Welcome to our 2017 Legislative Update

(This was sent to our legislative session mailing list on January 26, 2016. To get our Legislative Update directly in your inbox, sign up here.)

Hello again!  Oregon’s 2017 legislative session will get underway next Wednesday, February 1.  DRO will be there to advocate for issues of importance to the disability community and get you information you need to participate in the process.  Our first regular update should reach you on Monday.

Our weekly updates will be a bit different this time because, well, things have changed.  Developments on the federal level will have a direct impact on state policy and so we will include some information about them.  Also, in the new world of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” we will double our efforts to get you verified info and to distinguish between fact and opinion.

The overwhelming issue before the legislature is the $1.8 billion projected shortfall of revenue to cover ongoing expenses for 2017-2019.  About $1 billion of that budget hole is the cost of continuing Oregon Health Plan coverage for all those enrolled.  Meanwhile, the new federal administration and Congress are discussing possible cuts to Medicaid and elimination of the Affordable Care Act.

Medicaid not only funds medical services but also a full range of support services for seniors, people with disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities and those with behavioral health needs.  Many people are unaware that the “K Plan” that funds many of those support services is part of the Affordable Care Act.  Many are also not aware that the ACA, by requiring coverage of preexisting conditions, effectively prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in health insurance.  (The ADA does not!)

Back here in Oregon, the Democrats have retained majorities in the House and Senate, with Republicans picking up one new Senate seat.  There are ten new Democrats in the House, and one in the Senate.  As one would expect, the parties have very different views about the state budget and other matters.  It will be interesting to see if the level of partisan rancor increases with the new mood in Washington, DC and the fact that we have probably already entered into a new election cycle for governor, with voting coming up in 2018.

In the state budget process, the Governor first releases a proposed budget and then the legislature’s Ways and Means Committee comes up with the final plan.  Last week, Ways and Means released a document showing how it would propose cuts to the state budget if there is no new revenue. It will follow up with a recommended budget after the next economic forecast. The Framework also predicts that additional cuts will be necessary in the next budget cycle, 2019-2021. Legislators strongly urge you to contact them with your views on the budget.  You can find contact information for your legislator at https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/ 

Here are some of the cuts:

  • Cut health insurance coverage to 335,000 adults recently added to the Oregon Health Plan under the federal Affordable Care Act.
  • Reduce the prioritized list of services covered by the Oregon Health Plan by as many as 50 medical services that are currently covered.
  • Reduce rates paid to DHS service providers, usually by not providing any reasonable inflation adjustment.
  • Reduce the spending trajectory in programs for seniors and people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. Potential actions include tightening up eligibility requirements and the number of service hours authorized.
  • Reduce school funding by $212.6 million from the current service level.
  • Reduce public transit subsidies for seniors and persons with disabilities.

In a press release, Senate Republicans commented on this budget outline, saying:

  • “There is no shortfall. We are committed to strong, sound fiscal policy that puts Oregonians first.”
  • “We must address significant problems facing our transportation systems and advance sound, broadly supported solutions that protect Oregonians from increased costs and unnecessary burdens.”
  • “By overhauling PERS we will protect current and future retirees and taxpayers. We have the opportunity to renovate our housing policy to alleviate the problems plaguing vulnerable Oregonians and the opportunity to produce meaningful change that will expand growth and prosperity in our state.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats released their priorities for the legislative session:

  • Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Public Education
  • Ensuring Transparent, Accountable Government that Effectively Meets People’s Needs
  • Keeping Oregon’s Economy Growing
  • Protecting All Working Families and Workers’ Rights
  • Standing with Women, Seniors, Communities of Color, and Underrepresented Communities
  • Supporting Healthy Communities

In this session, DRO will be working for passage of bills on the following topics. We’ll describe these in more detail in later updates:

  • Regulating the use of abbreviated school programs – SB 263
  • Protecting people with I/DD in end-of-life decisions – HB 2393
  • Supporting the use of local resources for restorative treatment – SB 132
  • Improving due process in guardianship proceedings – HB 2630
  • Diverting people in serious mental health crisis from jail
  • Setting deadlines for capacity evaluations in criminal cases – HB 2631
  • Conforming disabled hunting and fishing license programs to ADA – HB 2634

You can listen to an interview with me on KBOO radio about our efforts to divert people with severe mental health needs from jail: SB 132 and HB 2631.

We welcome your comments at welcome@droregon.org.

Bob Joondeph
Executive Director

If you value our work to promote disability rights in state law, please consider a tax-deductible donation. Here’s how your donation can support our work:

  • $35: One face to face meeting with a legislator
  • $50: One DRO staff member can travel to the Capitol
  • $100: One Legislative Update
  • $500: One full day of advocacy during the legislative session

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