New Oregon laws that went into effect on Jan. 1 will affect thousands of Oregonians, by providing home screenings for newborns, dental care for veterans and restitution for crime victims.
They’re among a slate of new laws approved during the 2022 legislative session and signed into law.
“These changes will make Oregon more safe, more fair and more affordable,” said Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Portland, in a statement. “But the work isn’t done. We look forward to delivering more progress for the people of Oregon in 2023.”
The laws start the same month the Legislature begins the 2023 session – and its work of looking for solutions to big issues plaguing the state. They include the shortage of public defenders and health care coverage for tens of thousands of Oregonians who will no longer qualify for the Oregon Health Plan.
Here’s a look at some of the laws that will have the widest reach:
Universal home visits: Senate Bill 1555 provides reimbursement to families for public health nurses who visit newborns at their homes.
It expands an existing program that started in 2019 and is intended to provide screenings and care for newborns. The visits and program are voluntary; they help families identify problems, leading to early treatment and potentially better outcomes.
A retired nurse and health care advocate said nurse home visits can play a critical role in the early days and weeks of an infant’s life.
“A nurse is going to get a lot more information by going to a home and understanding what that home environment is and the challenges are,” said Tom Sincic, president of Health Care for All Oregon and a former public health nurse.
This law is likely to affect thousands of families. Nearly 40,000 babies were born in Oregon in 2020, according to the March of Dimes. Nearly 70% were white and about 20% were Hispanic. Black babies accounted for nearly 3% of births that year, nearly 7% were Asian Americans or Pacific Islander and about 1% were Native American or Alaskan Natives.
Dental care: Senate Bill 1538 starts a dental program for low-income citizens of Pacific Island countries that are part of the “Compact of Free Association” and have the ability to migrate and work in the United States without work permits or visas. The United States set the compact up after World War II.
The measure will help about 250 people who would otherwise not be eligible for coverage. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid directed states to provide benefits for these citizens in 2021.
Another new law, House Bill 4095, starts a new no-cost dental program program for low-income veterans. Oregon has about 300,000 veterans, though state officials aren’t sure yet how many will sign up and qualify.
The program is for those who make too much to qualify for the Oregon Health Plan’s coverage, the state’s version of Medicaid. To qualify, veterans can make between 138% and 400% of the federal poverty limit, which is between $19,000 and $54,000 a year for a single person.
The plan will provide cleanings, X-rays, extractions, emergency care and some crowns and dentures.
Restitution for crime victims: House Bill 4075 simplifies the court process for crime victims to obtain restitution. The law gives crime victims priority to receive an offender’s payments before they go to other purposes like court fees.
Supporters of the law said in testimony to lawmakers that while restitution does not erase the harm caused by crimes, it helps survivors recover. They said it’s an important part of the rehabilitation process for those who’ve been convicted.
Survivors of sexual assault: Senate Bill 1574 requires that sexual assault nurse examiners in Oregon hospitals include evidence gathered in hospital exams in rape kits before they are handed over to law enforcement. In the past, it was assumed the evidence was included in the kits but it wasn’t always provided. The law requires the preservation of all sexual assault forensic evidence kits for 60 years, and it gives sexual assault victims the ability to determine what happens during a medical-forensic exam, including what part of the exam they consent to and what is released to law enforcement.
Farmworker overtime: For the first time, farmworkers in Oregon will receive overtime pay this year, following the passage of House Bill 4002 in 2022. The new law, the most contentious proposal during the Legislature’s short session, is being phased in over five years. This year and next, farmworkers will be paid time and a half after 55 hours a week. The following two years, they’ll get overtime pay after 48 hours, and in 2027, they’ll be paid overtime after a 40-hour work week.
Farmworker advocates, including PCUN, or Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, have been educating workers about the law. Ira Cuello-Martinez, the interim co-director of PCUN, said anticipation has been building among workers.
“Many folks are excited to finally begin receiving overtime wages although some folks may not really see the impacts given that it’s still a high threshold at 55 hours,” Cuello-Martinez said.
He also said some workers worry they won’t get paid.
Agriculture groups opposed the law, with some warning that many farmers could go out of business. The law could be up again for debate in the state Legislature, with a Republican lawmaker planning on introducing an amendment to give owners more flexibility, according to areport in the Capital Press.
In the meantime, PCUN plans to keep a close eye on paychecks. The sector is slow now but will kick back up in the spring.
Editor Lynne Terry contributed to this report.
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