Judge Christopher Marshall said the subpoenas were reasonable in scope and had been issued lawfully by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. But he also found the Legislature’s top officials initially had cause to object, rejecting the agency’s request for a contempt order and $1,000-a-day fines. That would have totaled $1 million. He gave lawmakers until Dec. 5 to provide documents and Dec. 18 to provide testimony.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
“The court fully appreciates the constitutional arguments, but finds they’re without merit in this situation,” Marshall said from the bench. The judge’s order means top lawmakers and other senior Capitol officials must produce a wide array of documents in coming weeks, potentially dating back more than seven years. Officials including House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and Senate Minority Leader Jackie Winters, R-Salem, had refused to comply with subpoenas from investigators. Per Marshall’s order, eight Capitol staffers will also need to sit down for interviews with BOLI investigators.
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
A triumvirate of Democrats will lead Oregon’s budget-writing Ways and Means committee next year, under a unique arrangement that involves the Senate’s appointment of joint co-chairs: Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, who represents Beaverton and northwest Portland. Rep. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis is the co-chair from the House. Both Johnson and Steiner Hayward were vying for the job, presenting Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, with a tough decision that he apparently resolved by choosing both.
“Senator Johnson and Senator Steiner Hayward are two of the most experienced budgeteers in the Legislature,” Courtney said in a news release. “They are accomplished individuals. One is a doctor. The other is pilot with a law degree.”
On the first eleven miles of Interstate 5 north of the California border, the average number of winter crashes dropped from 115 to 54 after the state’s transportation department started using solid salt on a trial basis. Because of the apparent success of that pilot program and directives from the Legislature, the state will continue to use salt sparingly on some major roadways this winter. While it can be difficult to peg the exact cause of crashes, and the figures fluctuate from year to year, officials found that the two areas they tested as part of a pilot program from 2012 to 2017 saw a decline in crashes after they tried salt. “It was amazing to see,” said Dave Thompson, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation. “The salt was really effective, and still we wanted to minimize its use.”
According to new data from Portland State University’s Population Research Center, Oregon’s population increased by 54,200 between 2017 and 2018—exceeding 50,000 for the fourth consecutive year. Migration from other places accounted for 88 percent of that growth. That’s because the state’s natural population increase—the number of births minus the number of deaths—is as low as its been since 1930. It’s also a decrease from last year, when Oregon’s natural population growth hit a 58-year low.
The FBI is quoted in police documents as saying that the far-right men’s group called the Proud Boys is an “extremist group with ties to white nationalism,” according to documents first reported by The Guardian. The Guardian’s report uncovers an internal affairs review involving a Clark County Sheriff’s deputy who was fired for her affiliation with the Proud Boys. In that review document, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office—located in Southwest Washington state—refers to an FBI classification of the Proud Boys as an extremist group. The Sheriff’s Office also warns that the local field office has been monitoring recruiting efforts in the Pacific Northwest.
CLIMATE & NATURAL RESOURCES
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Climate change is expected to increase drought and wildfire vulnerability in forests across the West. But new research out of Oregon State University shows that some places will fare better than others. The Douglas fir forests of western Oregon and Washington are among the least susceptible to drought and fire over the next thirty years. This was the case even in the extreme climate change scenario, referred to as RCP 8.5, the scientists modeled in the work. “Worst-case scenario,” said OSU co-author Bev Law. “So why did we choose that? Well, we’re still on that trajectory. We’re still globally on that trajectory of not doing very much to reduce our fossil fuel emissions of carbon dioxide.”
Oregon needs an independent state agency to regulate marijuana rather than relying on three disparate agencies, according to draft recommendations prepared by the Oregon Cannabis Commission. The state needs to “provide a unified and consistent vision on cannabis regulation,” the report states. The cannabis commission is part of the Oregon Health Authority. As it stands, marijuana is regulated by three agencies — the OHA, Oregon Liquor Control Commission and Oregon Department of Agriculture — whose powers and responsibilities extend far beyond pot into public health, alcohol and crop services. Having pot oversight under one roof makes more sense, said Beau Whitney, a senior economist with the Washington, D.C.-based cannabis analytics firm New Frontier Data. Confusion has arisen in the past around whose jurisdiction enforcement would fall to, be it police or the various agencies, Whitney said. “In that sense, it would make things a little more streamlined in terms of the enforcement side.”
Portland Business Journal
A new report from BlueCross BlueShield shows how generic drugs have reined in costs for the insurance association’s commercial members, but not enough to offset increases in the brand name category. Total prescription drug spending increased 10 percent annually from 2010 to 2017, even as inexpensive generic drugs dominated the market. Generics now make up 83 percent of total prescriptions filled. Branded patent-protected drugs rose 5 percent and branded specialty drugs rose 10 percent. Generic drug spending, meanwhile, dropped 3 percent. Expensive branded prescription drugs accounted for only 17 percent of total prescriptions filled but for 79 percent of total prescription drug spending, at $79.5 billion, according to the report. Those drugs have few or no competitors. Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon has seen similar trends, said David Robertson, director of clinical pharmacy services. But Regence in Oregon has been able to push its proportion of generics to 87 percent, while specialty branded drug spend trends remain in line with the national Blue Cross trends.
Portland Business Journal
The cost of health care is on the rise, and businesses aren’t expecting that to change any time soon. The nonprofit National Business Group on Health surveyed 170 large employers earlier this year, after they finalized their 2019 health plan choices, and found that businesses were projecting the cost of providing medical and pharmacy benefits to rise 5 percent in 2019 — making it the sixth straight year of cost increases. That would raise the total cost of health care roughly $700 to an average of $14,800 per employee, according to the survey. Often, numbers like that can push employers to shift costs to employees. But these days, employers are starting to take a different tack, said Tim Cooper, senior vice president of employee benefits at Brown & Brown Northwest Insurance. “Now it’s really about trying to manage costs while minimizing any cost-shift to employees,” Cooper said. “So businesses are moving toward technology and consumer-driven health plans as well as more high-quality networks in terms of providers. They’re also reconsidering how they fund their programs.”
A FedEx driver was found legally justified in punching a man in Northeast Portland, who later died, after the stranger called the worker racial slurs and tried to hit the driver first, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office announced Monday. There’s no indication Timothy Warren intended to kill Joseph Magnuson when Warren’s punch connected above Magnuson’s left eye near Northeast Hoyt Street and Northeast 29th Avenue on Sept. 26, Senior Deputy District Attorney Adam Gibbs wrote in a memo declining to prosecute Warren. A county medical examiner later determined Magnuson was in “extremely poor health” beforehand and that his fall to the ground aggravated pre-existing medical conditions and led to his death.
“On the afternoon of November 7, 2018,” the county’s letter reads, “representatives of Our Oregon delivered a box of ballots to our office. Your ballot is one of the ballots delivered to us on the day after the November 6 General Election deadline.” It continues: “While Oregon law allows for unofficial drop sites and ballot collection, we encourage voters to use official ballot drop sites or the United States Postal Service to return their ballot.” Affected voters aren’t happy about the mishap. One person posted a copy of their notification letter to Portland reddit with the caption: “I’ve learned my lesson the hard way. Never give your ballot to canvassers coming to your door with unofficial ballot boxes.”
Oregon Public Broadcasting
For the first time in Oregon, a city will annex land for a new neighborhood without the usual public process. Bend’s affordable housing manager, Lynne McConnell, said the state has approved a partnership with private developer PacWest Builders. “And in exchange he’s providing quite a bit of affordable housing in partnership with our regional housing authority.”
About half the 400 homes PacWest plans to build on the eastern edge of town are set to be affordable rentals. People making the area’s median income for their family size are thought to be able to afford most of the other homes. McConnell said there’s demand for 5,000 new affordable units in Bend. The city’s urban growth boundary last expanded in 2016 through a long public process.
Portland Tribune Editorial Board
It will be tempting for Brown and the Democrats to overreach now that they have the supermajorities and don’t need their Republican colleagues’ help to raise taxes. On a case-by-case basis, this paper might support those efforts — say, on the yearlong effort by the Joint Interim Committee on Student Success to address the shortcomings of our public education system. But with the storm clouds of recession looming, we could imagine Brown and the Democrats saying “yes” to every money-raising endeavor they can conceive. We also can imagine the Democrats giving short shrift to economic development, bolstering the state’s economy to better withstand the next downturn. Johnson can be pugnacious, prideful and profane. She’s known to ignore her own party’s leadership. And like St. Paul, she does not suffer fools gladly. For 2019-20, Johnson could be the stern voice of reason that keeps Icarian Democrats from flying too close to the sun.