OPINION: Setting Oregon on the path to stability
On Friday, March 4, the Senate president and House speaker brought their gavels down to signal the end of the 2022 Oregon Legislative Session. The doors across the Capitol rotunda opened and the sound reverberated around the Senate and House Chambers of the Oregon Legislature — marking the next step in Oregon's recovery.
One month earlier, citizen legislators arrived in Salem from every corner of the state to find solutions to the problems that are confronting our communities. We came together to find a path to stability during these uncertain times — helping struggling families to find safe and secure housing, supporting kids and teachers to do their best as we return to in-person learning, building an economy that works for everyone, stepping up for working families confronted by the rising cost of living, and continuing to build trust in our justice system.
Homelessness and the lack of affordable housing are issues that affect nearly every Oregon community. Working in a bipartisan fashion with our governor and with our House colleagues, Senate Democrats made strides by passing an historic $400 million package of investments to provide an immediate, coordinated response to homelessness and the affordable housing crisis. These investments partner with local communities across Oregon to improve shelter capacity and assist with rapid rehousing and resource referrals — proven strategies to help people on their path to housing stability. We also took steps to build up Oregon's supply of affordable housing and help working families on their path to homeownership.
Our school children need our help. With the increased stress of the pandemic, we had to take action to reduce teacher burnout and help address the shortages of teachers and substitute teachers. We funded a $100 million package of investments to assist with recruiting and retaining education staff. By addressing these issues, schools will be able stay open for in-person learning five days a week. We also worked to make sure that school environments are free and safe from intimidation and harassment by passing legislation to preserve stability in school district leadership.
We know times are tough for working families in Oregon, so we took action to build more pathways to rewarding careers and bring down the cost of living. Senate Democrats worked with our House colleagues to pass the governor's Future Ready Oregon initiative — providing $200 million for skills training and pathways into well-paying careers in fields like health care and manufacturing.
For too many families, covering monthly and even daily expenses has become a challenge. We made targeted investments to drive down the cost of living that strains household budgets — rent, going to the doctor and safe, reliable child care. I was proud to join with my colleagues to move $100 million to expand access to affordable child care and better support Oregon's child care workforce. Essential workers that courageously stayed in their jobs during the first year of the pandemic will also receive $600 to recognize their crucial work. Finally, we provided a pathway to overtime pay for farmworkers, overcoming nearly a century of unfair treatment.
Communities need police to be able to focus on preventing and solving crimes, especially violent crimes. That's why we moved forward on legislation to help reduce crime and improve public safety in communities around the state. We passed legislation to improve law enforcement best practices and distribute funding to culturally specific, community-based organizations. These organizations will promote racial equity and reduce racial disparities while promoting public safety. Senate Democrats also advanced a multi-million dollar package of smart investments in public safety, including violence prevention, public clean-up efforts, crime victim support and more.
Once we adjourned our legislative session, we took some time to say our goodbyes and reflect on our journey together. We shared our gratitude for each other's efforts. We celebrated the important steps we took to put Oregon back on the path to stability and provide relief for folks who have been struggling in our communities for too long. And we honored some of our colleagues as they completed their final legislative session — including the incomparable Senate President — Peter Courtney. I am grateful for his decades of service and inspired to continue the work of finding shared solutions for all Oregonians.
Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, is the Senate majority leader. His District 19 includes much of the western half of Clackamas County, eastern Washington County and portions of Southwest Portland.
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