GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Oregon Public Broadcasting
More than 2,700 federal workers living in Oregon have filed for unemployment benefits through the state since the partial government shutdown began. State officials don’t know how many of them are directly impacted by the government shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history, but here’s some perspective: Last year at this time only 561 federal workers in Oregon filed for unemployment. Although these unemployment benefits are administered by the state, money to pay them comes from the federal government.
Prominent Democratic fundraiser Terry Bean is back in the news after he was arraigned Thursday on charges that he had sex with a teenage boy in Lane County in 2013. Court records suggest prosecutors have re-filed a case they dropped in 2015, after the alleged teen victim would not testify. The victim’s initials and the year when the crime is alleged to have taken place are the same in both cases. This time, a Lane County grand jury indicted Bean on two counts of felony sodomy and one count of sex abuse, a misdemeanor, for having sex with a child under the age of 16. Bean pleaded not guilty at his arraignment, which was first reported by KGW-8, and was taken into custody at Lane County jail. In an emailed statement, Bean’s lawyer Derek Ashton said Bean’s accuser only wants money and that this is a continuation “of the 2014 black mail scam” by Bean’s former boyfriend, the accuser and others. “Mr. Bean is the victim and he has paid enough.”
Oregon’s marijuana market is reaching maturity, more than three years into the state’s grand experiment. The once-illegal drug already has brought in more tax money to Oregon than expected. A robust industry has sprouted in Lane County. And marijuana production has led to jobs, hundreds of them in Lane County. These numbers help put pot’s impact, so far, on Oregon and Lane County into perspective: $95 million, amount state collected in pot sales taxes in 2018. In all, Oregon collected $95 million in sales taxes from marijuana sales in fiscal year 2018, said Mazen Malik, the senior economist at the state Legislative Revenue Office, the non-partisan agency that crunches financial data for state lawmakers.
A week after the Oregon Secretary of State released a highly critical report of Portland Public Schools, the school board’s audit committee laid out some of the district’s next steps, including plans to swiftly fix what state officials said are bloated expense practices. But committee members didn’t discuss other changes the report called for with more urgency, including the district’s need to retain principals and teachers at schools that serve a concentration of students of color or living in poverty. And board members said they likely can’t make changes to their student discipline policies and procedures until fall 2020. A required 90-day delay to make changes that the teachers union files objections to would prevent them from making changes by the start of next school year, they said. Portland schools are also in the process of hiring two internal auditors, the first of whom district officials interviewed Jan. 9. Hertz said the first auditor should be hired by the next time the audits committee meets.
Mayor Ted Wheeler endorsed the rent control bill to be considered by the 2019 Oregon Legislature and the current Residential Infill Project recommendations at his monthly press conference on Thursday. Although both proposals are controversial, Wheeler said they are necessary to make housing in the city as affordable as possible. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Democratic legislative leaders are currently discussing a bill that would limit future rent increases in Oregon to 7 percent plus inflation in buildings more than 15 years old and prohibit no-cause evictions for tenants who have lived in a house or building for more than a year. Landlord organizations are currently neutral, but individual landlords could oppose it, and some tenant advocates say the allowable increase should be lower.
Greg Walden returns to Bend this Saturday for a town hall in one of the most Democratic-leaning enclaves of his solidly Republican 2nd Congressional District. The GOP lawmaker from Hood River will hold town halls in Madras and Prineville on Sunday. The town halls occur amid a record-breaking federal government shutdown. Walden has been one of a handful of Republicans to vote with Democrats to reopen much of the government. It’s a rare split between Walden and President Donald Trump.During the past two years, Walden supported GOP-led tax cuts, an end to net neutrality, and an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now he is in the House minority, which must deal with Democrats in charge of the agenda. Like the April 2017 town hall, Walden’s public appearance Saturday is expected to draw vocal opponents to challenge his record in Congress. The Women’s March in Bend will be Saturday, and some organizers have encouraged marchers to go directly afterward to the town hall. In advance of the town hall, The Bulletin asked Walden about his agenda for the night, his take on his record, and what’s ahead for the next two years. Some of his answers have been edited for the sake of brevity.
Jennifer Brownlee of Happy Valley has been accepted into this year’s Emerge Oregon program that trains Democratic women in how to win public office. This year’s Emerge Oregon class is the largest yet at 34, and the seven-month program typically has only taken about 25 women a year since its founding in 2009. “I am honored and excited to join this group of women, and I’m excited to see what the future holds,” Brownlee said. Brownlee, 36, was inspired to enter politics by her mother Sarah (Dunn) Bushore who was on the Beaverton City Council as she was growing up. Brownlee and her husband received a major wakeup call from the 2008 housing crisis, which she says hit her family especially hard. In the past few years, she’s been “terrified by how the political landscape has changed” and says people need to step up and do something about it.
Transportation and housing costs are the top two issues Bend residents want city government to address, according to a statistically valid telephone survey conducted for the city in December. That was borne out Wednesday evening, as representatives from a few dozen city committees, neighborhood associations and community organizations offered advice to the Bend City Council as it prepares to set citywide goals for the next two years. The Neighborhood Leadership Alliance, a new city committee composed of representatives from each neighborhood association, wants to lead a neighborhood traffic safety program. Groups including the Orchard District Neighborhood Association in northeast Bend want to prioritize pedestrian and bicycle access. Bill Caram, chairman of the association, said planned neighborhood greenways are a start, but people want a full system of connected trails and the improved pedestrian facilities promised in plans for the Bend Central District.
An ailing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worker in Oregon said she can’t learn why her federally paid insurance lapsed months ago or get it reinstated because of the partial government shutdown, leaving her scrambling to find a way to pay for nutrients that keep her alive. Jasmine Tool said she only has enough of the formula that she gets through a feeding tube to last through Friday. “If don’t get more, I will begin to starve,” she told The Associated Press on Thursday. The U.S. government has said employees with active insurance will not experience lapses during the shutdown. Tool’s situation is unusual but shows the unexpected ways the shutdown can affect people. Democratic U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has pointed to Tool’s plight to call for an end to the four-week-long shutdown.
With fire seasons growing longer and forests choked with too many trees, fire officials said everyone has to play a role in combating wildfires and smoke. A panel of fire officials briefed the public on issues facing the community during a Thursday night wildfire forum in Medford hosted by state Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland. Oregon Fire Marshal Jim Walker said the fire season used to run from July into September, but is now starting earlier and ending later. Conflagrations that require state resources are bursting out in early June. “If this is the new norm, then we need to come up with new solutions,” Walker said. Greensprings Rural Fire District Chief Gene Davies heads a small volunteer group that tries to protect rural, isolated homes in the forested hills east of Ashland. Volunteers are usually first on the scene. They are seeing more fire starts and more intense wildfires. While many people wonder if Southern Oregon is seeing a new normal, Davies said he actually thinks the fire danger will escalate every year. Oregon Department of Forestry Southern Oregon Area Director Dave Lorenz said five out of the last six fire seasons have been worse than average.
In the waning days of spring, school districts across Oregon will likely pass budgets without knowing how much money they’ll receive from their largest source of revenue. In what has become a biennial tradition, districts will pass their annual budgets ahead of the July deadline but before they know how much the Oregon Legislature will allocate toward K-12 education. The Pendleton School District’s director of business services since 2009, Michelle Jones, said it seemed like each legislative session was getting longer. The 2017 session ended on July 7, only three days before the Legislature is constitutionally mandated to conclude business but well after Pendleton passed its budget. After Gov. Kate Brown requested a $2 billion revenue package in her budget proposal, lawmakers could be in for another long session in 2019. Unlike other public agencies that mostly rely on property taxes or service fees for revenue, schools are heavily reliant on the state to pay for staffing and operations. Nearly 68 percent of the Pendleton School District’s general fund, which pays for vital expenditures like teachers, programming, and transportation, comes from state funding in the district’s current budget. For now, school officials are relying on the governor’s budget, which has a $8.97 billion state school fund. Although the final figure the Legislature approves has typically been higher than the governor’s initial proposal, Pendleton Superintendent Chris Fritsch said the district takes a conservative approach when it comes to budgeting.
Is a smoke-plagued summer really unavoidable? We cannot prevent summer lightning storms like that of 2018, nor can we be assured that human-caused wildfire ignition, accidental or intentional, will not turn a portion of Southern Oregon’s millions of acres into roaring conflagrations. Increasingly dry and warmer years parch our forests and brush, raising fire susceptibility. What can we do? The loss of hundreds of thousands of acres incurring a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in our area in 2018 has accelerated schemes, planning, and pilot projects. There is much talk from federal legislators, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, timber companies, the logging industry, conservationists and local entities. Unfortunately, planning and pilot projects, even if successful, all mature in the distant future. While valuable, these efforts will do little to reduce smoke in 2019, or 2020, or the year and for years after that. What about right now?