Bipartisan Future Caucus finds common ground in Oregon Legislature

October 20, 2020

The Future Caucus, a group of lawmakers in their early 40s and younger, are focused on issues and legislation of particular interest to younger Oregonians. These issues include criminal justice reform, early childhood education, housing costs and student loan debt.

While the past two years at the Oregon Legislature were marked by Republican walkouts over policy and procedure complaints in the Democrat-led chambers, several caucuses within the body have continued an effort to work in a bipartisan manner.

The Future Caucus, a group of lawmakers in their early 40s and younger, are focused on issues and legislation of particular interest to younger Oregonians. These issues include criminal justice reform, early childhood education, housing costs and student loan debt.

Over the past two legislative sessions, the caucus has only backed bills that received unanimous support from members.

Oregon became the 27th state to join the State Future Caucus Network in September 2018. The national nonpartisan nonprofit Millennial Action Project created the network with the goal of fostering bipartisanship among lawmakers, in the hopes that a spirit of cooperation would take hold.

Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, is a co-chair of the caucus and was the driving force behind bringing it to Oregon.

She said other caucuses in other states are focused more on building relationships between lawmakers, but Oregon’s group is targeting policy changes.

During the legislative session, the caucus meets for lunch every other week to go over bills and get to know one another — sharing stories about their families and life outside the Capitol.

Not every bill brought before the caucus earns unanimous support, but even those that don’t will sometimes draw the support of a bipartisan group of lawmakers from within the caucus. This can help bills get across the finish line.

“This is a vehicle for getting folks to work together,” Fahey said.

In 2019, controversial housing bill House Bill 2001 needed bipartisan support to pass. It required cities to allow duplexes and other multi-family homes in areas zoned exclusively for single-family houses. 

While it didn’t receive the full support from the caucus, several members sponsored and spoke on its behalf.

More young members joining ranks

Since the caucus was created, more young members have joined the Legislature, and more still could join after the Nov. 3 election.

Fahey, 42, said she plans to step aside from a leadership role in the committee next year, creating space for new leaders.

“I am no longer the second-youngest woman in the Legislature, as I was when I first came in,” she said. “So I would really like to turn it over to the next generation of leaders that are coming up.”

At 43, Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, is also one of the oldest members of the caucus.

He comes from a heavily Republican district, but said he makes an effort to bridge divides between him and his fellow lawmakers.

He said younger lawmakers inherently have different perspectives than their older counterparts because often they have children at home or aren’t yet retired. 

“We need to listen to our young people, especially those who are our young legislators,” Brock Smith said. “We’re not the old white guys.”

Next session, Brock Smith intends to introduce a bill that would allow for the early release of nonviolent offenders from prison. The money saved from not incarcerating those individuals would be pushed into local jurisdictions for job training, counseling services and other assistance.

The bill is intended to reduce recidivism rates by releasing some people from prison and giving them the tools to succeed in society, he said.

He intends to bring the bill before the Future Caucus and ask for their support. The bill would amend the state Constitution, therefore requiring a two-thirds vote.

“It’s one of the best things that we can do,” he said. “I’m going to need my Republicans to support it.”

Read this article on statesmanjournal.com >

Rep. Sara Jacobs


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