But much more will be packed into the 35-day session, including the BIPOC Caucus’ recently outlined policy agenda. The legislative coalition will push for greater investment in affordable housing; expanding child care infrastructure to better include culturally responsive care and care options in rural areas; creating a system to better support immigrants as they arrive in the state; and establishing matching savings accounts for low- to moderate-income Oregonians.
The Skanner spoke with BIPOC Caucus policy and communications vice chair Rep. Travis Nelson (D-Portland, Dist. 44) for a session preview.
The Skanner: What’s on the BIPOC Caucus agenda for this year?
Rep. Nelson: Our top priority is going to be the Economic Equity Investment Act, which would invest $30 million into the Economic Equity Investment Program to support the building of affordable housing throughout rural Oregon, and it would elevate small business development, resources and training for entrepreneurs operating in the Warm Springs and Umatilla reservations. It would also provide matched savings programs in rural and urban Oregon to help families invest in the future.
We also are making childcare infrastructure a priority, and the secretary of state’s minority women and veteran-owned business registration program, so that we actually know where women veterans and minorities are owning businesses – we’re supportive of that. We’re also supporting the Oregon Individual Development Account and the Newcomer Humanitarian Investment Program.
The Skanner: There seems to be a growing push to view childcare as part of basic infrastructure.
Rep. Nelson: I think that’s how we’ve got to look at childcare. If we want people to fully participate in the workforce, we have got to allow single parents to be able to fully participate and that only happens reliably when people have reliable healthcare. We’ve got to do more to ensure that there’s more childcare centers, that childcare is affordable, and that we’re also supporting in-home childcare providers and providers who are culturally responsive.
The Skanner: You are limited to introducing two bills during a short session. What are yours?
Rep. Nelson: Both are healthcare-related. House Bill 4088 is a bill addressing hospital worker workplace violence that I worked on with Rep. Boshart Davis. It will require more transparency around workplace violence, logs that hospitals keep. It will also create a grant program that will help support hospitals in creating systems or that will help them to install things like metal detectors, if that’s something they would like to do.
The big part of it will be increasing the penalties for assaulting a healthcare worker in Oregon from a misdemeanor to a felony.
In Washington state, that’s already the case. And it’s something healthcare workers in Oregon have been asking for.
I haven’t worked in an ER in years, (but) I’ve been hit dozens of times over the course of my career as a healthcare worker. Many healthcare workers report the same, that they get hit all the time, that assault is all too common. It’s something that needs to change.
The Skanner: Why do you think we’re hearing reports of increased violence against healthcare workers?
Rep. Nelson: Oftentimes it’s patients who may be in crisis, they may be overly emotional, they may not know exactly what it is they’re doing. They want to leave, but healthcare workers push back when patients want to leave. If they’re in the throes of addiction they’re more likely to hit healthcare workers. I know a lot of healthcare workers, and with the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems like the public lost a lot of trust in healthcare workers, especially as it relates to the whole push to get vaccinated. And folks who I talk to who are working at the bedside and have worked at the bedside for years say that the violence against healthcare workers got noticeably worse since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
People are having a visceral reaction to anybody who they believe is infringing on their rights, whether that’s telling them they need to wear a mask or telling them that visiting hours are over.
The Skanner: And your other bill?
Rep. Nelson: HB 4089 focuses on financial transparency for hospitals. Part of it relates to worker protections: It would increase the minimum wage for being on-call or standby for an hourly hospital worker to minimum wage, because currently there’s no floor for that pay in the state of Oregon.
Nurses, respiratory therapists and other hourly workers, in addition to their 40 hours a week, sometimes are required to take calls, which could be another 10, 20 hours a week. That’s time that they are required to be on the hook for the hospital, should the hospital call them in.
So you might be on call one day from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., and there’s no minimum rate for pay for that time that you’re on call.
At a lot of hospitals, they pay three, four, five dollars an hour.
And you often have to report within a half hour or 45 minutes. So that means if you live 20 miles from work, you may have to drive in to be close to work so you don’t get in trouble if you don’t make it in on time. You can’t drink alcohol, you can’t go out with your family or your friends and enjoy yourself, because at any given time during that period, you could be called in.
I’m advocating for that time being paid at at least minimum wage.
The hospital transparency piece would require hospitals to report their cash on hand on a quarterly basis. Hospitals already have to report quite a bit of information to the Oregon Health Authority, but cash flow is kind of murky, which is why I’m advocating for cash on hand to be reported. Oregonians contribute millions of dollars to hospitals by way of Medicaid every single year, and I believe that there needs to be more transparency into how hospitals are spending money and where hospitals are spending money.
The bill will require transparency around what is happening with Medicaid dollars that hospital systems are bringing in in-state, how much is being sent out of state and how much out of state money is coming into Oregon as well.
For example, Providence may be sending money that they made in Oregon to California to support (Providence) hospitals in California. But there’s no transparency around that now, so we don’t know if that’s happening or not. We just suspect that it is.
It also provides transparency into investment returns and will help us to get an idea of how much hospitals are investing in the stock market, for instance. It will also require hospitals to report the pay of their top 10 highest paid employees as well.