Legislature Fares Poorly on Racial Equity Report Card

Dan Petegorsky

The legislature must understand that Oregon’s future prosperity is linked to our ability to provide fair opportunities and economic stability to all residents. -- Joseph Santos-Lyons

Racial equity and inclusion are critical to Oregon’s future prosperity. This week, Oregon’s Legislature got very low grades on laying the groundwork for that future. The now widely publicized Oregon Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity assessed the 2011 legislative session, evaluating lawmakers’ commitment to advancing opportunity and closing disparities affecting Oregonians, particularly Oregonians of color. The bottom line? The Senate received a “C” and the House received a “D".

Communities of color have grown from 9.2% of Oregon’s population in 1990 to 21.5% in the 2010 Census. The Report Card underscores what other recent studies have documented: that Oregon's racial and economic gaps run deep. For example, the 2010 poverty rate for Whites in Oregon was 13.1%. By contrast, it was 23.1% for Native Americans, 28.8% for Latinos, 39% for African Americans and 40.6% for Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders.

In the face of such disparities, the Legislature did take up and pass several promising laws:

--Creating a competitive marketplace for health insurance via a new exchange aims to serve the more than 600,000 Oregonians who currently lack health insurance. People of color are two to three times more likely to be without health insurance than Whites.

--Youth of color are disproportionately affected under Measure 11. Another bill will help divert youth from adult jails, keeping them in juvenile detention facilities while they await trail, helping to ensure they get age appropriate interventions.

However, the Legislature missed key opportunities, including:

--Home Loan Modifications: SB 827 would have helped homeowners facing foreclosure (again, communities of color have been hit disproportionately hard).

--Tuition Equity: SB 742 (passed in the Senate, died in the House) would have allowed qualified immigrant students to pay in-state rates for tuition and would help an estimated 22% of qualified Latino youth in Oregon.

The full report, which also includes recommendations to improve Oregon’s approach to racial equity and inclusion, is available on Western States Center's website here.

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    It occurs that in the realm of the activist, a report would have to be negative, otherwise what's their Raison d'être, as Nathan Arizona put it to the FBI agent....

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    Agreed, we can and need to do much better. An example of us doing better is HB28000 which helps keep Dept. Of Education dollars here in Oregon. This bill was sponsored by By Representatives CLEM, KOTEK; Representatives DEMBROW, FREDERICK, GARRETT, HOLVEY, KOMP, MATTHEWS, SCHAUFLER, J SMITH, Senator EDWARDS. We need more leadership like this!

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    Dan, another thing the House booted was a bill promoting cultural competency training for health care providers. First it was watered down and then was made victim to late session partisan wrangling over the divided House that had nothing to do with the merits.

    Personally I'm not convinced that the Exchange as such does much to improve health equity, except for the fact that there's a requirement to have one for low and middle income people to be eligible for the subsidies provided under PPACA (the federal reform).

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