Wilsonville lawmaker recaps legislative session
From COVID-19 and wildfire relief to police reform, Rep. Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville, thought the state Legislature effectively responded to the needs of Oregonians during the recently completed long session.
The Villebois resident also was proud of bills that she helped write or move from proposal to law, including legislation that would assist child care recipients and providers, foster care children and students from historically marginalized communities.
"We made some major investments in some of the most vulnerable children in our state, which means so much to me," Neron said.
With the conclusion of the 2021 Legislature in late June, Neron completed her second long session since being elected as a representative of Wilsonville, Sherwood, King City and other areas of House District 26 in 2018. She was reelected in 2020.
This session, she said, was "incredibly stressful," particularly due to the decision by former Rep. Mike Nearman to unlawfully allow protesters into the state Capitol building last December. Last month, Nearman became the first person to ever be expelled from the Legislature due to that action
"When the former representative Nearman opened that door, the level of trauma in some of my colleagues was palpable," she said, adding that her Democrat and Republican colleagues who continued to show up to work showed admirable courage.
Despite this tense atmosphere, the Legislature passed ample legislation. Some of the initiatives Neron strongly supported include more than $700 million for housing initiatives including shelters, housing construction and tenant support, a suite of bills to address wildfire risks and recovery, and policing bills such as one that would require officers to report or intervene when they witness misconduct. She also allocated money to her district for local business recovery, broadband infrastructure and behavioral health via the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
"There was a very constant response and recovery mindset that we had to have in the last few years," Neron said. "With that in mind, we were really ready to be strategic with our dollars and prioritized COVID pandemic response and recovery from the health perspective and relative to the economic turmoil it created. We were strategic (in) understanding wildfire relief is essential for people rebuilding from damage of the past few years of wildfires and resiliency going forward."
Personally, one of the bills Neron worked hardest to champion will restructure the subsidized child care system in part by capping the price of co-payments based on income, allowing children to be qualified for at least a year instead of a month at a time, creating a Department of Early Learning and Care, and ensuring more funding stability for providers.
"What's happened in Oregon is (child care is) a totally unsustainable sector," Neron said. "We're losing child care providers because it's not a profit margin people are willing to participate in. This policy change offers stability. … It's going to make such a difference."
She also was proud of legislation to fund child advocacy centers and reform the court-appointed special advocate program for abused or neglected children.
"Both of those things impact children in foster care and children who experience instability and trauma. They benefit so many children across the state," Neron said.
Additionally, the Wilsonville representative participated in discussions about reforming school funding policies so that lower-income districts receive more money. Her goal in this endeavor is not to take away funding from more affluent districts like the West Linn-Wilsonville School District but instead to expand the overall pie.
"If we were just going to strip dollars away across the board from a district so it can go to a different district, that's very stressful for the education system," Neron said. "We have to fund the changes our school district needs."
Neron was a member of the House education committee and supported a number of successful bills to help underserved students. One would disallow students from being discriminated against based on their hair and another will ensure that students who menstruate have access to hygiene products.
"As an educator (Neron previously taught high school language classes), it really matters to me that we serve all students according to their needs, and I see Oregon really leaning into that conversation, really trying to close the achievement gaps and the opportunity gaps that exist," Neron said. "We have a ways to go, but we're beginning that work of recognizing what are the barriers for students achieving their potential and how (we can) truly facilitate an education system that serves all students according to their needs."
Neron also wants to reform the current funding cap for special-education services, which equates to funding for 11% of the student body.
Locally, Neron advocated for a bill that will get the Boone Bridge replacement project on the path toward funding and another to address planning at the Aurora State Airport. The former was approved while the latter languished. Also, a bill she sponsored that would have tweaked policies relating to chemicals in children's products passed the House but stalled in the Senate. She was surprised that the bill did not pass.
"We worked really hard on that, and it had the support it needed to be successful," she said.
Neron also supported legislation that would have banned large wake boats in the Newberg Pool portion of the Willamette River and reconfigured the Oregon State Marine Board, but those bills did not pass the finish line and she said that was disappointing.
Lastly, Neron recommended constituents with questions send her an email, encouraged people to get vaccinated and said she will continue to work on policy ideas the district cares about.
She's beginning preparations for the upcoming short session next February.
"I work with some of the most incredible public servants, and it's such an honor to be in this role," Neron said.
Pamplin Media Group hopes to interview other Wilsonville representatives at a future date.
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