A Look at Sheri Schouten’s Life and Legislative CareerInterview with Sheri Schouten

By Adam Gretzinger, House District Leader HD-27

Democratic State Representative Sheri Schouten (formerly Sheri Malstrom) has been serving House District 27 in the Oregon Legislature since 2017. Currently she serves on 4 committees in the Oregon House: Healthcare, the Energy & Environment, the Housing & Human Services committee, and on the Ways and Means subcommittee for Human Services. Between sessions and in addition to committee work, she also serves on the Governor’s Behavior Health Advocacy Council – a group working to review and compose new policy to address chronic mental health issues.

Coming off the 2019 legislative session, Sheri is very proud of her innovative, bi-partisan, Drug Take Back bill which passed with industry support. The plan will help reduce prescription drug abuse including that of opioids by reducing the number of unwanted and unused prescriptions available for theft and abuse. Statistics have indicated unconsumed opioid prescriptions as a major source of the opioid problem. Prior to the bill, local governments and municipalities have been paying for ad-hoc programs to properly dispose of these prescriptions. While Pharma companies made enormous profits, police departments were paying to clean up the waste. Frequently prescriptions flushed into septic and sewer systems would also cause contamination risks and threaten water quality. Thanks to the bill, the pharmaceutical industry will fund collection and proper disposal streams at retail pharmacies and other locations for safe drug disposal. Collection stations will be created in areas with 50,000 citizens. In smaller communities and on-demand at all pharmacies, postage-paid return mailers will be available to ensure proper disposal. The DEQ is currently working on standing up the program for its start date in January 2021.

In Sheri’s personal life, she has overcome a uniquely tough-as-nails challenge of putting her entire family through Oregon’s state universities. She did this herself when she graduated with a B.S. in Nursing from OHSU during a time when tuition was just over $1,500 for the full year. While in school, Sheri spent her Saturdays working as a medical assistant at doctors’ offices on Saturdays. Upon graduating from nursing school, she worked as a pediatric staff nurse at Doernbecher hospital. To cap her medical career, Sheri worked as a union nurse in the maternal child-health service for Multnomah County for 31 years. She supported all three of her children in graduating from Sunset High School and Oregon Universities after being widowed when her youngest child was only two years old.

During her career she has helped Multnomah County’s most at risk children and families learn about pregnancy and early childhood needs. In her role as a public health nurse she was instrumental in helping women get access to knowledge and services to help them with parenting. Many of her clients have been teenagers, developmentally delayed, domestic violence survivors, at-risk parents, homeless or have had a history of drug use. She has been instrumental in saving and improving lives for three decades, working with new or expectant parents, many of whom lacked basic knowledge of how to care for their children. Public health nurses have a major role in helping patients make connections to community resources & other health care providers, understanding nutritional needs, knowing what to look for when problems occur and avoiding frequent trips to the emergency room. Her profession as a public health nurse has saved and improved thousands of lives.

Challenges with childcare are not a new problem. In fact since Sheri’s kids were young it’s only become worse. Washington County’s business community has been losing employees due to lack of childcare options, impacting the competitiveness of the region. With monthly childcare costs for working families now estimated at $1,400 per infant, Sheri is proud to have put together a $5 million package to convert a Beaverton Police department storage facility to increase space for infant-to-kindergarten age children at the Beaverton YMCA. The facility was sold at below market rate and an additional $200,000 has also been donated from Washington County. The effort will operate on a sliding affordability scale to help secure childcare for working parents. The program integrates nicely with YMCA’s Beaverton Hoops program for older children and offers a long-term place to go for Washington County’s workforce. The program isn’t finished yet as there is still some fundraising to go — if you’d like to get involved contact the Beaverton YMCA.

Building on her professional career saving lives, Sheri joined Doctor & Senator Steiner-Hayward to pass the Universal Home Visiting bill extending Sheri’s work experience and Dr Steiner-Hayward’s professional experience to help a new generation of newborns get the right start in life. Washington County is one of eight Oregon counties that are part of the initial program roll-out to offer every new parent, regardless of health insurance status or income, up to three visits by a health nurse. The voluntary/optional program can be used for new parents to get information needed to avoid emergency room visits, information on vaccinations, nutrition, sanitation, preventative care, and safety tips. This money-saving program offsets its entire cost with reduced visits to the emergency room for newborns and early intervention and education of parents. When fully rolled out, families across the entire state will be eligible to receive a visit to get the right start in life.

This past season Sheri also voted for the Student Success Act, a more stable funding plan for K-12 education that has been missing since the 1990s. In a bi-partisan, business community approved plan, Oregon’s School districts can expect more consistent funding from year to year. The education community has no shortage of ideas, but hasn’t received stable funding to implement them. This long-term competitiveness in funding helps Oregon avoid mass teacher layoffs and program cuts that have made stable education funding a rare find in Oregon.

In the past, Sheri has served as the finance committee chair for the Democratic Party of Washington County and is frequently at Central Committee meetings outside of the legislative session. Constituents who contact her office and leave contact information always get a response. While the volume of form letters has picked up, Sheri and her staff make an effort to respond to as many constituents as possible. Monthly newsletters and public events help her connect with citizens and share her full-time work as District 27’s state legislator. Constituents who need help with a state agency are welcome to contact her office for assistance. Constituents can sign up for legislative updates or find her office’s contact information on the legislative website: http://www.oregonlegislature.gov/schouten

Looking forward to the upcoming legislative short session, Sheri will get to offer two bills: one will be on insulin affordability and the second on genetic counseling & licensing. Overall the legislature will be working to finally address the climate crisis. Sheri has been a strong advocate for children and families by supporting bills that improve healthcare, education, clean air and water, and a bright future for all.

Endorsement Note: ¹ prior to the May 2020 Democratic party primary the Democratic Party of Washington County does not endorse candidates which may or may not receive a primary challenger. This article is provided for informational purposes and should not be read as an endorsement. Other candidates are welcome to contact the author for a similar interview.