Many pieces of legislation important to Catholics met various ends as the Legislature adjourned June 30. (Wikimedia Commons)
Many pieces of legislation important to Catholics met various ends as the Legislature adjourned June 30. (Wikimedia Commons)

SALEM — Relief has come for groups like Catholic Charities of Oregon that provide resettlement services for refugees coming into the country.

Resettlement organizations help legally classified refugees coming into the United States find classes and jobs. Such agencies have taken drastic cuts to funding from the federal government as of late. Because of that, plus federal limits on the number of new asylum-seekers, Catholic Charities of Oregon has been able to help fewer refugees: 120 this year as compared to 589 in 2016.

Along with Catholic Charities, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and Lutheran Community Services Northwest came together to support House Bill 2508, which was brought before the Oregon Legislature this year.

“This is a way for the state to invest in refugee communities and it will show a positive return on that investment,” said Matthew Westerbeck, program manager for refugee services at Catholic Charities. Westerbeck cited a statistic of refugee families having a median income of $14,000 more than the average American household within just 25 years of arriving in the United States.

The bill allows for the Oregon Department of Human Services to award grants to agencies that resettlerefugees. The grants will help Catholic Charities, as well as the other groups, to offset the federal cuts. The bill was approved with wide support in the legislature, passing out of the Oregon House of Representatives 55 to 3 and out of the Oregon Senate 27 to 2.

“We wanted it to be a bipartisan initiative,” said Westerbeck. “We wanted everyone we met with to understand who refugees are.”

The message was received well, providing a chance for a bipartisan effort to unite — with the exception of just a few lawmakers — a divided legislative body.

Lawmakers have made clear that they want to see studies of how exactly this investment is helping the economy. Oregon is only the third state to provide funding for refugee resettlement. As of press time, HB 2508 was awaiting Gov. Kate Brown’s signature.

Other legislation of particular interest to Catholics faced a variety of fates:

• Senate Bill 964 would have granted tax credits for donations to helping agencies. The bill was touted as a way to fund efforts to reduce mistreatment of children, keep kids more stable in foster care, help improve success at school for low-income youngsters and improve health for poor families. The bill died in the Senate upon adjournment.

• After bringing a dramatic showdown to the Legislature, House Bill 2020, a cap-and-invest bill that would have created a Climate Policy Office and goals for the Oregon Climate Action Program, died in the Senate upon adjournment. The bill drew such criticism from Senate Republicans that they fled the state to avoid voting on it. Without the senators, there wasn’t a quorum. Without a quorum, no votes could be held until the Republicans returned. They did so the day before the end of the legislative session. But the climate bill was already dead.

• The creation of exceptions to the 15-day waiting period of the Death with Dignity Act for patients with fewer than 15 days to live was approved by the legislature. The bill, Senate Bill 579, drew criticism from Oregon Right to Life. “Persons near death deserve the same protections under the law,” said Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, in a statement to the press. “Even more, they deserve proper care, compassion and confirmation of their inherent value, not a deadly prescription.” The bill was awaiting the governor’s signature at press time.

• Senate Bill 1013 limits the use of the death penalty to fewer circumstances and removes a question about whether the defendant presents a future risk from the state’s death-penalty jury instructions. The legislation was lauded by Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. “Until a [statewide] repeal vote, the legislators who write the statutes regarding the use of capital punishment have the right and responsibility to change this law to correct these injustices,” the organization said in a statement to supporters. “Correcting injustices of the current death penalty law is something the legislature can do now.” The limits were approved by both chambers of the legislature and now await the governor’s signature.

• An effort to broaden the definition of how lethal drugs could be administered to end end-of-life patients failed. The legislation, House Bill 2217, died in the Senate upon adjournment.