Hey Bus fam,
Now that the Oregon Legislature is done, we’ve taken a bit of time to marinate in the aftermath of the sausage-making & wanted to share some longer-than-usual thoughts. Hope you don’t mind the extra words and if you’re in such a hurry, just read the bold or italicized parts and skip to the end.
Here’s the short version, Speedy:
This was a pretty darn good session for innovation. After tons of predictions to the contrary, legislators got bipartisan and made some genuinely forward-thinking stuff happen. The Bus family racked up real common-sense achievements. Still, it sure wasn’t all sunshine and puppies. Despite some amazing organizing by our coalition partners, issues of equity got hosed this session. The big lesson: we need to build a space for our leaders to be bold and follow their consciences. And it’s on us to make it happen.
Here’s the longer version, Ready McReaderson:
Bus-beloved ideas came to life.
At Rebooting Democracy 2010, the Bus family decided on two top policy priorities. After a load of work from folks across the movement — on the Bus & off — both made it to the Governor’s desk. No small feat (feet?).
A major win for voter registration. Our top priority HB 2880 (which makes sure public assistance agencies and the DMV fully integrate voter registration with their services) passed with broad bipartisan majorities. So now Oregon’s on the path to making voter registration a proactive part of state services for underserved communities (which has led to tens of thousands of new voters from low-income communities in other states). We’ll need to make sure the council created by the bill focuses on equity to make the thing work. Testimony from Bus peeps Dina Yazdani, Salome Chimuku & Daisy Quinonez were huge in making it happen.
Farm to School will be a (small, but tasty) part of the menu. For the last couple years, lawmakers have been really into saying that it’d be a good idea to feed Oregon food to Oregon kids, but hasn’t been into paying for it. This year, though, they unanimously passed HB 2800, which puts real money toward a Farm to School pilot project. One nutritious baby-step for this biennium, one giant leap toward a fully-funded statewide initiative (three cheers for sexy bureaucratic language, eh?).
Bus Family in the legislature did some great things (not just Rickrolls).
Bus Board member Rep. Ben Cannon passed the first major update to the Bottle Bill recycling program in 40 years (in partnership with GOP Bus-friend Rep. Vicki Berger). He teamed up with OG Bus Trips champ Rep. Brian Clem to pass Buy Oregon, which lets state agencies put a priority on using Oregon products. Ben also scored victories on bills that allow cities to lower speed limits in residential neighborhoods (aka Greenways) & pave the way for peer-to-peer car sharing.
Bus Board member Rep. Lew Frederick was a true champion of a small, but real victory for communities of color this session — helping to educate foster parents on issues of skin and hair care for foster children from different racial backgrounds. To boot, after literally decades of work, Lew created incentives for cleaning up brownfields (a real victory for environmental justice, particularly in North & Northeast Portland).
Lane Bus leader Rep. Val Hoyle closed a legal loophole that allowed insurers to deny coverage for certain breast cancer treatments. Plus, she scored a victory for student transfers between community colleges and universities.
Bus Founder & Board member Rep. Jefferson Smith helped lead the way on Cool Schools (energy retrofits for public school buildings) — one of the sessions biggest deals. All the while, he brought us the innovative ‘Grow Oregon’ program (economic development through the cultivation of local businesses) & our much-beloved public assistance agency voter registration.
On an extra cool note, Ben, Jeff & Val are all on caucus leadership for the interim, which is one hefty load of Bus.
A few big things didn’t happen.
The hardest, longest and ultimately most painful battle was for SB 742, Tuition Equity. The idea is clear and smart: charge in-state tuition for long-time, high-achieving Oregon students who never got documentation when their parents brought them to America. Bipartisan support in 11 other states have made this a model law — good for the economy, the work force, and citizens.
The Oregon Student Association and CAUSA led the way through tireless and extraordinary organizing, with huge help from the Oregon DREAMers, APANO, CIO, Stand for Children, SEIU and our team (especially awesome testimony from Bus badass Zahara Muhammed). Business and labor came together around the campaign, as did folks across parties.
Republican Senator Frank Morse endured death threats as he bravely brought the bill to pass the Senate for the first time in nearly a decade. Democratic Rep. Michael Dembrow brought perseverance and thoughtfulness to the work in the House, where it ultimately failed to make it to the floor for a vote. It was heartbreaking. Simply heartbreaking
We also felt real confusion and sorrow with the failure of SB 97, which would have offered cultural competency training to Oregon health care providers. The bill had deep support from the Bus family, but it died in the House on a party line vote.
In this decade, if you we want real innovation and equity, we need to build a culture of courage.
During the height of the Tuition Equity debate, the legislature pulsed with people, diverse in every way: Age. Race. Region. Party. It was beautiful. This is what democracy looks like (but really).
Yet in spite of it all, we didn’t win this one.
Great bills that would have helped real people’s lives died this session because of fear. Not like fear of wolves or clowns or anything, but fear that some powerful interest is going to put an ad on television that distorts your vote and ends your political career. That fear shuts down innovation and it shuts down equity. It sucks and we have to stop it. There needs to be a space in Oregon for legislators to be brave – to follow their consciences. It’s why we knock on doors, make phone calls and talk to voters. It’s why we organize. It’s why we have a Bus.
We all need to renew our focus and our energy. Starting now.
Between now and next election, we’re going to knock on 100,000 doors for innovation, equity and justice. To give Oregon’s leaders the courage and support to follow their conscience and do what is just.
Thanks for reading and, ya know, for being cool and all. See you on the Bus.
Organizing and Political Director / Organize-Czar