Oregon Senate Republicans elected Sen. Herman Baertschiger, Jr., R-Grants Pass, as their new leader ahead of the 2019 legislative session, with previous leader Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, stepping down from the post Tuesday night. “Filling the shoes of Senator Winters is going to be an enormous task,” Baertschiger said in a statement. “I am sure I will find myself in Senator Winters’ office quite often during the session.” In a statement announcing her decision not to seek re-election, Winters said she will focus her efforts next session on tackling the state’s problems with an eye toward bipartisanship. “I believe my full attention will need to be focused on one of the things I pride myself on — bringing both sides together to work on solutions to the challenges facing Oregonians,” she said.
The Bend Bulletin
Republicans say they will back Gov. Kate Brown’s effort to start rebuilding the Oregon State Police, which today is staffed at the same levels as in 1969, when the state had half the number of residents as today. Many in the GOP oppose portions of Brown’s new budget that proposes $2 billion for education, new taxes for health care and a likely cap on carbon emissions. But the proposal to fill up to 50 trooper positions is popular with Republicans and well as Democrats. Hugh Ady, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said GOP leadership would like to see even more funding for the state police. “We support more money for law enforcement,” Ady said. “We want the Oregon State Police to be fully staffed. Enforcing the law and promoting public safety is a primary responsibility of government.”
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
The Salem Reporter
His party is in power. He’s been nominated yet again for Senate president. In Gov. Kate Brown, he’s working with an experienced Democratic governor. You’d think all this might satisfy him.
But Courtney’s on edge. He worries about the institution of the Legislature. He fears its collapse under the pressure of today’s political atmosphere, with Democrats and Republicans retreating to their corners two years after Donald Trump’s election. For a man who, observers say, has spent the later years of his political career reshaping the state Senate into a more professional, more collegial body, the upcoming session feels like a steeplechase. “The whole political world’s a challenge now, because no one wants to work together, no one wants to join together, no one really wants to,” Courtney said in a recent interview. “We don’t approach the political process or decision-making like we used to.”
Democrats in the Oregon Legislature plan to introduce a bill in 2019 that would require gun owners to securely store their weapons using locks. Gun owners who fail to follow through could be fined as much as $500, or $2,000 if a child gets unauthorized access to the firearm, according to a summary of the proposal released by supporters on Tuesday. They did not include a copy of the actual legislation, which will be introduced by Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, and Sen. James Manning, D-Eugene, after the session begins in January. The proposal also would make it easier for shooting victims to sue for damages if the gun owner failed to secure the weapon, report the loss or theft of the gun in a timely manner or supervise a child using the gun. That provision would not apply if the gun was used in self-defense or defense of another person, according to a news release from the new gun advocacy nonprofit State of Safety Action.
A Senate committee voted to introduce both legislative concepts, or preliminary bills, during an informational hearing Wednesday. Both bills would help reduce plastic waste that ends up in landfills and the environment. “From our perspective, nothing we use for 10 minutes should pollute the environment for hundreds of years,” said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, state director of Environment Oregon, which has been working on plastics-reduction legislation for a decade. LC 795 would impose a 5 cent per bag tax on single-use plastic bags used by retail stores selling food or alcohol, and require the establishments to provide paper checkout bags. LC 1377 would prohibit restaurants from providing single-use plastic straws to customers unless they request a straw.
Oregon is collecting valuable information about opioid prescribers and their patients but state law hamstrings using the system to confront drug abuse, state auditors said Tuesday. Oregon, like all other states, collects information on prescriptions for controlled substances like Oxycodone and Percocet. But Oregon’s program has little teeth, auditors found. Auditors blamed state lawmakers, saying that constraints they put in place on the program, created nearly a decade ago, limit the program’s “efficiency, effectiveness and impact.” Misuse or abuse of prescription drugs can lead to abuse of illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl, the audit report said.
The Coos Bay World Link
The State Land Board will hear updates on the Elliott State Forest, including presentations from public entities interested in owning the forest, during its Dec. 18 meeting in Salem. As part of an ongoing project to keep the forest publicly owned, the Board in October asked public entities to indicate their interest in ownership. For purposes of finding a new owner, “public” means state or federal government agencies, federally-recognized Oregon tribes, state universities, and local governments. Letters of interest are available in the meeting materials.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court on behalf of Paul Bates, the owner of Division Vapor, located at 2929 Southeast Powell Blvd., is seeking to block the Oregon Health Authority from enforcing administrative rules that prohibit the use of certain images and words the state thinks would be attractive to juveniles. The Oregon Constitution’s free speech clause (Article I, Section 8) is famously broad. It says “no law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely.” The lawsuit says “this guarantee prohibits the government from mandating that businesses censor truthful no misleading speech about the products they sell.” As examples, the lawsuit notes that in 2016, state rules prohibited the labels on vaping liquids from depicting “celebrities, athletes, mascots, fictitious characters played by people, or other people likely to appeal to minors” and “food or beverages likely to appeal to minors such as candy, desserts, soda, food or beverages with sweet flavors including fruit or alcohol.” In 2018, the lawsuit says, OHA added additional labeling rules, prohibiting “terms or descriptive words for flavors that are likely to appeal to minors such as ‘tart, tangy, sweet, cool, fire, ice, lit, spikes, poppin’, juicy, candy, desserts, [and] soda.” The rules also forbid the use of images of fruit and other foods and specifically prohibit the use of words such as “apple,” and “strawberry.”
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Oregon’s one-of-a-kind tax on bikes doesn’t have much air in its tires. The Oregon Department of Transportation said Tuesday that it now expects the $15 flat tax on some new bike sales will bring in less than half of the expected $2.1 million this tax year — and even less than anticipated moving forward. The reason, ODOT economist Daniel Porter told lawmakers, is that officials didn’t know what to expect when estimating what the tax would generate. “Economists like to think that we can estimate anything and we can give you a number, but this one was a real shot in the dark,” Porter told the House Revenue Committee, meeting for routine “legislative days” at the Capitol.
EDUCATION & SCHOOL SAFETY
The three West Coast states all consider students’ gender to be that with which they consistently identify. A leaked Trump administration memo suggested federal agencies should collectively rewrite their policies to define gender as based on biology. The letter states, “We believe these changes will be dangerous and detrimental for the millions of individuals in our country who identify as transgender, many of whom are school-age and are our students and part of our school communities.”
The Oregon Task Force on School Safety has proposed suicide prevention legislation — the first of its kind in the country. The task force met on Tuesday to discuss its proposal — the Oregon Safe to Learn Act, something they’ve been working on for months to make students and staff feel safer at school. “The death of a youth impacts so many people, law enforcement included and we have to step back and say ‘How could we have prevented this?'” Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said. Prevention is key, according to the task force.
Oregon lawmakers in May 2017 passed one of the most comprehensive pay equity laws in the nation, expanding protections against pay discrimination beyond just gender to 11 classes. Yet, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries waited 18 months to finalize rules to guide employers on how to comply with the new and complicated law. The rules were released Nov. 19. Some employers say that doesn’t leave them enough time to identify disparities and adjust pay. “This is not something you do in an afternoon looking at payroll,” said Jenny Dresler, a lobbyist for the Oregon Farm Bureau. The organization represents about 7,000 farmers and ranchers. “They look to us to help provide guidance on some of the new workplace policies and laws,” Dresler said. “When I look at the timeline and the resources available to us, we do not have enough time to help everyone.”
Portland Business Journal
The U.S. is on the brink of legalizing hemp, a move that could clear a path for a booming new Oregon industry. The Senate voted 87-13 Tuesday to pass the 2018 Farm Bill, with hemp provisions agreed upon by House conferees. “With this bill we are making hemp an American agricultural product without differentiation,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, said in an interview. Hemp — cannabis without the psychoactive component THC — has been legal under state pilot programs, but federal agencies offered confusing and often contradictory guidance on it, clouding its commercial growth. With House passage and a signature from President Donald Trump expected to follow soon, Oregon’s hemp industry was celebrating on Tuesday, and anticipating dramatic expansion. “I honestly think the craft hemp industry will be Oregon’s No. 1 agricultural industry in revenue within two years,” said Mason Walker, CEO of East Fork Cultivars, a hemp grower in Josephine County. Hemp would have to become nearly a $1 billion industry to beat out greenhouse and nursery, which had a value of $947 million in 2017, as Oregon’s ag leader. But signs of its potential are plentiful.
The Bend Bulletin
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted 87-13 to approve a sweeping 800-page, $867 billion farm bill that addresses issues ranging from food stamps to subsidies for farmers. The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the omnibus bill later in December. Much of the project’s most visible work revolves around forest thinning and controlled burns, which are designed to reduce fuels that carry massive wildfires in sensitive areas of the forest, including a 26,000-acre section west of Bend. Merkley said the federal portion of the Central Oregon project was slated to conclude in 2020. However, the additional federal funding doubles the program’s budget to $80 million and extends it through 2023. The Central Oregon program could be a target for future funding. Caligiuri said the federal funding goes toward implementation and monitoring efforts by the U.S. Forest Service rather than the collaborative project itself, but added that the federal agency is a key partner in the forest restoration effort. Separately, Merkley and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pushed to include a section of the Farm Bill that legalizes the production of hemp at the federal level. Industry advocates suggest the change will remove roadblocks like banking and interstate commerce for Deschutes County’s hemp industry. The bill would remove hemp, the non-psychoactive version of marijuana, from the list of Schedule-1 illegal drugs and allow growers to transport the crop across state lines. In states like Oregon, which established a framework for legal hemp in 2016, this allows growers to expand into new, out-of-state markets.
For years, tourists visiting Portland have gazed at the familiar sights of downtown: Powell’s City of Books, Voodoo Doughnut, and people sleeping on the sidewalk. Soon, when those visitors check into their hotel rooms, they will help pay to put roofs over the heads of the most vulnerable Portlanders. That’s thanks to an innovative new tax deal championed by Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury. For the past 17 years, a 2.5 percent tax on rental cars and hotel rooms in the county has been used to fund an expansion of the Oregon Convention Center, to finance a Convention Center hotel, and to provide marketing dollars to Travel Portland, the nonprofit whose job it is to attract tourists. The annual revenues from those taxes have increased rapidly: The total now stands at $21 million a year. That matches a hotel construction boom across the city as tourists flock to Portland. Last week, WW learned that three local governments—City Hall, Multnomah County and Metro—were nearing a deal to expand the use of those funds.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced in November that the FDA is considering new rules regarding the sale of e-cigarettes and the e-liquid used in them, after results from the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed a 78 percent increase in the number of high school students using e-cigarettes between 2017 and 2018. One of the proposed rules would require nearly all flavored e-liquids that are used in e-cigarettes to be sold in age-restricted shops or an area of a store that is not accessible to minors. The only e-liquid flavors that would be exempt from the new rule would be mint, menthol and tobacco. Eric Pinnell, the owner of Oregon Vape Society in Springfield doesn’t object to the idea of restricting sales of flavored e-liquids, but he does have some concerns that the federal government will take it one step further and ban flavored e-liquids all together. “If they completely ban flavors it will hurt the industry and people,” he said. “It’s how most of us have quit smoking cigarettes. Limiting things to menthol and tobacco won’t work. It will chase people back to cigarettes.”
Every morning, Ruth said he takes his young granddaughter to the school bus stop at Southwest Frazer Avenue and Fourth Street, in the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce parking lot. The stop is near the tank where recreational vehicles can deposit their sewage. Concerned about the health risks, he sought a meeting with the proper authorities to discuss the bus stop and other complaints. Despite meeting with officials from the school district and its contractor, Mid Columbia Bus Co., Ruth felt that they weren’t responding to his concerns and took to Facebook to solicit complaints from other parents before he took them to the Pendleton School Board on Monday. Ruth said his posts on various pages garnered 1,800 interactions. While Ruth’s comments were restricted to three minutes under board rules, the comments left under the post touched on similar things: late buses, long bus routes, and bullying on the bus going unchecked.
The Bulletin Editorial Board
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, really, really wants to be president. He’s enough of a realist, however, to recognize that his chances of winning are slim, and he’d like to hold on to his Senate seat as well, in case things don’t work out. Winning a third term in the Senate might be nice for Merkley, but in those circumstances it’s far from nice for Oregon voters. We deserve a senator who wants the Senate seat as much as Merkley wants to be president.