House Bill 2662 – Unemployment Insurance for Victims of Domestic Violence
A recent study conducted in cooperation with the Oregon Department of Human Services concluded that one in 10 women between the ages of 20 and 55 in Oregon had been physically or sexually assaulted by their current or most recent partner in the five years preceding the study. Without legal protections, such victims are less likely to leave work to seek safety. The availability of unemployment benefits enables victims to take the steps they need to protect themselves and their families without risking homelessness or bankruptcy.
I am the chief sponsor of House Bill 2662, which would expand current laws to allow victims of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault to collect unemployment benefits if they leave work to protect their safety or the safety of their families. Presently, the law provides that unemployment benefits are available only to people who must quit for “good cause.” HB 2662 would provide a legal framework to ensure that only victims can decide what steps to take to protect themselves from physical harm.
On March 16th, House Bill 2662 was heard before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Law. The bill now awaits a work session. I am continuing to lobby for this important legislation to come before the full House for a vote.
House Bill 2542 – Federal Reconnect
On April 6th, the House voted on HB 2542, which would reconnect Oregon’s Tax Code to the Federal Tax Code. In the process, the bill would essentially provide a $27 million tax break to insurance companies, drug makers, oil companies and other huge multinational corporations. Two provisions in the bill allow for corporations to reduce their gross income, lowering their state taxable income.
House Democrats proposed a motion to substitute a Minority Report for the Committee Report to reconnect Oregon’s Tax Code to Federal Tax Code. The Minority Report would have reconnected Oregon’s Tax Code to much of the Internal Revenue Code proposed by the Committee Report, but would have opted out of two provisions in the federal tax code, which together would give away $27 million—mostly to out-of-state corporations.
While the Minority Report did ultimately fail, and the Committee Report passed, I will continue to fight to have corporations pay their share of the state burden. Giving a tax break for no reason at all is fiscally irresponsible, especially when schools are hurting and important programs are in jeopardy. Any new tax cut should create jobs and provide actual economic stimulus. The Committee Report does neither, but only hurts Oregon’s schools and senior citizens.
House Bill 2629 – Inheritance Tax
On April 7th, HB 2629, which would raise the “filing threshold” for estate taxes in Oregon to match Federal law, passed through the House. Currently, no taxes are paid on estates valued under $1 million; the bill proposes to change this to $2 million in tax years 2007-08, and to $3.5 million in 2009.
As passed in the House, this bill will severely hurt small businesses in Oregon. Under 2003 Legislative Estate Tax reforms, “Mom & Pop” small business were exempt beginning in 2006, protecting 99% of taxpayers, family farms, and small businesses while generating millions of dollars for schools and healthcare. Now “Mom & Pop” small businesses will be bearing the burden that large corporations should be shouldering. HB 2629 means a 350% increase in a tax exemption for the wealthiest 1.3% of Oregonians.
The Minority Report increases the estate filing threshold in tax year 2007 to $2 million but does not raise the threshold again in 2009. Most importantly, the rate structure in the Minority Report is revenue neutral when measured against our current Oregon estate tax revenue, whereas the Committee Report will result in $54 million in lost revenue by 2009-2011.
The Minority Report would have leveled the playing field for small businesses. Yet the Republicans chose to pass the Committee Report that will result in substantial lost revenue for our state.
House Bill 3001 – Alternative Energy
It is vital that we work toward reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources by developing and using alternative sources of energy. Solar power is a readily available – but underutilized – source of alternative energy. Because of our Oregon’s research institutions and access to Pacific Rim markets, Oregon has the opportunity to become a leader in the rapidly expanding solar energy industry.
I am the chief sponsor of House Bill 3001, which authorizes 1% of the funds appropriated for construction, reconstruction, and major renovation of public buildings to be used for incorporating solar energy design and technology. This is an investment that will make public buildings greener and more efficient, reducing future energy costs and saving tax-payer dollars. Once solar energy systems are in place in the initial construction of a building, they provide energy over the life of the building. Finally, this legislation will create new jobs for Oregonians, helping to fuel a stronger economy.
Senate Bill 1000 – Supporting Equal Rights for All Oregonians
Senate Bill 1000 is consistent with our Bill of Rights and our Constitution and as a state legislator I am obligated to ensure that all Oregonians enjoy the same rights and freedoms afforded to them by these documents. Discrimination is contrary to these rights and freedoms. Discrimination is simply wrong and I will fight to keep it out of Oregon’s law.
It is evident to me that we should not deny rights to anyone and we should protect all of our freedoms, including religious freedom and separation of church and state. Religious doctrine should not dictate state law and state law should not dictate religious doctrine.
Unfortunately the bill was drastically altered by the House State and Federal Affairs committee. With minimal notice, Speaker Karen Minnis assigned SB 1000 to the House State and Federal Affairs Committee, scheduled a work session, and stuffed the bill with the Reciprocal Benefits language.
I will continue to advocate for equal protections and freedoms for everyone. This is not a fight that we can afford to lose. While we did not pass civil union legislation this session, we came closer than we ever have before. The progress of expanding civil liberties and ending discrimination has, at times, been slow but it has never ceased to progress. I intend to continue the debate in the next legislative session and advocate for true civil union legislation, beyond reciprocal benefits. I truly appreciate all of the support I have received regarding this critically important issue.
Fighting for the Right to Sue over Vioxx
We rely on our prescription drugs to help us rather than hurt us. When medical mistakes happen, it is crucial that the patients impacted be notified immediately and that corrective action be taken to remedy the problem. Pharmaceutical companies have an obligation to their customers and to the public to take these steps to address the problem.
In September 2004 pharmaceutical company Merck & Co withdrew Vioxx from pharmacy shelves after the Food and Drug Administration made a change to its label to include information about cardiovascular problems associated with the drug. Vioxx was originally approved by the FDA in May of 1999. Evidence now shows that Merck knew about the cardiovascular risks associated with the drug and- rather than notifying patients and correcting the problem- tried to cover it up.
Oregon has a unique statute of limitations that doesn’t allow anyone to sue if the injury occurred more than two years before the lawsuit was filed. This becomes a problem when someone dies from taking a drug such as Vioxx two years before it is discovered that Vioxx caused that person to die. In this case, the family of the person who died cannot sue Merck for causing the death. In short, the drug company cannot be sued if the death occurred more than two years before the lawsuit was filed, regardless of when the connection between the drug and the death was discovered.
Senate Bill 1011 would have corrected this problem by reworking the statute of limitations in such a way that a lawsuit would be permitted if it was filed within two years of the time in which the patient or the patient’s family first discovered or should have discovered the injury and the relationship between the injury and the product. Unfortunately, common sense, compassion, and responsibility often get in the way of industry profits. Merck lobbied heavily against this bill and as a result the House Republicans have blocked the bill from getting out of committee. We must give people the ability to file suit against a company whose product causes people to die. I am deeply troubled by the House Republicans decision to side with an irresponsible drug company who covered up the truth from patients and the public.
Mental Health Parity
Under current law, medical insurance companies can provide lower levels of coverage for mental health than they do for other physical medical conditions. To be healthy, you must be both physically and mentally fit. So why do we have a double standard, where physical health is covered at a higher level than mental health? Senate Bill 1 corrects this imbalance by requiring group health insurance policies to cover expenses for treatment of chemical dependency, mental or nervous conditions at the same level as those of other medical conditions. It also prohibits greater restrictions and limitations from being imposed on mental health coverage than those imposed upon physical health coverage.
There has been a stigma around mental health services for too long. We need to recognize that mental health services are as vital to our families, friends, and community as physical health services. The only way we can get these services on an equal footing is if we require them to be treated in the same way as other health issues.
Senate Bill 1 passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support. It is currently on its way to Governor Kulongoski’s desk where he is expected to sign it into law.
Forrest Legacy Program:
This is part of a federal program that allows the compensation of private land owners to preserve forest land from commercial development. This program is budgeted for $2,021,000. I introduced a similar policy bill to the version that passed the House. Unfortunately, the policy bill that passed the House only allows the program to be used within the urban growth boundary. This is an unnecessary restriction on this great program and I hope to expand the program to areas outside the urban growth boundary in the 2007 legislative session.
Willamette River Cleanup:
This program is crucial for cleaning up the Willamette River. The House proposed no funding for the program. In the final negotiated budget, House and Senate leaders agreed to allocate the same funds for the program called for in the Senate version of the budget.
Pesticide Use Reporting System (PURS):
This system was originally established in 1999 and has never been funded. It establishes a better system for pesticide reporting that allows specific public agencies and research groups to monitor and study pesticide use. The program is funded for the first time in this budget, however the reporting system has been significantly weakened.