Williamson: Ballot measure could ‘drastically change’ 2018 session

House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, discusses her priorities for the 2018 session at the Oregon Capitol Tuesday.

SALEM — House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson says that the outcome of the upcoming health care referendum could “drastically change” the 2018 legislative session.

Williamson, D-Portland, discussed her priorities for the upcoming 35-day session with the EO/Pamplin Capital Bureau Tuesday.

Oregon voters will weigh in on parts of the state’s funding plan for Medicaid, the health care coverage program for the poor, Jan. 23, eight days before legislators are due to convene.

“I think if the ballot measure doesn’t pass, then figuring out how we stabilize health care in Oregon and ensure that Oregonians have access to health care will be the priority, and probably the only thing we work on in the February session,” Williamson said.

A “yes” vote means keeping the current plan and a “no” vote means doing away with certain revenue streams that help pay for Medicaid.

Williamson said the latter would result in losing about $1.5 billion in state and federal matching funds.

There’s no back-up plan — yet.

“We’ll be ready when the February session comes, regardless of what happens at the ballot,” Williamson said. “The folks in this building who do budgets are working on a plan, we just don’t have it yet.”

Williamson said she could not yet provide a “laundry list” or specific options in the event that the ballot measure fails.

If voters affirm the funding plan, though, Williamson has other priorities that she may have time to press, including making another push for increased restrictions on gun ownership.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a fellow Democrat, renewed her support for further restricting gun ownership in the wake of the October shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas.

While it’s not clear that such measures would get through the Oregon Senate, Williamson intends to keep working on the issue.

“Every session is so different from the one before it and the one that will come after it,” Williamson said. “It’s just different dynamics, and for a lot of legislation I work on, you work on it session after session, and at some point, sometimes something clicks, sometimes there’s new members.”

House Democrats also want to pass a cap-and-invest program in 2018.

Williamson acknowledged that there are differences of opinion within her caucus, which she has led since July 2015.

Williamson now leads a 35-person caucus of Democrats, an increasingly diverse group that includes both moderates and progressives but tends to skew left of the Oregon Senate. The House of Representatives has 60 members total.

“We negotiate things all the time around policies, whether it’s within our own caucus, or within our own committees, or among members,” Williamson said. “I think that’s the nature of what we do.”

Williamson pointed to the statewide transportation package — which took years of bipartisan work and ended up setting aside $5.3 billion for transportation projects — as an example of negotiating those differences effectively.