SB 1: the task force is coming!

The proposed legislation that has been submitted pre-session can be viewed here. So I took a peek. The first card on the top of the deck caught my attention. Senate Bill 1, which was requested by our Governor and loyally sponsored by Peter Courtney, calls for a task force that will monitor data and make policy recommendations. It also includes an appropriation of $10.4 million for setting up “regional evaluation and care teams,” but what caught my attention is that the amount of money needed to create this task force was left blank:

Section 1 was the part about the task force. Let’s stipulate the need for system of care integration which the bill defines as:

A coordinated network of services including education, child welfare, public health, primary care, pediatric care, juvenile justice, mental health treatment, substance use treatment, developmental disability services and any other services and supports to the identified population that integrates care planning and management across multiple levels, that is culturally and linguistically competent, that is designed to build meaningful partnerships with families and youth in the delivery and management of services and the development of policy and that has a supportive policy and management infrastructure.

This simply means there is a need to coordinate the existing health care services that are already being provided to young people in this state by multiple agencies. In this case, it’s primarily the Oregon Health Authority, the Oregon Youth Authority, the Oregon Department of Human Services, the Oregon Department of Education, and the Oregon Judicial Department.

That makes sense to me, but why does it take a bill and a formal task force that requires it’s own budget appropriation to get these agencies to coordinate among themselves? What is the marginal cost that’s not already covered in their operating budgets for holding a handful of joint meetings together in Salem?

Each of these state agencies tracks its own data. The task force is tasked with creating a “data dashboard.” I’m all for data, but are we really talking about financing new data collection here? That does not appear to be the case. The expressed goal is merely to share data and to make regular joint reports, a couple of which will be due in 2020. Does it really take an act of the legislature to get agencies to share their data and make reports? This seems like a bill mandating something these folks are already authorized to do and should already be doing.

SB 1 looks like one of those bills that gets passed simply to symbolize doing something without actually impacting policy. It’s a means of handing out titles to members of a task force without actually changing policy. Hopefully this kind of deck chair rearrangement will not be too costly. Whatever fills in that blank ought to be a small number.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.