POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Oregon’s two senators on Tuesday urged the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to update federal regulations to permit interstate commerce of food products containing a key non-psychoactive ingredient of cannabis. The appeal by Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley came after Congress legalized the production and sale of industrial hemp and hemp derivatives, including cannabidiols, known as CBD. Wyden and Merkley had been behind a hemp provision that Congress passed and was included in the 2018 Farm Bill. But after President Donald Trump signed the bill in December, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb restated his agency’s stance that CBD is a drug ingredient and therefore illegal to add to food or health products without his agency’s approval. The FDA has sent warning letters to some companies making health claims for CBD. CBD oils are increasingly popular in lotions, tinctures and foods. Proponents say CBD offers health benefits, including relieving pain and anxiety. Merkley and Wyden noted that the FDA is operating with limited staff due to the partial federal government shutdown and requested a response within 30 calendar days of the government reopening.
Herald and News
Here’s a video of Sen. Ron Wyden’s remarks this afternoon on the Senate floor about the shutdown and its impact on Lake County woman Jasmine Tool, a 30-year-old mother of two, who has an inoperable brain tumor. Wyden relates that Tool, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, was told her health insurance had lapsed, and only her employer could fix it. With the federal government shutdown, no one is answering the phones, and there is no solution in sight. Tool, who has an impaired digestive system due to her cancer, survives on nutritional supplement infusions, provided through a home health worker. She has been told her home health worker couldn’t help her if she didn’t have insurance, and she therefore won’t be able to get the infusions she needs to stay alive.
Rep. Greg Smith plans to bring his deal-making magic to fund the Umatilla County Jail’s $1.6 million mental health remodel. “That’s my No. 1 priority,” Smith said on Tuesday. He’s not the only one who has made it a top priority. Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock said a group comprised of Umatilla County, the city of Pendleton, Blue Mountain Community College and other local organizations is also pushing for jail renovation funding, in addition to BMCC’s Blue Mountain Regional Training Center project, which is already featured in Gov. Kate Brown’s budget proposal. Smith said this session, he is working on lining up money from the right fund for the project. Mental health is a statewide issue, he said, and public safety personnel need the tools to deal with people in a crisis. Smith represents District 57, and the Pendleton jail is in District 58, which Republican Greg Barreto of Cove represents. But Smith said the mental health needs in Umatilla and Morrow counties transcend boundaries and affect his district as well as others. State Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, and Barreto also support the project. Smith said Rowan has taken the lead for why the renovation matters, and it shows.
After 15 years and four months in office, Gene Whisnant has retired as state representative for Oregon House District 53. “I wasn’t able to make peace in the world, and wasn’t able to save a lot of Oregon issues but I am proud of the things I did do. Made small steps toward making Oregon better and the quality of life for Oregonians better. And I’m proud of that,” Whisnant said Wednesday. Whisnant is passing the torch to newly sworn-in Rep. Jack Zika. “I will miss it, but it’s time to give the train over to someone else,” Whisnant said. Whisnant’s achievements include passing the Oregon Transparency Website bill. This created a website with information about state agency revenues, spending and contracting and more. Last year, he co-sponsored a bill with Rep. Mike McLane to give tuition assistance to National Guard members. The piece of advice Whisnant had for everyone looking to make a change is to get involved and speak with your representative face to face.
Plus, Merkley struggles for recognition and I-5 tolling is tied to the controversial Rose Quarter project. Even before the Secretary of State’s Office released its recent audit criticizing Portland Public Schools, some elected officials were suggesting it was “political.” By that they meant the audit, done under the supervision of Republican Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, raises questions about the Democratic plans to increase business taxes for more school spending during the upcoming 2019 Oregon Legislature. But the politics took on a different tone when the audit team released its findings during a Jan. 9 news conference. It emphasized how PPS has historically shortchanged minority students by assigning the best teachers and principals to schools in the richest parts of town. Despite the national media attention Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley has received for his repeated visits to migrant camps near the U.S.-Mexico border, he is not making the current media lists of top Democratic candidates for president. Will most of Interstate 5 through Portland be tolled to pay for improvements in the Rose Quarter area? The federal government says federal law “likely” allows I-5 to be tolled for that project because it is intended to reduce congestion and improve safety where I-5 and Interstate 84 merge in a series of tight and confusing interchanges. But the No More Freeway Expansion Coalition is continuing to fight the project, which is tentatively supported by the Oregon Legislature and the City Council, pending the final design.
Officials from local, state and federal fire protection agencies will discuss how to protect communities during a wildfire forum from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17. The free event is at the Smullin Health Education Center, located at E. 2825 Barnett St. on the Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center campus in Medford. Officials will share their insights, experiences and recommendations for community protection. Residents can learn how firefighting agencies are preparing to defend communities as the 2019 fire season approaches, according to state Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, who called for the forum. Speakers will include Oregon Department of Forestry Southern Oregon Area Director Dave Lorenz, Oregon State Fire Marshal Jim Walker and Ashland Fire & Rescue Division Chief Chris Chambers. Attendance by Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor Merv George is uncertain due to the federal government shutdown.
Backers commit to bringing Major League Baseball team to Portland, including building stadium in Northwest Portland. The group working to bring a Major League Baseball team to Portland released a list of its charter investors Wednesday evening. The Portland Diamond Project said that, to date, the group comprises 12 families funding the project. “These individuals’ early involvement and belief in PDP stem from personal passion for both the game of baseball and their community,” PDP founder and CEO Craig Cheek said. “Very early on, they recognized the unique opportunity we have to leave a legacy for the City of Portland that extends far beyond the foul lines.” The organization has acquired the rights to redevelop the underused Terminal 2 from the Port of Portland in Northwest Portland for a stadium. The cost is estimated at $1 billion. Although the 2003 Oregon Legislature approved taxing team salaries to support $150 million in bonds for the stadium, some legislators want to repeal that.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
The good news is filling Beaverton’s multi-million dollar hole should avoid teacher layoffs or ending the school year early. The bad news is it’s hard to slash as much as $12 million in the middle of an academic year, without affecting key services for students. And even the list of budget cuts the district is pursuing won’t completely close the projected gap. Beaverton’s budget gap largely stems from flawed estimates district officials made last spring, as they prepared spending plans for the 2018-19 school year. It’s part of an annual forecast that every district in Oregon has to do, which estimates revenue they’ll get based on student enrollment and costs they’ll face based on staffing. Beaverton officials said they were off on both figures for this school year.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
As people move into Central Oregon in droves, they’re driving up the odds wildfire will strike populated areas. It’s a problem Deschutes County is trying to address through zoning changes. This week, county commissioners approved a designation to require fire-resistant, low density construction on the west side of Bend. The idea is to put a long, carefully planned buffer between one of Oregon’s fastest growing cities and the pine forest routinely burning around it. The nonprofit advocacy group championed the Westside Transect Zone, which will allow about 10 times fewer homes to be developed along Tumalo Creek than previous code would have permitted. The zone change also requires certain building materials, landscaping in perpetuity and evacuation planning.
Eugene residents, your days of carrying out restaurant leftovers and takeout in throwaway plastic containers may be numbered. It also may take a bit more work to snag a plastic straw. City councilors took a first step Wednesday toward banning or regulating single-use plastic and Styrofoam items that are a mainstay of convenience at restaurants and grocery stores. But that convenience comes at an environmental cost as many of those throwaway items — also including plastic utensils and stirrers — end up littering parks, beaches and oceans, city officials said. Eugene is poised to follow in the footsteps of other cities like Portland that have restricted the availability of single-use containers. Councilor Emily Semple, who is championing the proposal, said she is seeking an even bolder initiative. The proposal is the third majority initiative that city councilors are seriously considering with the new year barely underway. On Monday, they moved both a proposed construction excise tax and a panhandling limit to public hearings. The proposed ordinance on the table would prohibit caterers, grocery stores, restaurants and nonprofit food servers from providing plastic straws, except upon request, as well as barring them from serving or packaging food or drinks in items made of polystyrene or other single-use plastics.
The Greater Albany Public School District Board of Directors voted unanimously Monday night to support a resolution asking the Oregon Legislature to increase state school funding. The resolution was proposed by the district’s teacher’s union.Sue McGrory, the union’s president, told the board that teachers do the best they can with limited resources, but students are still being left behind. The biggest key to student success, she said, is having more adults in the school, which requires more funding. The resolution includes statements about the state of Oregon schools, which McGrory touched upon in her remarks to the board. Oregon has some of the largest average class sizes in the nation, she said, plus one of the shortest school years and lowest on-time graduation rates in the nation. Russ Allen, the district’s business manager, explained that the district sold all its bond debt at one time, and then it temporarily invested that money until it can be spent on facilities projects. He said the district had initially expected to generate about $3 million this way, which was included in the bond’s budget. However, Woodring told the board the district is now expected to generate about $5.6 million from interest on the invested bond funds.
As protesters around the nation prepare to rally on Saturday for the third annual National Women’s March, a group of socialist feminists will be hosting a #MeToo speak-out in Portland. Individuals with the Democratic Socialists of America, International Socialist Organization and Socialist Alternative say the event is “an opportunity for attendees to take the mic and share their personal experiences with sexual assault, bigotry and gender-based oppression.” In a statement today, organizers credit the #MeToo movement for empowering people to come forward with their stories of sexual abuse, and say “now it’s time to take the next steps.” While the event takes place on the same day as the National Women’s March, it isn’t officially affiliated. The activist movements surrounding that national event—once one of the largest protest movements against President Donald Trump—have frayed significantly over the past two years.
Quinn Read, Amaroq Weiss, Sean Stevens and Nick Cady
When the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission meets in March, the group will consider proposed revisions to our state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. But the proposal before the commission is the outcome of a biased, superficial and unscientific stakeholder process. Last week, conservation organizations withdrew from that flawed undertaking. This was not an easy decision. But when the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife unveiled a proposal that lowered the bar for killing wolves, ignored practical solutions to reduce conflict and maintained a hotly contested provision that invites trophy hunting, we decided that continued participation in these meetings was pointless. Further engagement would go against our conservation missions and make us complicit in an agency-driven agenda to kill more wolves, faster. This isn’t just about wolves. Every Oregonian who cares about good governance and ensuring that our state agencies and commissions are held accountable to the public should pay close attention.
I would like to see federal legislation placing all elected members of Congress into a work-without-pay status for any period during which they fail to figure out a way to keep the federal government funded. Such legislation should also prohibit their retroactively granting any salary to themselves for this period. They may not be able to similarly impact the president’s salary, due to separation of powers, but they should be able to take this step to impact their own. We might expect fewer or shorter shutdowns.