Board approves 2015 Legislative agenda

January 15, 2015

Multnomah County Government Relations director Claudia Black with fellow Government Relations staff members Rhys Scholes; Chris Fick; and Sharon Campbell

Access to mental health services, funding major infrastructure projects and removing barriers to affordable housing top the Multnomah Board of County Commissioners’ legislative priorities for the 2015 session.

The board voted Thursday to approve a 34-point agenda for the Legislature, which begins its 78th session on Feb. 2.

“Among our top priorities is continuing funding for the courthouse,” said Claudia Black, director of Multnomah County’s Government Relations Office. “That’s what we’ll be spending a lot of time working on.”

The Oregon Legislature agreed to split the cost of a new building to replace the seismically unstable courthouse that Multnomah County has long outgrown. In 2013, it committed $15 million to the project. Multnomah County is seeking an additional $17.4 million in state funding to offset final design and pre-construction costs.

“We need a new courthouse and we’re on the way to do that,” Black said.

The county’s other top priority will be to advocate for policies and funding that will create a comprehensive system of mental health and addiction services. Those would include supportive housing, crisis services and peer services.

“The mental health division has limited funds for supportive housing and as a result all of those houses are full,” Black said. “This squeezes the community and increases the risk that people with mental illness or addiction will become homeless.”

Supportive housing should be paired with psychiatric emergency services, respite for caregivers and support from trained peers who have shared a patient’s struggles.

The investment will save taxpayers money in the long run, Black told the commissioners, by averting costly hospital visits and lengthy jail stays. And while the legislative team moves forward on these fronts, it is also sifting through more than 1,400 bills to determine those it will support.

Chair Deborah Kafoury was pleased with the agenda.

“I’m really proud of this agenda and I’m grateful for the input we received,” she said after the meeting. “We heard not only from board members, but from members of the public. That input helps us prepare for how we can best serve people in need.”