Back in January, newly elected Oregon Attorney General John Kroger announced that he would be pushing to reinstate the Civil Rights Enforcement Unit. The announcement came at one of the most diverse meetings in the state, The Skanner's Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast.
Now, the Kroger is awaiting a decision from the Legislature on whether to approve or deny funding for the unit. And with difficult budget decisions to be made, AG spokesman Tony Green says its up in the air as to whether the unit will be formed.
"Well, we don't have funding yet," Green said. "And there are a lot of competing interests."
The Civil Rights Unit at the Attorney General's office was dismantled in the 1980s, when funding was eliminated. Despite shrinking budgets, Kroger is pushing for $660,166 to hire one attorney and one investigator to fight discrimination based on age, race, gender, gender identity, disability or sexual orientation.
"Discrimination remains a significant problem within the borders of our state," Kroger said in a letter to several lawmakers. "No other state agency has the legal authority or expertise to respond to these kinds of incidents. My office has the authority but not the resources."
Budget hearings for the Attorney General's office were held on this week to discuss specific funding requests. Green says no final decision will be made and encourages citizens to contact their legislators and the Attorney General's office to voice support for the unit.
Kroger said its a matter of saving money in the long run.
"The state currently expends massive resources responding to and settling complaints alleging that state agencies have discriminated against its employees or Oregon citizens," Kroger told lawmakers. "I believe we could substantially reduce this amount if we are authorized to hire civil rights experts who could work with our labor and employment team and trial attorneys to counsel our agencies on how to prevent discrimination and avoid potential liability."
Find your legislator's contact information at www.leg.state.or.us or visit www.doj.state.or.us or call 503-378-4400.