Courtney Neron reflects on first legislative session
Though she didn't author any bills that were signed into law, state Rep. Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville, said she was in "assist mode" during her first term as a legislator. And she is proud of the work she and her fellow House members accomplished.
"As a freshman legislator coming into politics for the first time it was a high priority to learn the process and meet the people involved," she said. "It's been a fascinating session and lots of meaningful legislation has passed that will affect Oregonians in a positive way. It's been an honor to be a part of this session."
After defeating former representative Richard Vial in an election many deemed to be an upset, the Villebois resident and former high school Spanish teacher began her legislative career this January.
For many Wilsonville citizens and City government officials, the most pertinent order of business on Neron's agenda was moving a project forward that would add an I-5 southbound auxiliary lane near Wilsonville and seismically retrofit the Boone Bridge.
After the introduction of Senate Bill 1021 to direct the Oregon Department of Transportation to complete the project, Neron proposed an amendment that altered the bill significantly. The amendment, which was approved by the Joint Committee on Transportation, would have dolled out $3.5 million to ODOT to perform an engineering study aimed at garnering a more accurate cost estimate for the project. The bill passed the Joint Committee on Transportation but stalled in the Joint Ways and Means Committee. However, the Joint Ways and Means Committee instead added a budget note to an omnibus bill directing ODOT to complete the study and present a report to the Legislature by February, 2021.
Neron said she worked behind the scenes to convince legislators to support the project.
"I pushed all session for the money for the lane improvements and seismic upgrades," she said. "I am so glad the chairs of ways and means listened and added a budget note allowing ODOT to proceed with this project for our community."
Neron also supported bills pertinent to Coffee Creek Correctional facility, such as a bill that would require prisons to provide flu vaccines to all inmates (an inmate died in 2018 at Coffee Creek after contracting the flu), a bill to create a legal services pilot program at Coffee Creek and legislation that would require prisons to providesanitary products to inmates.
"I was able to sponsor legislation that served our prison population in a meaningful way," Neron said. "As I go through this learning about how to do this job effectively it's so apparent that representing my district means representing all the needs in my district. That's a constituency that needs advocacy, needs people looking out for them."
As Wilsonville's representative and a member of a legislative natural resources subcommittee, she also supported successful bills that require towed water sports users in the Newberg Pool (which includes Wilsonville) must earn a boater safety permit by taking a class or passing a test and allow the Oregon State Marine Board to implement policies to prevent shoreline erosion.
"We now have some parameters that will hopefully make the river safer for people in a canoe or paddle board and protect some of the properties that have been damaged," Neron said.
Neron also felt she honed legislation to improve dual credit high school programs and helped convince the Legislature to direct ODOT to study a pedestrian connector project in Sherwood.
However, a bill Neron proposed that would have allowed those running for public office to use political funds to reimburse child care expenses related to campaign activities stalled in the committee stage of the legislative process.
"I will try again next session," Neron said. "Sometimes it takes a few years for a good idea to get through the building. Especially women that I have spoken with see that concept as I do: it is essential to remove barriers to running for office."
She also was disappointed that a bill to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos did not pass.
"I had a lot of conversations about pesticide use. For awhile it looked like we were going to make headway on banning chlorpyrifos — in the end it did not have the votes it needs," Neron said. "I'm definitely still hopefully we can find reasonable legislation surrounding pesticide use and keeping our communities healthy."
Neron was appalled by threatening remarks made by Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, toward Oregon State Troopers while he and fellow Republicans fled the capitol to avoid a vote on cap and trade legislation and was concerned about the future of the Senate in light of the episode. However, she felt heartened by the bipartisanship she witnessed in the House of Representatives. Neron said she tried to find common ground with her Republican colleagues, making an effort to meet with them and find issues in which they are aligned.
"Prior to the session I had heard that the House is known for efficient bipartisan work and seeing that in action was really meaningful," Neron said. "There was a high level of resiliency and stability from our legislators. A lot of my colleagues and I would disagree on a topic and work through those differences and potentially vote differently but then we would have lunch together."
Neron also supported legislation establishing 12 weeks of paid family leave, requring drug manufacturers to develop drug take back programs, a sweeping education bill that added an influx of funding and a bill requiring that school districts adopt suicide prevention policies.
"As a high school teacher I regularly saw my students struggle and knowing that students across the state are struggling with mental health, whether it's anxiety or depression, we now have language in statutes that said we need to be supporting our students mental health needs in school," she said.
Outside of the legislature, Neron recently attended an emergency exercise conducted by the Kinder Morgan energy company about the Sante Fe Pacific Pipeline, a liquid gasoline pipeline that runs through northern Oregon including Wilsonville. She said she was not satisfied by the answers Kinder Morgan representatives gave about the safety measures they take and is mulling future legislation to safeguard communities from pipeline ruptures and their adverse effects.
"I feel like similar to how we responded to the potential for oil train derailment (House Bill 2209 mandated oil spill response plans for railroads) we need to make sure we have protocols in place and lines of communication pre-established that can keep our population safe," Neron said.
Since the legislative session concluded, Neron has cherished spending more time with her family and is looking forward to a camping trip with them.
She said her first session was largely about learning the intricacies of the legislative process, forging relationships and advocating for bills proposed by others.
Now, however, she is motivated to work hard to get some of her own legislation passed at the next February short session in 2020 before her reelection campaign.
"My goal in future sessions is to really work with the people I've built relationships with this session to advance some priorities in the district, Oregon, and really bring my own bills forward now that I have seen the legislative process play out and ideally successfully cross the finish line after the short session and ideally I'll be able to serve another long session," Neron said.
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