Bills in 2017 Legislature Aim to Protect Civil Rights and Health Care

Barely two weeks after President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in, Oregon’s regular legislative session will begin Feb. 1. 

Multiple bills being drafted aim to address civil rights, human rights and health care. And while some bills are also being designed to protect existing state laws, others are being proposed to fill in the gaps in federal laws and protections that could be affected by the Trump administration. 

Several Oregon elected officials and members of human rights advocacy groups echo the urgency of legislation protecting civil rights, from those of the children of immigrants to the rights of the LBGTQ community. 

Diane Goodwin is the communications director for Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), a public policy advocacy group for LGBTQ Oregonians, and she says that while “Oregon has been on the forefront of LGBTQ equality nationally for many years … many barriers still exist for transgender Oregonians.” 

One bill the group is working on would provide equal health care benefits to people regardless of gender identity. “Basically with this bill, we know that a lot of transgender people still face health care discrimination in Oregon,” Goodwin says. “We have gender identity included within the Oregon Health Plan, although it’s not comprehensive, we’ve made a lot of progress on it.”

BRO is also drafting a legislative concept which would simplify the process for transgender people applying to obtain new identity documents like birth certificates, and they hope to find multiple sponsors in the upcoming session. “So a lot of trans folks when they transition need to update their name and gender markers, and right now the process is really hard to navigate, it’s intrusive and it’s costly,” Goodwin says. 

Andrea Williams with immigrant rights group Causa says there are a number of inspiring bills coming up in the 2017 Legislature. “[We’ll see] things like health care for all kids, to cover immigrant children under the Oregon health care plan; a bill to end profiling and to address the affordable housing situation.” She adds, “We have an opportunity to be different as a state.” 

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, [D] District 4, is working on a bill regarding grand jury recordation. He says Oregon is one of two states — Louisiana is the other — which does not record grand jury proceedings. 

Issues can arise under the current state law because “one of the grand jurors is appointed by the other grand jurors to take notes of the testimony that is given before the grand jury,” Prozanski says. Recordation would ensure testimonies are not misinterpreted or the person on trial doesn’t tell a story different from what is written down, according to Prozanski.

 “And as you can imagine whoever that individual is they could be more attentive than another person, they could also have their own filters as to what they think is important as to what they might jot down as to what they heard them say, but the way they write it may not be exactly how it was said.” He adds, “So it makes a lot of sense to me, and many others, that we should go ahead and have those proceedings recorded.”

Prozanski, who is a prosecutor in addition to a legislator, says he is supporting another bill that falls under the civil rights scope by making discovery — information required to be shared by both parties in court cases — costs more affordable. “I know that the defense bar has been concerned with some of the cost for discovery and it varies from county to county so there’s a bill that may have some uniformity in what can be charged,” he says. 

Prozanski supports the state prohibition on using local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws and cites attacks on it as an area of concern. 

He says, “I’ve heard at least two House members who were looking at trying to overturn that or repeal that prohibition.” He adds, “So that will come through judiciary, and I will be pretty zealous in ensuring that we maintain what we have now because our local law enforcement resources are so limited and they really need to be focused on what the community needs to be doing and not be at the charge and direction of the federal government.”

Newly appointed state Sen. James Manning just made a trip to Salem and says he is waiting to find out which committees he’ll be appointed to. He says he’s keeping an eye on health care for all and will be paying close attention to how veterans are impacted. “We still have a significant number of our population that are not currently receiving healthcare,” Manning says. “Children and women in particular, I’m really concerned about that — in particular our rural areas to make sure we are doing the proper outreach to provide them with the resources that they need.” 

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