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Abortion access, air quality, mental health on 2023-24 Oregon audit plan

Construction at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.
Amanda Loman
Oregon Capital Chronicle)
Construction at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan says her office will scrutinize Oregonians’ access to reproductive health care and the state’s approach to elder abuse, domestic violence and children’s mental health issues over the next two years.

The Audits Division of the Secretary of State’s Office plans to conduct eight so-called performance audits, which look at how well an agency serves the public. It will also audit state finances and cybersecurity measures in 2023 and 2024.

“Audits are powerful tools,” Fagan said in a statement. “With the recommendations we make, leaders in Oregon can improve state services and build trust between the people of Oregon and their government.”

One of the upcoming audits will examine how available and accessible reproductive health care is statewide and suggest possible improvements. While the state’s Reproductive Health Equity Act of 2017 codified abortion rights in state law and guaranteed the right to obtain abortions and other reproductive health care at no cost, recent reports from the state Department of Consumer and Business Services found that a dozen insurance companies have charged consumers.

Another upcoming audit will look at how the Department of Environmental Quality enforces its air quality program. It will follow up on a 2017 audit that found the department struggled to process permits in a timely manner, meaning polluters weren’t required to comply with current environmental standards.

The Oregon Department of Human Services will be the subject of an audit of the state’s handling of adult protective services as baby boomers age. More than a fifth of the country’s population will be 65 or older by 2040, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and adults 85 or older – the group that most needs help with personal care – will have nearly quadrupled between 2000 and 2040.

The audit will look at how the state Department of Human Services investigates complaints against long-term care facilities and home care workers, how effective fines are at reducing elder abuse and how other states are protecting older people from abuse.

Another statewide audit will analyze domestic violence programs. Oregon doesn’t have a single agency or program dedicated to combating domestic violence, and the audit will look at any gaps or redundancies in the array of state and local programs that help domestic violence survivors.

Several other planned audits will focus on children. One audit at the Oregon Health Authority will assess state programs aimed at reducing youth suicide. Another will evaluate the new Department of Early Learning and Care, which was formed in 2021, to identify any problems with the new agency.

Several audits that began last year will be finished within the next few months. That includes a long-awaited audit of the state’s pandemic rental assistance program, which was slow to process applications for aid and left thousands of Oregonians at risk of eviction.

Legislators requested the audit in December 2021 while adding $215 million in new funding for the program and extending a safe harbor period that kept tenants from being evicted while the state processed their applications. That audit should be finished by early summer.

Another audit wrapping up within the next month will evaluate the effectiveness and equity of cannabis licenses. And a report expected by the fall will analyze Oregon’s red flag law, which allows courts to temporarily take weapons away from people who are considered a danger to themselves or others.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. Julia is an award-winning journalist who reported on the tangled efforts to audit the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona.