Oregon lawmakers failed to advance legislation that aimed to strengthen health care in local jails.
House Bill 3391 died in the House Judiciary Committee after failing to get scheduled for a work session by Friday’s deadline.
“The bill either got overlooked or just didn’t have a high enough profile to get scheduled, which is really unfortunate,” said Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, who sponsored the legislation.
Gov. Tina Kotek, a Democrat, has tried to focus this legislative session on priorities such as housing, education and semiconductors.
“I don’t think the bill was dropped because people didn’t believe in it,” Marsh said. “It was a matter of logistics.”
There are 31 county jails and eight municipal jails in Oregon. People in custody are entitled to health care, which in Oregon is largely provided by a combination of for-profit health care providers and jail staff. Under federal law, people in custody lose Medicaid coverage.
“This means persons become uninsured, and all medical care costs that arise while the person is incarcerated fall to the jurisdiction in which the person is incarcerated,” according to a report released last fall by the Criminal Justice Commission.
The Oregon Health Authority has applied for a Medicaid waiver that would allow some people in custody to get some benefits under the Oregon Health Plan while they are in custody. The state’s request is still pending.
Jails are also required to follow a broad set of standards outlined by state law. Others are voluntary, but adopted by most of the facilities in Oregon.
HB 3391 would have created a commission to set standards and also conduct inspections. Marsh said she has found that sheriffs and jail commanders want to care for those in their custody. But for a variety of reasons, they aren’t always able to do so.
“The pandemic taught us that the ability to provide good healthcare in our jails varies widely and even wildly across facilities depending on their budgets, the availability of personnel, the kind of community and its ability to support jail health care,” Marsh said. “And that can be dangerous for people. Sometimes people die.”
From 2008 to 2018, at least 306 people died in jails in Oregon and Washington, according to reporting by OPB, KUOW and the Northwest News Network.
Marsh said she plans to introduce the bill again, as soon as next year.