For the first two weeks of the legislative session in Salem, Sen. Chris Edwards (D-Eugene) has focused all his attention on passing the clean fuels bill. But he also has several bills to foster a healthier environment for Oregonians in the works.
The next “big” bill Edwards says he’ll be working on is the Children’s Toxics bill (SB 478). He started work on the bill back in 2013, but he says supporters were unable to get it passed because not all Democrats voted for it. He says after several iterations, it is “a better bill now.”
Edwards’ concern about chemicals in toys made for children arose when he was shopping for one of his children’s birthday parties.
“The rubberized toys, the fake teeth … all of it reeked,” he recalls. He says there’s a mass of research about known toxins in toys that can affect children’s neurological development. The bill he’s putting forth again would first require all retailers and importers of toys to report if their toys contain any toxins on a list — determined by Congress and regulatory agencies. Second, it would mandate that those toys stop being sold in the next few years.
Edwards says he thinks the bill will finally pass this session, as Democrats have the majority and he’s received past support from some Republicans, particularly former Rep. Jason Conger.
The Toy Industry Association and the American Chemistry Council both opposed the bill previously, according to the Oregonian.
Edwards also says he has a bill in its “infancy” that would start a conversation about how to discourage people receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) benefits from purchasing junk food. Edwards says he personally doesn’t think it’s good policy to let people use SNAP to buy things like Cheetos. He says since many people on the program are also enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan, it would be beneficial to direct consumers towards whole foods with higher nutritional content.
“We’re incurring high medical costs to treat things like diabetes,” Edwards says. He says his idea with his bill banning junk food purchases would mean the state could save money on health care costs down the road.
Banning junk food purchases would disqualify Oregon from federal funding for its nutritional assistance program. Edwards says his bills are meant to be “conversation starters,” and he hopes eventually to pass legislation that would give additional money to people on SNAP — but money that would only be good for purchasing nutritious food.
At FOOD For Lane County, spokeswoman Dawn Marie Woodward says FFLC already has several programs in place to encourage people to use SNAP benefits for healthier foods. They have cooking classes where they teach people that buying pre-packaged food is not the best way to get the best bang for their buck.
“We work really hard to educate people at the pantry, but we’ve never been the food police,” Woodward says. With the bill still in its very first stages, FFLC doesn’t have a definitive position on it.
Edwards says his junk food tirade legislation cuts interestingly across party lines. He figures that Republicans will not be as interested in doing something like supplementing the national food assistance funds. He also anticipates that what farmers and farm lobbyists have to say will impact what happens with the bill.
The Oregon Senate passed the clean fuels bill Tuesday, Feb. 17. It now heads to the House.