PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Oregon legislature formally convenes on January 17 with many critical issues on the agenda.
Democratic Senator Lew Frederick has represented Oregon District 22 in north and northeast Portland since 2017, after previously serving in the Oregon House for eight years.
Also serving as Senate Majority Whip, Frederick says legislative priorities –for the estimated 4,000 bills they will consider– will vary on issues from education, public safety, homelessness and housing.
Frederick also highlighted possible transportation projects on Interstate 205, along the coast and in central and eastern Oregon.
Additionally, the senator says healthcare will be another focus during the session.
“Healthcare continues to be an issue, especially dealing with mental health, and how we recruit, retain and support the folks who are dealing with mental health issues throughout the state,” Frederick said. “And getting the staffing for people to be able to talk with folks about addiction and alcohol support issues.”
This focus on healthcare comes as Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler sent a letter to state lawmakers in December — urging them to address several issues including lowering the bar to forcibly commit people in crisis.
The letter called upon Governor-elect Tina Kotek and the legislature to work with the Oregon Health Authority and other stakeholders to lower the threshold for civil commitments and amend how long someone experiencing substance or meth-induced psychosis can be held.
The mayor also asked to look into a person’s mental health history and add more facilities for mental health and substance abuse treatment.
In response, Republican House Minority Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson previously told KOIN 6 News the ask has good chances in the legislature as her party reportedly asked for it two years ago.
Wheeler also asked the Oregon Health Authority to ensure city mobile crisis response, including Portland Street Response, are Medicaid reimbursement eligible. He also wants treatment facilities, detox centers and hospitals treating behavioral health patients to get increased reimbursement rates.
During this legislative session, the state capitol is also under construction for earthquake safety improvements. The senator noted how this may impact the legislative process as one-third of House members are new to the chamber and about two-thirds have not had a regular session.
“We will be holding our floor sessions only several times a week rather than probably every day,” Frederick said. “You really can’t have people getting a chance to talk with one another and the general public will not be able to walk through the building the way we have in the past.”