PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — Oregon lawmakers will adopt a full slate of legislation on pressing and polarizing issues from homelessness to gun and drug control when the legislative session begins next week after the midterm elections that cost Democrats their supermajorities but were swept away in a new law. progressive ruler.
A top priority is to address the interconnected crises of homelessness and mental health that have gripped the country for years. Dozens of new bills target sticking points that make it difficult to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment to those in need and to build housing.
Federal data shows that Oregon has some of the highest rates of homelessness and drug addiction in the nation – stemming largely from a severe housing shortage, high rents and lack of mental health services.
Its chairman, Rep. Rob Noss, said a bill to secure continued funding for the national 988 mental health hotline is high on the agenda for the State Council Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care. The bill proposes taxing cell phone subscribers at 50 cents a month in order to maintain the helpline and ensure efficient call routing. State analysts estimate the move could raise about $60 million per two-year budget.
“A lot of acute mental health challenges can be solved over the phone,” said Noss. “People who talk to someone can lower their temperature. So we need to support this system.”
988, the nation’s first triple-digit mental health crisis hotline, launched in July. It built on the existing network that operated at the old National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. When called, the dispatcher connects people with trained mental health counselors rather than police or paramedics. In the six months since its launch, the helpline has received more than 2 million calls, texts, and chat messages.
While the federal government has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the project, the states are expected to take over the operation and financing of the line — just as they do 911 emergency call services. To date, five states — Washington, California, Nevada, Colorado and Virginia — have passed cell phone taxes to fund 988, according to the coalition. National Mental Illness.
Other potentially controversial bills would make it easier to force some people into mental health treatment, echoing a growing debate in the state and nationwide about hospitalizing people against their will. One bill, for example, would allow judges to bind a person civilly with a substance use disorder if that person is also determined to have a mental illness that renders him unable to care for himself or poses a danger to himself or others.
Faced with high drug addiction rates in the state, Republicans have introduced several bills that would eliminate all or parts of the 110th measure ballot, which voters approved in 2020 and made Oregon the first state in the country to decriminalize hard drugs.
One of the most significant bills seeks to make it easier to build homes by changing planning and land use rules. Officials estimate that Oregon is short of 110,000 housing units and needs to build more than half a million homes over the next 20 years in order to keep up with demand.
“We know we need to double our housing production rate to meet the need right now,” said Rep. Julie Fahey, House Democratic Majority Leader.
Democrats, who control the legislature, have also introduced gun control bills as a legal battle begins in the courts over a narrowly passed, voter-approved measure that would require a permit to purchase a firearm and ban high-capacity magazines. They are set to spar with Republicans, who have introduced several bills of their own that would loosen gun regulations.
One Democratic bill would ban “stealth guns,” which are untraceable firearms without a serial number that an individual can assemble themselves. Another variant, not yet officially introduced, would raise the age to buy and own a firearm to 21, with exceptions for hunting, law enforcement and members of the military. While federal law sets the minimum age to purchase a handgun at 21, it allows people who are 18 or older to purchase a rifle or shotgun.
On voting rights — an increasingly contentious issue after former President Donald Trump’s false claims that voter fraud cost him his re-election in 2020 — a bill has been introduced that would automatically enroll people in Oregon’s Medicaid plan to vote, expanding the auto voter law in the state. This first law in the country, which went into effect in 2016, automatically enrolls people who renew or apply for a driver’s license or ID card at the DMV. Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said the bill could add about 170,000 people to the voter rolls.
Oregon’s Voters Act and voting-by-mail system have been credited with boosting participation in state elections. It had the highest turnout rate nationally in the November midterm elections, with 61.5% of eligible voters casting ballots.
In addition, House members say they plan to introduce a bill that would protect people in Oregon from criminal and civil liability for receiving or providing an abortion. The move would add Oregon to the list of states that have taken steps to protect people from lawsuits in states where abortion has been banned or severely restricted after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, Republicans introduced a bill banning abortions after 15 weeks except in cases of medical emergency. Abortion is currently legal in Oregon at all stages of pregnancy.
Democrats still control both houses of the legislature, but they lost their supermajority of three-fifths in the November election, which means they will need some Republican support to boost revenue through taxes.
Claire Rush is a staff member for the Associated Press/Reporting for the America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that puts journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues. Follow Claire on Twitter.