Organizations representing racial and ethnic minorities, who now constitute one of every five Oregonians, have outlined three main goals for the 2015 legislative session.
Just 25 years ago, they constituted one of every 10 Oregonians.
“We have a lot more people of color in our state and this is an exciting opportunity,” says Jen Lleras Van Der Haeghen, director of the RACE Program at the Western States Center in Portland.
She and three panelists spoke at the Friday Forum of the City Club of Portland.
The three priorities are paid sick leave, steps against racial profiling by police, and a ban on questions about criminal history on employment forms.
Oregon’s growing diversity is not confined to the Portland metropolitan area, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Jefferson County (39 percent) in central Oregon, Malheur County (38 percent) and Morrow County (37 percent) in Eastern Oregon lead the state; Marion County, where Salem is, is at 32 percent. Multnomah County is at 28 percent.
Oregon lawmakers start their 160-day session on Feb. 2.
Two of this year’s three priorities were introduced in the 2013 session, and one of the two was heard by a legislative committee but did not advance to a vote.
Panelists offered these details:
Paid sick leave
• Paid sick leave for employees is proposed at the rate of one hour accumulated for every 30 hours worked, starting after the first 90 days of employment. Although a bill failed to advance past a House committee in 2013, Portland instituted such a requirement a year ago, and Eugene is scheduled to do so July 1.
Connecticut, California and Massachusetts have such requirements.
Kathy Wai, policy director for the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, says nearly half of Oregon’s private-sector workers — and 130,000 people of color — would benefit from such a requirement. She says its absence tends to hurt low-wage workers, particularly those who are single parents or people of color.
“Without having paid sick time, it makes it harder for them to keep a job,” she says.
But the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association is organizing opposition, saying that the mix of wages and benefits should be left in private hands.
President Obama called Thursday for federal action on paid sick leave, but Wai says Oregon should continue to pursue action on its own.
Racial profiling ban
• Steps against profiling, a practice using race or ethnicity to help police determine whether people should be stopped on suspicion of crime. The bill would ban the practice, require police agencies to collect data on contacts such as traffic stops, and designate the state attorney general to receive complaints.
A similar bill, modeled on a 2009 New Mexico law, was introduced but not heard in 2013. There have been efforts to collect data on traffic stops by police, although on an agency-by-agency basis, and a state panel to analyze the data.
Police and minority groups have differed on this issue.
“I think a lot of times, people in law enforcement say it’s a perception, not real,” says Kayse Jama, executive director of the Center for Intercultural Organizing. “But in communities of color, we know it is a reality we face.”
• “Ban the box,” which describes a proposed restriction on asking about an individual’s criminal history on initial employment forms. Portland and Multnomah County already do so, along with about a dozen states, although some of those bans apply only to public employers.
Portland adopted its ban last summer.
Michael Alexander, executive director of the Urban League of Portland, says such a law would not bar employers from asking relevant questions of an applicant during an interview or conducting criminal background checks. He also says employers could impose restrictions in sensitive jobs.
But he says that while African Americans constitute 2 percent of Oregon’s population, they also are 12 percent of the 32,000 in state prison or under community supervision of the Oregon Department of Corrections — and they have difficulties even getting a shot at a job that would keep them out of trouble.
“We know many of these individuals are able to demonstrate they are on a path to rehabilitation and they are able to be contributors,” he says. “We also know there is a disproportionate impact on communities of color. If the box is checked, it (an interview) rarely happens.”
Alexander acknowledges that some released from prison or community supervision will commit new crimes.
"But the box on an application form does not distinguish between that kind of person and a person who is vested in the future and has made a successful transition back into the community," he says.
The moderator for the Friday Forum was Jesse Beason, director of public policy for the Northwest Health Foundation.
Western States Center, joined by six other organizations, produced a 2013 report, “Facing Race,” that awarded grades to lawmakers based on 18 votes in the session. Five were given double weight. Democrats, who held majorities in both chambers, tended to score higher than Republicans.
The report followed up an initial report in 2011.