State Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keiser, felt that there were flashes of good policy making at the recently concluded Oregon legislative session. But the Wilsonville representative, who is a member of the minority party, wished bipartisanship had been more prevalent.
"That's my favorite part of legislating," she said. "I wish it would happen more often."
Thatcher brought forward a few notable bills during the session: one that succeeded, another that gained traction but ultimately failed, and a third that attracted headlines but didn't move.
The bill that passed through the House and Senate, and is awaiting Gov. Kate Brown's signature, would create an office for the official Public Records Advocate that is independent from any other state agency. Hiring and firing powers for this position would be given to an advisory council rather than the governor. Former Public Records Advocate Ginger McCall resigned after alleging that the governor's office pressured her to act in its favor.
"To me it became apparent unfortunately that because it was appointed by an elected official, an elected official could hold sway over what was released or not," Thatcher said. "That's the whole point of public records is to instill trust in the government. This should help restore some of that trust."
Another bill that gained some traction but ultimately failed would have provided compensation for people who had been wrongfully convicted of crimes. Those wrongfully convicted could have received $65,000 for each year of imprisonment and at least $25,000 for years on parole or post-prison supervision. Thatcher speculated that Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose and a chair of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, scuttled the bill but said a multitude of factors could have led to its demise.
"If you remove someone's ability to make a living, they've missed birthdays, anniversaries because they were wrongly incarcerated, there needs to be compensation for that, if nothing (else) to get back on their feet again after being in prison," Thatcher said.
Additionally, Thatcher championed a bill that would ban employers from requiring that people prove they've been vaccinated from COVID-19 as a condition of employment, to enter an establishment or other circumstances. The bill stalled in committee upon adjournment. Thatcher said she's received even more letters since the session concluded from people saying employers, landlords and schools were conditioning vaccination.
"It's not a partisan issue out in the world, but it sure seems to be in that building," Thatcher said of the level of support for the bill at the Capitol.
The state senator also directed money, which was designated to each legislator via the American Rescue Plan Act, to business recovery and broadband access in Wilsonville and other areas. She was also happy to see the Newberg Dundee Bypass and a Sherwood bicycle and pedestrian bridge projects advance.
Thatcher, who said she spent much of the session fighting against policy, felt that there were bills approved this legislative session that were "race-based and therefore you didn't want to be seen as voting no against them." Some examples she pointed to included bills that will established that displaying a noose to be considered as a sign of intimidation, allow school districts to retain teachers with less seniority when making staff reductions in order to maintain the district's diversity ratio and require the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to create a background checklist for new police hires that includes examination of the applicant's feelings about diverse groups. Thatcher voted for the noose bill and against the other two. Thatcher said she agreed with the intent of the noose legislation but had concerns about how it would be applied. She also said pressure played a part in the bill's passage.
"No one wanted to vote against that," Thatcher said. "And almost no one did."
Additionally, Thatcher questioned the expulsion of former Rep. Mike Nearman, who unlawfully let protestors into the state Capitol building last December. Nearman became the first legislator to ever be expelled when the House voted nearly unanimously to remove him from office. Nearman was the only person to vote against the resolution. She pointed out that Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, and former Rep. Diego Hernandez were not expelled after facing sexual harassment allegations. Hernandez resigned.
"I think ultimately unless there is something willful and egregious that happened as a result of what he's done, I don't see that as being a topic or the role of the Legislature to remove a representative from a district right near the end (of the session)," Thatcher said, adding that constituents of Nearman's district did not have legislative representation in the House for weeks after Nearman left. She felt the Legislature should have waited until after the session concluded to address the matter.
Thatcher also posited that the state should have kept the Capitol building open to the public, though she thinks remote public input should continue. She said the California Legislature and businesses like Costco and Walmart were open, so the Oregon Capitol building should have been too.
"I was glad we had that option to participate remotely and it should continue, but it shouldn't be the only option," she said.
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