Stronger Together: Equity in the Oregon Legislature

A few years ago, several groups got together to examine how state legislative proposals address issues of racial equity. They shone a light on laws that could have significant negative impacts on communities of color and recommended laws that could address racial disparities. To begin holding lawmakers accountable, they published the first Racial Equity Report Card in 2011. The report card, which is published every long session, evaluates each state legislator’s commitment to advancing opportunity and addressing disparities affecting Oregonians of color. Read about the most recent report card here.

OEC is participating in meetings about this session’s Racial Equity Report Card. We are increasing our understanding of the needs of low-income and minority communities in order to ensure that our policy proposals are better informed. Read more about the Racial Equity Report Card Working Group’s five priorities for 2015.

Among the many pieces of legislation being advanced this session to address social justice in our state, OEC has endorsed HB 2564, a bill to lift the ban on inclusionary zoning. Inclusionary zoning is an essential tool that can increase housing options in high-opportunity neighborhoods for families at low-to-moderate income levels. Read why OEC supports inclusionary zoning.

Several of OEC’s legislative priorities also help address racial disparities:

Clean Air for Everyone.
OEC is working on legislation to reduce diesel exhaust pollution, which contains a mix of toxic gases and harmful particles. Since diesel exhaust comes mainly from trucks, construction equipment, trains and ships, people who live near highways, busy roads and rail lines experience greater exposure. These are often lower-income residents and communities of color. Multnomah County Health Department’s Report on Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities finds that census tracts with a higher percentage of people of color (at least 15% of total tract population identifying as Black/African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, or Latino) are exposed to diesel particulate matter at levels two to three times higher than census tracts with 90% or more non-Latino White populations. Because many communities of color have disproportionately higher rates of some health conditions associated with exposure to diesel exhaust, this higher rate of exposure is particularly concerning. Read more about legislation to address diesel pollution.

Toxic Free Kids Act.
According to the U.S. EPA, exposure to toxics in everyday products is an environmental hazard that disproportionately affects minority and low-income communities. That’s one of the reasons why OEC is forwarding the Toxic Free Kids Act to reduce exposure to chemicals that may raise the risk of chronic health conditions. Hispanic and African American communities experience higher rates of early puberty and diabetes, and Native American, Asian and Pacific Islanders have among the highest rates of low birth weights. Chemicals in consumer products may contribute to greater risk of these health challenges. By requiring phase-out of these chemicals in children’s products sold in Oregon, the bill ensures that every family has access to safe products no matter their income, literacy or location.

Keeping our drinking water safe.
Drinking water that is contaminated with nitrates, bacteria, arsenic and other pollution tends to be from private wells or small community systems such as mobile home parks and rural schools. These communities often have a higher percentage of low-income people and people of color than the state average, and often have less access to decision-making processes. Read more about our safe drinking water bill.

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