Oregon legislative retirements may shift the “political center of gravity” on health policy

Tom Holt is the Managing Partner at The Holt Company, a Government and Public Affairs firm based in Portland, Oregon. 


A growing list of Oregon legislative retirements may shift the political center of gravity on health policy to the House going into the 2021 Session.  At last count, 16 of the Legislature’s 90 members (60 House, 30 Senate) either will retire or will be appointees standing for election to their seats for the first time in 2020; candidates must file by March 6 for the May 19 primary.

 

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Among the retirees:

  • Senate Health Committee Chair Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham);
  • Senate Mental Health Committee Chair Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay);
  • Senate Revenue Committee Chair Mark Hass (D-Beaverton), who is running for Secretary of State.
  • House Behavioral Health Subcommittee Chair Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland).

Bench replacements are not obvious.  No Democrat with prior significant health-policy experience is free of other significant chairmanship obligations, and both Democrats remaining on the Health Committee hold other gavels: Sen. Lee Beyer is the Senate Co-Chair of the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services, which oversees the Oregon Health Authority’s budget; and Sen. Shamia Fagan chairs the Committee on Housing and Development, after winning election based largely on housing issues.  Sen. Sara Gelser, who has pushed for reforms of the state’s beleaguered child foster care system as chair of the Human Service Committee, is the only returning Democrat on the Mental Health Committee.

The House Committee on Health Care, on the other hand, has relatively stable membership following significant turnover during the past two years, and Chair Andrea Salinas will be going into her third Session.  Other than Greenlick, no other members appear either likely to retire or to face difficult re-election campaigns.

Beyond committee mechanics, announced Senate Democratic departures all are moderates, which could change the internal dynamics of the 18-member Democratic Caucus.

Going into the long 2021 Session, what does this mean?  The House likely will lead on significant health legislation while the Senate resets.  Key items likely to see House Health Committee action include a much-studied health insurance “public option,” on which the Oregon Health Authority will report in early 2020 as directed by 2019 SB770, and development of an enforcement mechanism for 2019 “cost growth target” legislation (SB889).