West Linn Rep. Rachel Prusak will focus on gun storage, healthcare and the Willamette Falls Locks in short session

PMG FILE PHOTO - RACHEL PRUSAKMany people in Salem are expecting an eventful five-week legislative session.

Some are predicting another Republican walkout, but if that doesn't happen, lawmakers' days are expected to be filled with hearings and votes on a number of critical bills, from a cap-and-trade proposal, to safe storage gun laws.

Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn, said she is excited for the short session, which began Monday, Feb. 3, because she will push several bills that she said are important to her, her party and her constituents, one of which is House Bill 4005, also known as the "safe storage" bill.

According to the bill's summary it, "Requires (an) owner or possessor of firearm to secure (the) firearm with trigger or cable lock, in locked container or in gun room except in specified circumstances."

Prusak said that, unsurprisingly, the bill has detractors, though she sees it as a way to prevent gun-related deaths of Oregon teenagers.

"Firearms are the second leading cause of death among children and teens in Oregon, where an average of 20 children and teens die by guns every year and 69% of these deaths are suicide," said Prusak, who is one of the bill's cheif sponsors.

"There are too many children who are killed every year after getting unauthorized access to firearms, and so I'm really addressing this as a public health issue, and I think that we're all safer when guns are stored securely," she said.

The bill stipulates that gun owners who fail to safely secure their firearms, fail to supervise a minor with a firearm or fail to report a firearm is lost or stolen within 72 hours could be held liable for any injury or damage caused by the gun.

To find a solution to the concern that the bill would inhibit gun owners from quickly and easily accessing their gun in a home invasion, Prusak said she and her colleagues worked for hours with legal counsel to better understand the meaning of the term "in control."

"If you are in control of your firearm — meaning you can get to it before someone else gets access to it — this bill does not require you to secure your firearm," Prusak said.

This means someone could keep their gun on their bedside table while in bed and still be in compliance with the law, she clarified.

Prusak, who is in her first term as a representative, is also sponsoring a bill to establish the Willamette Falls Locks Authority, a public corporation that will operate the locks.

"The Willamette Falls Locks is a regional asset, and if we don't act now the Army Corps. of Engineers is going to close the locks and therefore lose it forever," she said.

For 138 years, the locks helped commercial and recreational vessels safely navigate the falls until they shut down in 2011.

Prusak called them a vital economic, recreational and historical asset for the region.

Telehealth, utilization management

Health care also is a priority for Prusak this session.

The nurse practitioner worked on a telemedicine bill last year, which she is now sponsoring for the 2020 session. She said she hopes the bill will make it easier for rural and homebound patients to access the medical care they need.

Prusak's other health-centered bill is the Utilization Management Transparency Act, which would require health care providers to report information on prior authorizations to the Oregon Health Authority.

"Utilization management practices, such as prior authorization and step therapy are important tools to contain medical costs and ensure quality of care. However, they can often result in delayed treatment, abandonment of treatment, and higher administrative burdens," Prusak wrote in a newsletter at the end of 2019.

"My bill seeks to ensure utilization management protocols are fair, transparent, evidence-based, and best support the health needs of the patient while preventing treatment delays and treatment abandonment."

With the session only lasting five weeks, Prusak said she other lawmakers strageized the bills they chose. She focused on ideas that had been discussed and thoroughly vetted in the last session, hoping for a quick vote this time around.

In the coming weeks, Prusak said she also will focus on funding the community corrections system, as well as a program to keep incarcerated women connected to their children.

She also plans to continue talking about ways to fund the Abernethy Bridge project without tolls.

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.