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Special Session passes legislation impacting children and families

This past Friday evening (June 26), the Oregon Legislature completed its First Special Session of 2020, working across parties to undertake critical policy issues facing our state’s response to COVID-19 and beginning to address systemic racism. As a whole-child advocacy organization, Our Children Oregon takes a holistic approach to help children and families thrive through advocacy. Many bills passed during this Special Session have direct implications for Oregon’s children and families. Below we have highlighted some of these bills that signify a step in the right direction to increasing the number of children who are healthy, safe, engaged, and supported across our state.

Children’s lives are saved when police are held accountable

As a nation and as a state, we need to reimagine and rebuild our communities so that all children can experience safety and a sense of belonging. As we work on that, legislation to fundamentally change our policing systems will save children’s lives by protecting their families, saving the lives of their caregivers, and fostering their mental and physical health, reducing their exposure to adverse experiences, trauma, and toxic stress.

Legislative victories:

  • Senate Bill 1604 requires disciplinary action for law enforcement ordered as a result of arbitration; these changes will limit the chance that decisions are reversed in the future. 
  • House Bill 4201A establishes the Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform. The committee is to examine use-of-force and transparency policing policies and propose legislation by the end of the year.
  • House Bill 4203A prohibits the use of respiratory restricting constraints (e.g., chokeholds). This was adapted from the bill’s original draft to allow this tactic if there is justification for use of deadly force. 
  • House Bill 4205A requires police and reserve officers to intervene to prevent or stop another officer from engaging in an act they know, or should reasonably know, is misconduct.
  • House Bill 4207A directs the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to establish a statewide public, online database of suspensions and recalls of police officers’ certifications.
  • House Bill 4208A prohibits law enforcement agencies from using tear gas as a crowd control measure, save for circumstances constituting a riot.

Access to broadband supports equitable access to education for children

Unequal access to broadband, particularly in rural areas of our state, remains an issue and has become more apparent since the pandemic. In Oregon, state data from the U.S. Census Pulse Survey (June 11 to June 16, 2020) reflected that of all respondent households with children, just over 6 in 10 reported usually having access to the internet (62%) for educational purposes. Lack of broadband access likely contributes to these data. For children, virtual learning this past Spring looked very different across Oregon, in part due to internet access. This is a consideration we must acknowledge as we look to the upcoming school year with the likelihood of reopenings with a mix of in-person and virtual scenarios.

Legislative victories:

  • Senate Bill 1603 establishes a Broadband Fund, expands which services will pay the universal service surcharge, and sets up mechanisms to help fund broadband service infrastructure projects in order to expand broadband access across the state.

Housing stability and family economic security are important to child well-being

Prior to the pandemic, 22,000 K-12 school children in Oregon were already experiencing houselessness. Every Oregon child deserves a safe, stable, and affordable place to call home. We all need a place to shelter and stay safe with ourselves and our families. Further, in these uncertain times, unnecessary barriers must be addressed to increase family economic security. Long-term positive outcomes for children, in both health and education, are associated with stable housing and family economic security.

Legislative victories:

  • House Bill 4204A provides homeowner protections against mortgage foreclosures.
  • House Bill 4213A extends a moratorium on evictions through this September with a repayment period through March 3, 2021. Late fees continue to be prohibited, and landlords are banned from reporting late payments to credit bureaus.
  • House Bill 4210 eliminates driver’s license suspension for the nonpayment of fines. This concept was part of the 2020 Children’s Agenda.

The safety and health of all children must be paramount

Children’s health and safety, particularly in times of public health emergencies, must be of primary concern. Oregon’s history of removing native children from their families persists today, as is seen in the disproportionate removal of native children from their families and are now in the foster care system. We must do better.

Legislative victories:

  • House Bill 4214A (Oregon Indian Child Welfare Act/ICWA) codifies the federal Indian Child Welfare Act to promote the safety of native children, preserve tribal families and communities, and recognize tribal sovereignty. This was a priority concept of the 2020 Children’s Agenda.
  • House Bill 4212A is an omnibus COVID-response bill including directing the Oregon Health Authority to establish rules for health care providers regarding race and ethnicity data collection
  • Senate Bill 1605 is an omnibus Child Welfare bill putting stronger parameters around out-of-state placement of foster youth. It also delays implementing placement of children in qualified residential treatment programs to December 1, 2020, as part of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act
  • Senate Bill 1606A prohibits hospitals from discriminating against individuals with a disability when seeking and accessing medical treatment.

Changing outcomes for children and families is a marathon, not a sprint

While the passage of these bills is important at this moment, we must acknowledge that much more work remains to be done to address the racism deeply embedded in all of our systems. The lives of our children depend on this work. As we look to the next round of legislative discussions regarding the budget, likely later this summer, we turn to the leadership of the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities to support and amplify their work and future legislation to address systemic racism; we encourage legislators and community members to do the same. 

Working collectively, we can reimagine the world we want to live in and make it real with each decision we make!