State Representative Andrea Salinas looks at this year's legislative session through two lenses — the first is personally, through her own work as an individual legislator; the second as a member of the House Democratic Caucus.
In both perspectives, according to Salinas, the work done by the Oregon Legislature during the six-month session was hugely impactful for the entire state.
About six weeks into the session, House Majority Leader Tina Kotek (D-North Portland) stripped Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Northwest Portland) of his posting as chair of the House Health Care Committee, citing behavior problems, and promoted Salinas to the gavel. In that role she was responsible for not only the 32 bills she personally sponsored, but about 200 others that came out of her committee.
She said her biggest takeaway from this year's session was realizing she is now accountable for shepherding all of those bills through both chambers until they either become law or are struck down.
"Even if it's not your personal bill, it's still part of your portfolio and part of your jurisdiction to ensure its success," Salinas said. "It was a big learning curve, but I think it was fun because my patience and negotiating skills were put to the test. There were some extremely stressful moments, but overall I got good feedback on my own conduct and how I led the health care committee."
Her leadership proved fruitful not only for the success of her committee, but her own agenda as well. Salinas was proud to leave the session having passed HB 3076, a bill that essentially will require hospitals to backup their nonprofit status by providing a standard amount of charity care and community benefit for Oregonians. It's an effort on which Salinas has been leading since before she was appointed to the legislature in 2017, when she worked as an outside lobbyist for Service Employees International Union Local No. 49 beginning about six years ago.
"I'm really excited about this bill. I know different states all over the country have been trying to crack this nut in terms of preventing folks from going into bankruptcy because of medical debt," she said. "It will ask the Oregon Health Authority to look at the financials of these different hospitals on an individual, system-by-system basis to see if they are contributing the right amount of charity care and community benefit given all their revenue and other resources."
HB 3076 will also prevent hospital debt from being sent to collections without some sort of screening for the person's ability to have some type of insurance or financial assistance from the hospital.
"I actually got some Republicans in support of this bill in both chambers, so I'm really proud of that," Salinas said.
As a member of the House Democratic Caucus, Salinas believes one of the most important pieces of legislation to come out of this session was HB 3427, the Student Success Act passed in May which infuses $2 billion worth of funding into the state's education budget over the next biennium through an increased corporate tax. According to Salinas, individual school districts would be able to use those added funds however they see fit, whether it's reducing class sizes, bringing in additional health resources or anything in between.
"I felt like this was a groundbreaking piece of legislation. I'm so happy to finally give our kids what they need in terms of resources," Salinas said. "I actually think there are other things that will be built upon this. (Community college and higher education) will be the next two pieces, because this is a 'cradle-to-career' trajectory that we're on."
The Student Success Act was one of two pieces of legislation in this session that caused walkouts by Republican members of the Senate, who objected to the .57 percent tax on gross receipts — all money received by an organization in a given year — of over $1 million by any Oregon business.
The first walkout happened after Mother's Day weekend whileSalinas was pushing to pass the House Health Care Committee's mandatory vaccination bill, HB 3063.
"I was negotiating with Sen. Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward (D-Beaverton) on the vaccination bill which had already passed out of the House and was pending in the Senate when the first walkout happened, and it died because of it," Salinas said. "I was seriously negotiating up until Sunday of Mother's Day weekend thinking they were going to come back into the building. We really worked hard to see it pass, then to negotiate it all over that weekend to water it down in order to get those senators back to the table, only to have it die and then have them walk out again... of course that was going to anger me."
Salinas said she and her colleagues in the House, knowing they had little control over what took place in the Senate, decided to put their heads down and keep working. It was a similar situation when Republican senators walked out for a second time over HB 2020, the cap and trade bill that would have restricted the amount of carbon that large-scale industrial emitters could produce. The bill passed narrowly passed a House vote, but when 11 senators fled the capital and refused to return, the legislation was dead in the water.
"From my perspective, I felt my Democratic house members really were the adults in the room," Salinas said. "Even though (Republicans) might not be able to set the agenda, being that we have super majorities, they're still able to influence legislation for their constituents. I feel that many of my house Republican colleagues did just that. They knew they didn't want to use the same tactics as their Senate counterparts; rather they would be able to influence critical pieces of legislation that were going to pass instead of walking away."
Salinas believes that the only way forward for a better Oregon is bipartisanship, and she's hoping to prove that through her work as chair of the House Health Care Committee. She plans to link up with Rep. Cedric Hayden (R-Roseburg) on Medicaid accountability, as well as continue to help Rep. Bill Post (R-Keizer) work on a bill that would ease regulations on the purchase of pseudoephedrine-based drugs like Sudafed. She's also interested in continuing work with Rep. Ron Noble (R-McMinnville) on legislation to require pharmaceutical manufacturers to report the total cost of patient assistance programs to the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, as well as information on financial assistance provided to pharmacies, government agencies and advocacy organizations.
"I'm responsible for trying to move anything the committee decides can move through. I never expect anything in return, just a good working relationship," Salinas said. "It's that kind of thing that builds goodwill so we do have a good working relationship, and I can not only take (my Republican colleagues') comments in mind, but actually implement their suggestions."
With interim legislative days scheduled for September, November and January ahead of the short legislative session beginning Feb. 3, 2020, Salinas is beginning to identify what priorities her committee members have for the upcoming session and how they can use those 34 days in the house to set the groundwork for greater things to come.
One of the issues that Salinas would personally like to see some movement on is behavioral health and substance abuse.
"I think it's an issue that legislators from both sides of the aisle, both chambers, still really want to work on," Salinas said. "We all need to be as concise as possible, so we'll be looking at what are some of the ground work pieces needed to set the stage of long term, bigger lifts we'll need to do in upcoming years."
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