopefully, Washington County can be a model for the rest of the state," Sadlou said.
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