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Lawmakers focus on housing costs, living wages in short session

Piluso, Fagan, Monnes Anderson speak to concerns of working families


With the 2016 legislative session is underway, local lawmakers are focused on a range of issues pertaining to the housing crisis and affordable wages as well as tobacco retailing and victims protection. A few East Multnomah County lawmakers provided input as to what's important to them during this 35-day session.

Carla Piluso

“My priorities for this session are bills that support Gresham's working families and keep them safe,” said Rep. Carla Piluso, D-Gresham.

In the next month, Piluso said she's working on two bills with colleagues. The first provides protections for Oregonians who are caregivers for family members.

“This is a crucial service many people provide for their loved ones, and they should receive fair protections in their workplace,” she said.

Another addresses affordable housing — a decidedly hot topic in many Oregon cities right now.

“I am working with many of my colleagues on legislation to address Oregon's affordable housing crisis. Too many Gresham families are struggling to afford a place to live, and we need to take action,” Piluso said. “There are several bills that aim to bring balance to the marketplace, as well as bills that will actually give local cities tools to increase the availability of affordable housing — like Inclusionary zoning.”

As a former Gresham police chief, Piluso said public safety also is a focus.

“One (bill) would ensure mandatory testing of evidence when a woman in Oregon is sexually assaulted, so we can be sure the crime is investigated quickly and that our communities are kept safe,” she said.

Speaking with Gresham residents, Piluso said she believes the issues she's working on are important to the community — specifically regarding minimum wage and affordable housing.

“The governor has come forward with a minimum wage proposal that tries to find a balance between the needs of working Oregonians and the needs of small businesses across the state,” she said. “I am still studying this and other proposals, but I can say I believe people in Gresham who are working full-time shouldn't be living in poverty.”

Piluso noted she wants to spend the next few weeks focusing on the working families in Gresham, and intends to get as much done as possible.

Shemia Fagan

Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas, said her priorities are the same as past sessions.

“To pass policies that improve the lives of working people, keep our community safe and level the playing field for small businesses and those who've been left behind by the economic recovery,” Fagan said.

Raising the minimum wage, for example, is high on the list.

“If you work full time, you should be able to care for your family and save for the future, but right now too many families simply can't even get by,” she said. “By the same token, we have to address the affordable housing crisis that is pricing too many families out of their communities.”

Fagan said she also hopes to help start the discussion on barring workplace discrimination based on familial status, and is backing emergency drought relief for rural counties.

“Another bill I strongly support will close the so-called 'Charleston Loophole' that allows violent criminals and domestic abusers to purchase a gun if their criminal background check takes longer than three days,” she said. “Oregonians support background checks for all gun sales, and it's time to close this dangerous loophole.”

With such a short time to pass bills, Fagan noted the agenda is ambitious, but necessary.

“Voters sent us to Salem to show up and work hard to pass bills that make Oregon a great place to live for everyone,” she said.

With a hopeful remedy to the housing crisis and raising the minimum wage, Fagan expects the 2017 legislative session to focus on a transportation package to fund crucial infrastructure projects statewide.

Laurie Monnes Anderson

With a history in nursing, it's not uncommon for Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, to advocate for victims' issues. This session is not exempt.

“One of my top priorities for this session would provide more protections for our most vulnerable

citizens when they’re the victims of violence,” Monnes Anderson said. “Existing law makes it very difficult to prove that someone was the victim of abuse — particularly when the violence involves seniors and children.”

Senate Bill 1556 will correct one legal shortcoming in the field, making it easier to bring charges against assailants by expanding the forms of action considered as injuries.

Tobacco use has seen some action in the past year, specifically in Multnomah County with the passage of tobacco retail licensing restrictions. Monnes Anderson wants to take the issue one step further.

“I’m concerned about the extent of tobacco use among our young people because nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction and lead to sustained tobacco use,” she said. Senate Bill 1559 will require tobacco licensing for retailers across the state. By implementing a fee structure, licensing is intended to reduce the frequency of tobacco sales to minors.

She also hopes to tackle affordable housing.

“Here in East County, many families struggle every month to make ends meet because of high rental costs,” Monnes Anderson said. “Not being able to count on a stable home environment can be disastrous for a family and can even end up with families confronting the prospect of being homeless. We absolutely must make sure that local families have more affordable housing options. The legislation being considered this session — giving renters more protections against eviction and other measures — is a good first step.”

The minimum wage increase, she added, goes hand-in-hand with affordable housing.

“I’ve talked with so many people in our community who tell me that every month is a struggle just to keep their heads above water, and a lot of people are holding down several low-wage jobs just to keep a roof over their heads,” she said. “Making sure that people in East County who work hard for a living can provide for their families is such a crucial thing for our community, and increasing the minimum wage will be a big help for local families.”

But the 35-day session does pose challenges of how many issues can effectively be addressed. Monnes Anderson said one of her priorities will likely have to wait until 2017.

“As I talk with East County parents, I’m still hearing too many stories about families that can’t afford to take their kids to the doctor. The lack of dental insurance is also a big problem. Dental problems are a big contributor to emergency room visits and are often the reason that children miss school,” she said. “I’m also very concerned with the continuing high cost of prescription drugs. I have constituents with diabetes who can’t afford their insulin and people with other conditions where the required medication costs tens of thousands of dollars a year. It’s unconscionable that these situations persist while local families are working hard each day, trying to provide for their families.”


KSword@theoutlookonline.com

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