OPINION: Oregon faces a transformation through crisis
State Rep. Barbara Smith Warner will participate in the City Club of Portland's State of the Capital online forum on Monday, Jan. 25.
As the 81st Legislative Assembly begins, Oregonians are facing emergencies on multiple fronts: The COVID-19 pandemic and its lopsided health and economic impacts. Income inequality on overdrive. Devastating wildfires made worse and more frequent by climate change. The ongoing legacy of racism woven into our government and societal institutions.
In responding to these multilayered crises, Democrats in Oregon's House of Representatives will be bold and unapologetic in pursuing policies that will center on the needs of those who've been most impacted. Now is not the time for despair, but for courage, transformation and a commitment to improving the lives of those who've been left behind.
Most Oregonians understand that this session will be dominated by the necessary response to COVID-19, wildfire recovery, balancing the budget and getting the state back on track economically. How we accomplish those goals — and what values we prioritize in getting there — is the key.
In the coming days, weeks, months and years, Oregon House Democrats are committed to centering the voices and leadership of Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and low-income communities; investing in community services that foster real prosperity for everyone; protecting frontline workers; and lifting up struggling communities, whether they are in rural Oregon or downtown Portland.
These are our priorities:
Equity and justice for all
House Democrats recognize the state's long, painful, racist history as well as the many ways that bias and racism are threaded through everyday life and institutions. Dismantling these longstanding systems and building a more equitable future will require intentional effort to center the voices and leadership of BIPOC communities and low-income Oregonians in all of our decision making. We will take on urgently needed reforms to policing and criminal justice systems so that everyone is able to feel truly safe.
Economic recovery for every part of Oregon
Small businesses across Oregon have been hit hard by the pandemic — many have shuttered permanently or are on the brink of closing. Workers, especially in service, retail and low-wage industries, have struggled to pay their bills, and those in essential industries risked their health on the job. Women and BIPOC communities have been disproportionately impacted, further widening the wealth gap. We will advocate for economic recovery policies that protect workers and support the small businesses at the heart of our Main Street communities in every part of the state.
Protecting public health
The pandemic shined a spotlight on the importance of robust public health programs. House Democrats will advocate for funding and implementation of essential public health strategies specific to our diverse communities, including housing, clean water, and healthy air. To combat the pandemic, we will advocate for expanding access to personal protective equipment, testing, worker safety and sick leave, as well as a plan to support and accelerate the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Education and work force development
Returning kids to school safely is a top priority. We also must address the technology barriers that have worsened existing racial and geographic inequities in education. House Democrats will protect funding for the Student Success Act and work to expand early learning and child care programs. Investments in higher education should focus on access, affordability and academic excellence. Innovative partnerships and apprenticeships should prepare students for the emerging post-pandemic work force while creating new living-wage jobs. We will keep working to successfully reintegrate returning veterans into our communities, including sustainable care for military families.
A place to call home
Our already-fragile housing sector was pushed to the brink by wildfire and the pandemic. Far too many Oregonians, including children and families, are homeless or at risk of losing their housing. House Democrats will protect Oregonians against evictions and foreclosures during the COVID crisis; advocate for rent subsidies for tenants and small landlords; and lead efforts to build housing that's accessible and affordable, especially in rural and wildfire-impacted communities.
Access to health care
COVID-19 has stretched our health care system and demonstrated the need for universal coverage. House Democrats will fight for robust funding for the Oregon Health Plan and continue to move Oregon toward universal access to affordable, culturally appropriate health care that includes mental and behavioral health support, as well as support for growing the workforce in a way that meets the needs of our communities.
Combating climate change
The intensifying wildfire season is a brutal reminder that climate disruption already is damaging our natural resources and targeting our most vulnerable. We will continue to fight for policies that prioritize environmental justice, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, spur clean community-based energy sources, and protect the natural environment. At the same time, we must modernize Oregon's emergency response system to prepare for and protect Oregonians from future natural disasters.
Modernizing the Legislature
For too long, the Oregon Legislature has been structured to exclude the voices of many while catering to the needs of the privileged few. We will break down these barriers, centering the needs of those who have historically been pushed out, creating dedicated leadership opportunities for BIPOC legislators, providing language translation services, reforming the state's campaign finance laws to promote more diverse engagement, and much more. We commit to bold steps to create a more truly representative Legislature.
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