Laying Down the Law

From paid sick leave to affordable child care, policy makers in Oregon are working to make changes to improve the health and economic stability of kids and families in the metro area and beyond. PDX Parent talked to three mother-policymakers to see what they’ve been working on, what they want to accomplish, and ways your family can get involved.

Andrea Valderrama

Valderrama’s parents came to the United States from Peru as political refugees and worked as day laborers to support the family. That experience shapes her approach to her work as senior policy adviser for Mayor Ted Wheeler. Valderrama is also the first person of color to serve on the David Douglas School Board.

Q: What are some key policies you’ve worked on?

A: In our current affordable housing crisis, I’ve done work on housing and public safety. I’ve also worked on family-friendly policies at the city around paid sick leave and family leave.

On the school board for the David Douglas school district, I’ve worked on providing comprehensive reproductive health care services at our school health center. The school-based health clinic already dispensed condoms, but they didn’t dispense birth control on site. This had been in front of our board three other times and didn’t pass, and we were able to get unanimity on the board.

One of the people who testified talked about how some people in immigrant communities are scared to go to the doctor. Having the ability to get birth control on site makes a big difference.

Since being appointed to the board last year, we’ve had other people of color gain seats on the school board. It makes a difference. Diversity of voices makes policies stronger.

Q: What’s your favorite place to take your daughter when you’re not working?

A: I often take her to the Midland Library, which is our neighborhood branch. Her dad speaks Cantonese, but I don’t, so I take her to the Cantonese story time.

Rep. Karin Power

The Milwaukie-based state lawmaker is serving her first term in the state House of Representatives. Power, an environmental attorney and former Milwaukie City Council member, and her wife have a 1-year-old son.

Q: What are some of the key pieces of legislation you helped pass this year?

A: We had two big pieces of legislation around health care that I think are really important for families and kids.

The first is Cover All Kids, which covers kids in Oregon regardless of their immigration status, up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. What I heard from advocates is that there are 18,000 kids who didn’t have health insurance who are now going to be able to get it.

The Reproductive Health Equity Act is also awesome. If you’re transgender or gender nonconforming, sometimes your health insurance won’t allow you to get coverage for certain services, like a pap smear. Those barriers are eliminated with the bill.

We’re also trying to keep families together by making changes to the way that we approach the criminal justice system. The Safety and Savings Act reduced some of the mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level property crimes and identity theft, which are disproportionately committed by women. Rather than directing more money toward opening another women’s prison, we’re redirecting the money to prevention and treatment.

Q: How can parents and families get involved?

A: It’s really important for kids to see parents are civically engaged. You can see if your legislator has a regular coffee meeting. These are super easy, drop-in events.

Also, if you have an area of professional expertise and you’re following a piece of legislation, email your legislator and the committee administrator. You can track a bill or submit testimony remotely.

Q: What’s your favorite place in your neighborhood to take your child?

A: He and I had limited time together during the legislative session. Weekends have been our gig, and one of the fun things we’ve done is hop on the MAX and go explore. He loves the train and thinks it’s fun. We go down to the Milwaukie Farmers’ Market every weekend. He’s a pretty social little dude and then usually falls asleep midway through.

Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson

The East Portlander and Multnomah County Commissioner is mom to two children, ages 7 and 9. She was elected to the state Representative in 2012 as the first Latina to serve in the House of Representatives. At the state level, she’s worked on issues including paid sick leave, increased minimum wage and pay equity.

Q: What are some key pieces of legislation you’ve worked on?

A: Multnomah County is a great place to work as far as prioritizing women, children and families. The county passed paid parental leave and sick leave. We’re really leading by example in these family-friendly policies. The county has also been a leader in Court Care, a child care service for when parents have a court visit. This especially helps mothers who are victims of domestic violence.

Q: What other family-friendly issues are on the horizon?

A: Affordable housing and homelessness are great examples. Solving those takes working together. I represent East Portland. When I ran for office, it was because we didn’t have the same services and investment that other places did. East Portland had the highest child-poverty rates in the city. There’s no one government agency that can solve this alone. You need investments from business, nonprofits and government. It requires investments in education, health care, and other factors to break the cycle of poverty. It’s so important that we keep working on that.

Q: How can parents and families get involved?

A: When I ran for office, I had an 18-month-old and a 3-year-old, so I get it. I entered this world as a mom with young children who was figuring out how to balance it all. I think it starts with figuring out what issue you’re most passionate about. Maybe it’s climate change or maybe it’s figuring out a safe route for your family to walk to the park. Pick an issue, research it, and see who’s working on it locally. See if you can go to a meeting, volunteer, or even just write a check. What’s within what you can do? Kids get older and there will be a time when you have more capacity, but at least you start to engage in ways that feel like you are doing something.

Q: What’s your favorite place to take your kids in your neighborhood?

A: Leach Botanical Garden is a hidden gem in East Portland. It’s an old homestead by the Leach family and Johnson Creek runs through it. The wife was a great botanist. There are amazing plants and a dinosaur that we love to go and visit.


Sunny Mancuso is a family and children’s photographer based in Hillsboro who specializes in capturing happiness, authentic moments, and storytelling through images. See more of her work at sunnymancusophotography.com.

NIki Reading lives in Sellwood with her husband and two kids. They enjoy biking around the city every chance they get and exploring Portland parks with their dog.

Latest posts by Niki Reading (see all)