Back to Salem: West Linn's legislators prepare for 2022 session
With the current surge of the COVID-19 pandemic sickening more people than ever, overburdening health care workers and forcing schools to close down, and residents and officials in Clackamas County enraged at the prospect of tolling on I-205, local legislators head back to the Capitol on Feb. 1 for the 2022 legislative session with a lot on their plates.
In addition to the two personal bills he'll champion this session, Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, who serves Senate District 19 covering Lake Oswego, West Linn, Tualatin, Southwest Portland, Rivergrove and Durham, said his biggest focus will be working with Democrats in the Senate to assemble and pass a progressive agenda.
In doing so, he'll work with fellow Democrats like Rep. Rachel Prusak, whose district covers West Linn, Tualatin, Durham, King City and Rivergrove. Prusak, a nurse practitioner who chairs the House Health Care Committee, said her two personal bills this session focus on access to primary care and behavioral health and opioid antagonists.
Prusak is also co-sponsoring a bill with Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, that requires an examination of the state's public health response to the pandemic.
Prusak introduced the bill on access to primary and behavioral health care last year, but the legislation died in the Ways and Means Committee. Still determined to remove barriers to care, Prusak is bringing back the bill, which allows patients three primary care or behavioral health visits without a co-pay, for the 2022 session.
The bill will also require insurers to assign primary care providers to patients who don't already have one. Prusak explained that many patients don't have a regular primary care provider and end up going to urgent care for primary care needs, leading to uncoordinated and unnecessarily expensive care.
Prusak's other personal bill intends to reduce deaths caused by prescription opioid overdoses by requiring high-dose opioid prescriptions to come with an opioid antagonist. Opioid antagonists like naloxone can treat overdoses.
Prusak also mentioned co-sponsoring a bill that would address racism as a public health crisis. The bill, which is championed by Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, failed during the 2021 legislative session, but since then Prusak said advocacy groups partnering on the bill have done a lot of work to move the bill forward.
One of Wagner's personal bills for this session, if passed, would bolster education and prevention of sexual assault on college campuses.
"We just need to be doing a lot more in that space," Wagner said of the bill. "And maybe it's a little bit motivated because I've got two kids that just started college this year and two more that are on their way."
Wagner's other personal bill would authorize a study of Oregon's income tax returns and the benefits and burdens of taxes on racial and ethnic groups throughout the state.
Wagner and Prusak both mentioned the stress currently facing the state's educators and the importance of keeping school in person. Wagner said he hoped to find ways to ease the burden on teachers, who are currently burned out and getting sick. He suggested finding ways to incentivize substitute teaching and continuing to promote vaccines, booster shots and increased access to testing.
Lastly, both Prusak and Wagner expressed frustration with the Oregon Department of Transportation's plans to toll I-205.
"(ODOT) is saying they're listening, but they're not listening (to the concerns about tolling)," Prusak said.
Prusak and Wagner said they continue to work with other local leaders to stand together against tolling.
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