Democrats Make Gains in the Legislature
By Doug Barber, OAHU Lobbyist
In the Oregon Legislature, Democrats picked up one seat in the House and two seats in the Senate, strengthening their majorities in each chamber. For the 2015 session, the House will be 35 D – 25 R. The Senate will likely be 18 D – 12 R. Combined with John Kitzhaber’s re-election, this gives Democrats dominant control of the legislative process in the upcoming session.
In the House, the only seat that changed parties was in Salem where Rep. Vicki Berger (R) did not run for re-election. In the Senate, Republican incumbent Sen. Betsy Close (R-Albany) was defeated and, though the final vote has not been certified, it looks like Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) will also lose his seat.
Unlike the 2009, 2011 and to a lesser extent the 2013 sessions, health care issues are not expected to dominate the 2015 legislative session. Other issues will take center stage including:
- K-12 funding, including all-day kindergarten
- Transportation – funding for road maintenance and construction as well as non-highway transportation projects and
- Implementation of the marijuana legalization measure.
Previous sessions, when there have been large Democratic majorities, have been challenging for business. Unions tend to have the upper hand and push bills that could be expensive for business to implement. One example of this in the 2015 session is likely to be a statewide sick leave policy.
One of the biggest health care challenges that will be on the agenda in 2015 is the health- care workforce shortage. The Oregon Health Plan is scrambling to find enough primary care providers to serve the 338,00 who enrolled in OHP last year. Another 83,800 enrolled in Qualified Health Plans (QHP) through Cover Oregon. As a result, commercial insurers are also feeling the squeeze on primary care providers.
Four state-funded programs, designed to support primary care and rural health care providers, will all be up for reconsideration:
- Loan Repayment provided $1 million to help doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists and others pay off their student loans in exchange for working in rural or underserved urban sites.
- Loan Forgiveness pays up to $35,000 in tuition for medical school and nurse practitioners who agree to serve in rural Oregon when they graduate.
- Rural health tax credit gives a $5,000 per year tax credit to health care providers in rural Oregon.
- Rural malpractice subsidy pays a sliding-scale percentage of the malpractice insurance costs for rural providers. Those who deliver babies receive the highest percentage.
So while health care will not be the focal point of the 2015 legislative session, there will be plenty of bills to keep us busy. We won’t see most of the policy proposals, including proposed new insurance mandates, which seem to pop up every session, until the new legislature meets for organizational days in January.
Upcoming dates to keep an eye on:
- December 1 when the Governor is expected to release his proposed 2015-2017 budget
- Late December when the House Speaker and Senate President announce the membership of the new legislative committees for the 2015 session.
For questions or comments contact Doug Barber, OAHU Lobbyist, 541-221-3072, firstname.lastname@example.org.