Will the legislators that have walked off the job prevent reforms that will bring justice to our community?
Urban League has supported several priority pieces of legislation this session that we know will have a big impact on Black communities around the State. For example, House Bill 4004: Public Defense Reform, which ensures that those accused of a crime have fair access to legal representation, passed through the House with a 57-2 vote and is scheduled for a third reading in the Senate. The shortcomings of Oregon’s current public defense system have received increased attention in recent years. High caseloads, inadequate funding, and an outdated contract model create significant risks that the legal services provided to clients fail to meet their constitutional right to a fair trial. Many public defenders in Oregon are juggling more than 100 open cases at any given time. The Urban League strongly supports HB 4004 and urges our elected officials to return to allow a vote.
Another critical bill for our community, House Bill 4065: Debt-Based Driver License Suspensions, passed through the House with a 42-16 vote and is now scheduled for a second in the Senate. Urban League believes that limiting an individual's driver’s license based on an that person's ability to pay a fine, rather than to preserve public safety, runs counter to the intent of our criminal justice system. Members of our community need driver's licenses for work, school and childcare, and as gentrification has caused our community to be pushed further from their historic center, to visit cultural centers and houses of worship.
House Bill 4107: CROWN Act & Cashless Discrimination Act passed through the House with a 45-12 vote. This bill will have a major push for justice in Black communities. It prevents discrimination of natural hairstyles, ensuring employers and schools don't set discriminatory policies that prevent Black people from wearing traditional styles. According to the Crown Coalition and Dove, a Black woman is 80% more likely to change her natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work and Black women are 50% more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of her hair. In addition to ensuring that Oregon workers and students can succeed while proudly wearing their hair in culturally significant styles, this bill ensures that in Oregon businesses, people paying with cash have the same access to public accommodation as people paying with debit and credit cards. According to the FDIC, 16.9% of African American families did not have bank accounts in 2017, compared to 3% of white households. Yet Black consumers should not be excluded from restaurants, movie theaters, or other retail establishments due to being unbanked. This important bill is now scheduled for second reading in the Senate.
As of right now the republican walkout has halted all of the bills from progressing. We urge our legislators to return and do their work, allowing an opportunity for more justice in our state.