As the session advances, conversations around foundational programs and funding critical to health and human services begin to take shape. Two big ticket items for Association of Oregon Counties (AOC), the Behavioral Health and Justice Reinvestment Initiative (BHJRI) and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) budget are gaining traction. Three bills key to these issues received public hearings on March 26. Commissioner Jim Doherty (Morrow County) testified in support of the bills stressing the importance of the policy and associated funding from a county perspective.

Behavioral Health and Justice Reinvestment Initiative

In efforts to create an evidence-based approach to reducing the number of mentally ill individuals who currently cycle in and out of local county jails for low level offenses, AOC and partner organizations have come together to support BHJRI. This initiative would focus on the health (physical and behavioral), housing, and social support needs of these individuals to create an integrative system that helps with outcomes through collaboration.

Companion bills, HB 3281 and SB 973 currently serve as placeholder legislation for BHJRI as elements of the program’s structure are being finalized among stakeholders. The full language is expected to come together in the next two weeks as the deadline to move bills out of policy committees in their chamber of origin is rapidly approaching (April 9). Commissioner Doherty testified before both the House and Senate Judiciary committees in support of BHJRI.

In his testimony, Commissioner Doherty spotlighted three things that are important to AOC as BHJRI discussions continue.

  1. AOC supports BHJRI additional funding that does not supplant existing Justice Reinvestment Initiative funding.
  2. AOC supports a BHJRI approach that is aligns and focuses behavioral health programs that already exists, providing clarity for collaboration.
  3. BHJRI should leverage partnerships between OHA, the Criminal Justice Commission and the work of Oregon Housing and Community Services and use an integrative approach to create more supported housing.

Commissioner Doherty closed his testimony by urging support of the measures and noting BHJRI is an integrative approach that will ultimately “create better outcomes for individuals suffering from mental illness while promoting public safety.”

(To watch Commissioner Doherty testify on HB 3281, click on the play button above.)

To view AOC’s written testimony on HB 3281, click here.

(To watch Commissioner Doherty testify on SB 973, click on the play button above.)

To view AOC’s written testimony on SB 973, click here.

Oregon Health Authority Budget

Following up on the March 14 testimony by Commissioners Sonya Fischer (Clackamas County), Claire Hall (Lincoln County), and Xanthippe Augerot (Benton County) on the OHA budget SB 5525, Commissioner Doherty and AOC Legislative Affairs Manager Andy Smith testified in support of the budget before the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services on March 26.

Key points called out in testimony by AOC:

  • Maintaining access to health care must be one of the state’s top priorities.
  • Strengthening Oregon’s public health system by making upstream investments in health will result in better population health, create a better patient experience, and create a long-term reduction in cost of care.
  • Counties are making investments in public health, and AOC supports full-funding public health modernization at a level of $47.7 million.
  • There is a strong need for integrative systems to help address social determinants of health and health equity, investment in public health modernization will provide the tools to achieve this goal.

(To watch Commissioner Doherty testify on SB 5525, click on the play button above.)

To view AOC’s written testimony on SB 5525, click here.

Contributed by: Megan Chuinard | Public Affairs Associate