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OR Legislature: Kudos for a Tough Session

June 30, 2009

SALEM, Ore. - That huge sigh of relief you may hear today is from the Salem area: it's the sound of Oregon legislators, ending their session on the last day of the fiscal year. For labor groups, gains include the "Worker Freedom Act," to keep politics and religion out of workplace meetings. They also approve of higher tax rates for higher-income Oregonians. Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain is pleased that businesses will shoulder a greater share of the state's tax burden.

"I think the legislature did a great job, in light of being in the worst recession since the 1930s. They passed legislation that'll create jobs, they've passed the most comprehensive health care reform in the country; and they tackled a major issue when they tried to implement - and did implement - tax fairness."

Chamberlain notes that the session was also very contentious - with the business community charging that many of the changes will kill jobs by making it harder for companies to make a profit.

Homeowners and renters got some relief from lawmakers. They increased the document fee on property transactions, with the money going into a state fund to build and refurbish affordable housing. And the cuts to emergency housing and homeless programs were not as deep as had been expected, according to Orion Lumiere, development and communications director with the Oregon Opportunity Network.

"We're thrilled that the legislature acted to preserve and expand housing opportunity as much as they were able to in Oregon. They had to work very hard to find resources in this economy to maintain stability for families, and they did that."

The Oregon Food Bank Network received more state support from lawmakers, and 16,000 more kids will be able to eat school breakfasts this fall, free of charge. Jon Stubenvoll, advocacy director with the Food Bank, says the poor will also benefit from other budget decisions that were made.

"There are a whole host of human services that are important to hunger, even though they may not be directly related - things like senior services, health care, and, obviously, homelessness programs. In a very difficult budget year, the Oregon legislature has found a way to make fighting hunger a priority."

The Oregon Health Fund Board's hard work and public meetings paid off, with its recommendations providing the outline for completely revamping the state health-care system. Martin Taylor, health policy senior manager with CareOregon, says it puts the state at the forefront of health care reform.

"Oh, it's tremendously exciting - and it gives the federal government some demonstration that, around the country, the public not only is ready for these kinds of changes, but that there are places to draw knowledge and inspiration from, and Oregon is clearly one of those now."

The 75th Oregon Legislature began its session January 12, and before you know it, they'll be at it again in Salem.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR