Bill aims to make public service more viable for low-and-moderate income Oregonians

Oregon lawmakers have approved a bill that’s meant to make state boards and commissions more racially and economically representative of the state’s population.

House Bill 2992 would significantly bump up the per diem paid to people with modest incomes who serve on about 250 public panels. The members of these bodies are appointed by the governor and help advise and carry out government policies on everything from niche agricultural markets to health care and education.

Salem Capitol

Currently, people who serve are eligible to receive $30 for each day that they perform their duties, plus travel expenses. For people who earn less than $50,000 a year or are a member of a couple earning less than $100,000, the bill would match their daily compensation rate that to the per diem rate that Oregon state lawmakers get, which is currently $151 per day. (Unlike members of boards and commissions, lawmakers also receive a salary.)

Supporters of the change say it would help people for whom taking time off work to attend meetings and, in some cases, travel to Salem, is financially difficult. In general, people of color and younger people tend to earn lower wages than white or older Oregonians.

“‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,’” said Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, quoting an expression that speaks to the idea that people who aren’t part of the decision-making process can sometimes be the victim of policy choices that harm them.

“We have a lot of people who are finally getting to be part of being at the table,” said Frederick. “We need to have their views, and this is an attempt to try to bring folks to the table and make sure that they’re able to stay at the table and help us make a better Oregon.”

While some panels, such as the Oregon Board of Education, include significant representation from people of color, many do not.

The Oregon Transportation Commission, for example, is made up of three white members in their late 50s to late 60s, along with one person of color under age 40. The panel currently has one vacancy.

The $151 per diem would only go to board and commission members who earn less than $50,000 a year, or $100,000 a year if married, filing jointly. A legislative analysis concluded that most agencies with boards and commissions could absorb the added expenses through in their current budgets.

The vote in the Senate Thursday was mostly along party line, with Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, joining majority Democrats to pass the bill. It now heads to the governor’s desk.

Posted at OregonLive by Chris Lehman on 6-24-21

Date: 2021-06-25 07:58

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