GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Gov. Kate Brown, who was part of the state’s most expensive governor’s race ever last year, told lawmakers on Wednesday that it’s time to curb the amount of political money spent in Oregon. A newly-created campaign finance committee in the state Senate is tasked with reining in Oregon’s campaign finance laws, an area that is akin — as the governor likes to say — to the “wild, Wild West.” The governor said she raised three times more than her three Democratic predecessors in her last race. And she urged lawmakers to increase transparency when it comes to reporting contributions and expenditures. Campaign spending and donations should be posted quickly for the public to see, she said. Currently there is often a 30-day window before transactions become public. The governor also said it’s time for Oregon to tackle what’s known as “dark money,” essentially donations made to nonprofits that do political work but aren’t limited in how much they can collect and aren’t required to disclose their supporters. “As long as dollars flow unfettered in Oregon, the very least we can do is ensure that everyone can follow the money in politics,” Brown said. Brown, who benefited tremendously from union support in the last election cycle, also told lawmakers that it’s time to limit how much candidates can accept. Oregon is only one of a handful of states that doesn’t have any cap on how much money can be given to candidates.
Oregon’s public employees typically pay less for health insurance than their peers in neighboring states, a new study finds. The study by the actuarial firm Milliman was commissioned by The Oregon Business Council, an association of business leaders as part of the Oregon Business Plan initiative. The study found that the average state employee in Oregon pays a smaller share of his or her health insurance premium than the average state employee in Idaho, California, Nevada and Washington. And the average premium is more expensive for a state employee here than for state employees in those other states. But Oregon’s public school teachers generally pay more out of pocket for less pricey premiums than Oregon state employees. But the amount that teachers contribute to their insurance premiums varies widely across the state. Among the five states, Oregon pays the second-highest percentage of its employees’ total medical costs. The Oregon Business Plan said that health insurance benefits “represent a large and growing share of employee compensation and employer costs.” A December study by Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services found that the average public employee pays far less out of pocket for health insurance premiums than the average worker out on the market. An average state employee with no dependents pays $6.47 per month in insurance premiums, the DAS study found, while a comparable employee out on the market pays $98.13 a month for a medical insurance premium. State workers unions agreed that Oregon’s state employees have a good benefits package, but said looking at health care in a vacuum is misleading.
Lake Oswego Review
When state Sen. Rob Wagner and state Rep. Andrea Salinas proposed Senate Bill 501, they expected some resistance. But they did not expect death threats. SB 501 was drafted using input from a group of high schoolers known as Students for Change in an effort to curb gun violence and increase safety across the state. The comprehensive legislation calls for changes to how guns are purchased and stored, magazine size, ammunition limits and more. Members of Students for Change say the bill is neither unreasonable nor unrealistic. There are currently 14 bills submitted to the Oregon Legislature regarding gun reform, they say; SB 501 simply calls for the widest range of changes. But the bill’s introduction earlier this month has prompted a deluge of angry emails and a rally against its components at the Capitol in Salem. Oregon State Police troopers are also investigating threats made against Wagner and Salinas, although no details about those threats have been released. Regardless, Penelope Spurr — a Lake Oswego High School student and one of the original members of Students for Change — says that despite the opposition to the bill, she and other students are not deterred.
When state Sen. Jackie Winters hears the word “felon,” she often thinks of her late husband, Marc “Ted” Winters. Her husband, who died in 2008, had a prestigious career in the gubernatorial administrations of Tom McCall and Bob Straub. But before that, he was one of thousands of inmates in Oregon’s state prisons. His catapult from a prison cell at the Oregon State Penitentiary to the governor’s staff is a story of redemption. His path has been an overwhelming influence on the Salem senator’s work to reform the criminal justice system and improve inmates’ chances of rehabilitation. “I think we forget about the whole issue of redemption and forgiveness when we are dealing with the criminal justice system,” said Winters in an interview at her Salem legislative office. Her commitment to justice reform prompted her to give up her role as Senate Republican leader at the end of 2018. Winters, a Christian, said she believed in redemption before she met her husband. Early in Winters’ career, her race and gender created obstacles to getting the kinds of jobs she wanted. Former inmates, she noted, have similar obstacles when they try to secure housing or employment. In November 2017, Winters became the first African-American legislator to lead an Oregon legislative caucus. She was elected as Senate Republican leader to succeed Sen. Ted Ferrioli of John Day. Winters’ commitment to justice reform sometimes put her at odds with members of her party, and last month, she decided to move out of leadership. She maintains that Republicans support justice reform, but she was the only Republican to sponsor one of the most controversial justice reforms of the 2017 Legislature. House Bill 3078 reduced prison sentences for property thieves. The majority of Senate Republicans voted against the bill. She is sponsoring several justice reforms in legislation before the 2019 Legislature. Her priorities are creating a domestic violence commission to streamline services between agencies and justice reform for juvenile offenders.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Oregon high schools bumped up their graduation rates last spring, to an average of 78.7 percent statewide. That’s a two percentage point gain over the state’s 76.7 percent rate from a year ago. The director of the state’s education agency, Colt Gill, sees the report demonstrating steady improvement over nearly a decade when it comes to helping students complete high school. “So this marks yet another increase — so we have year-after-year increases for the last nine years, really,” said Gill. Depending on what time frame you look at, it’s possible to see stronger improvement from students of color and low-income students, than for the state as a whole. “So we are beginning to see a close in those gaps,” noted Gill, the director of the Oregon Department of Education. The gaps may be smaller, but they remain. African-American students graduate at a rate 10 points below Oregon’s average. For Native American students, it’s 13 points lower. Latino students are within four points of the state average. And low-income students, regardless of ethnicity, graduate at a rate six points below the state average. But in a state as large and diverse as Oregon, the story of graduation rates varies wildly from region to region and school to school.
Logos Public Charter School had the highest graduation rate among Jackson County schools in 2018, according to new data released this morning from the Oregon Department of Education. The charter school’s class of 2018 showed a four-year graduation rate of 92.94 percent. “I can’t help but just be thrilled with what Logos has accomplished for kids in this region,” said Sheryl Zimmerer, the school’s executive director. All but two Jackson County school districts saw improvement from the previous year, and three districts have increased their graduation rate by 15 percentage points or more over the past five years. Some of the Rogue Valley’s biggest high schools — from Medford to Central Point to Eagle Point — all saw gains from the previous year. North Medford, which topped Jackson County schools in 2017, rose again, to 91.02 percent. South Medford regained ground, rising to 85.05 percent after a 4.85 point loss the previous year. Crater Renaissance Academy increased its graduation rate by more than 7 points to 87.74 percent, while Crater Academy of Health and Public Services and Crater School of Business Innovation and Science slipped by about 3 percentage points each, to 80.41 and 81.65 percent, respectively. Phoenix High School rose to the fourth highest rate among high schools in the county, with a nearly 10-point jump to 87.04 percent. “We obviously feel really good about the data and super proud of our whole staff, especially the kids that persevered through all the challenges,” said Brent Barry, superintendent of Phoenix-Talent School District.
Oregon’s high school graduation rate improved by 2 percentage points for a second straight year, marking the most sustained improvement in a decade, the state reported Thursday. Statewide, 79 percent of students in the class of 2018 earned diplomas within four years, the Oregon Department of Education said. The gains were broadly shared, with Latinos, Native Americans, whites, low-income students, girls and boys all matching or exceeding the statewide rate of improvement. The most glaring exception was among black students, whose on-time graduation rate remained mired at 68 percent after showing steady gains the previous four years.
The Bend Bulletin
All of Central Oregon’s largest high schools saw graduation rates rise last school year, and nearly all are above the state average, according to Oregon Department of Education data. At Bend-La Pine Schools, the region’s largest district with 18,000 students, the graduation rate was 81.9 percent, a 3.1 percent bump. While some graduation rates stayed steady, like those at Bend and Summit high schools, which had modest gains of 90.98 percent and 91.63 percent of students graduating, respectively, other schools in the district saw big jumps. La Pine High School’s graduation rate rose 7.7 percent to a 77.14 percent graduation rate, while Marshall jumped 11.3 percent to a 44.6 percent rate. Last year was Marshall’s last year as an alternative high school. It is now a STEM-focused magnet school. A major point of pride for Bend-La Pine is the growing success of its Latino students — the group’s graduation rate was 67.22 percent, a 10.3 percent jump. In an email, Bend-La Pine Superintendent Shay Mikalson credited his district’s staffers and “their commitment to building positive relationships with students” for the rise in graduation rates, particularly for students of under-served races or ethnicities. “This increase in graduation rate did not happen by chance,” he said. “We have put systems and people in place to try to keep all students on a track to graduation. I am proud today to see these efforts paying off in increased graduate rates across the board.”
Carley Weixelman was sexually assaulted as a freshman at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. Following the incident, she received a text from the man who she said raped her in a dorm room. It was clear in the text the man, who was a fellow student and acquaintance she met the day before, “didn’t understand that what he did was wrong,” she said “The next day he texted me and said something along the lines of ‘sorry you weren’t into it but I was,’ and to me it was really obvious that I wasn’t OK with it, but maybe he didn’t have the education or didn’t know it was wrong,” said Weixelman, 21. The sexual violence described by Weixelman, as well as the confusion about who to reach out to and what exactly constituted as rape are some of the reasons education about sex is so important, according to the state of Oregon. It’s also why the state recently released an online sexual violence prevention resource map full of sexual health data and information ranging from teen pregnancy statistics to facts about when children begin to engage in sexual intercourse, details about bullying and sexual violence incidents and more. State officials say that education about sex, healthy relationships, consent, sexual violence and other topics can help to address risk factors that lead to sexual violence perpetration and they hope that the interactive online map can help raise awareness. “Research studies show that this does work, sex (education) does lead to preventing sexual abuse, violence and bullying,” said Sasha Grenier, a Oregon Department of Education sexual education specialist. “It does that by several different key messages, including teaching students how to recognize and maintain healthy relationships, identify and communicate their own boundaries, values and needs and by laying a foundation of social emotional skills that promote empathy and respect for others.” A recent study by Columbia University’s Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation project indicates that students who receive sexuality education before beginning college are at a lower risk of experiencing sexual assault during their higher education years. The study found that “students who received formal education about how to say no to sex before age 18 were less likely to experience penetrative sexual assault in college and that “students who received refusal skills training also received other forms of sexual education, including instruction about methods of birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.”
Portland’s newest middle school principals have been on a coffee kick. A hot cup of joe in an informal setting has helped boost community engagement and given parents a platform to talk about more than just academic success, three first-year chief administrators told the Portland school board Tuesday. At Roseway Heights and Ockley Green middle schools and Lent K-8 School, “coffee with the principal” events have helped establish relationships as administrators navigate new waters. Parents “weren’t just concerned about our students becoming students, but how could they affect their community in the future?” Roseway Heights Principal Kathleen Elwood said, relaying to the board conversations she’s had during such meetings. Elwood presides over one of the district’s two new middle schools, both of which opened in August. Roseway Heights was converted from a K-8 while Harriet Tubman reopened six years after it was closed. At Lent, Principal Richard Smith said his staff set out at the start of the year to reduce the school’s suspension rate by at least 10 percent. Now, school leaders think they can reduce suspensions by 20 to 25 percent. Smith and his staff are bent on reversing negative stereotypes he said are often attributed to the Southeast Portland School.
Oregon’s largest school district achieved across-the-board gains in its graduation rates in 2018, marking the district’s fourth straight year of improvement. Portland Public Schools also recorded an uptick in the percentage of black students who earned a diploma for the fourth year in a row, landing nearly 2 percentage points above the state average. But the district still lags behind Oregon in success rates for its Latino students. Statewide, 74 percent of Latino students enrolled in public schools across the state earned a diploma in 2018 versus 72 percent in Portland. Most area districts with at least 50 students of color outperformed Portland when it came to getting kids to earn diplomas in four years. North Clackamas and Hillsboro were overachievers in the group, with 81 percent of Latino, black, Native American and Pacific Islander students graduating on time. In Portland Public Schools, only 71 percent did.
The Bend Bulletin
The Deschutes County Commission has agreed to discuss an ordinance that would prohibit county resources from being used to enforce state gun laws. During a meeting Wednesday, commissioners received a draft ordinance from Jerrad Robison, a Redmond resident. None of the three commissioners returned phone calls Wednesday evening, but Commission Chairman Phil Henderson said during the meeting the three would read Robison’s draft ordinance, look into the process of passing it and discuss it next week. “I think all three of us will take it seriously,” Henderson said. It’s a slightly changed version of a ballot measure proposed by gun rights advocates in several Oregon counties last year that would allow sheriffs to determine whether federal, state and local gun laws violated the U.S. or Oregon constitutions. If sheriffs believed they did, local officials would be barred from enforcing those laws. Robison was the chief petitioner for the Deschutes County ballot measure, which didn’t gather the required 4,144 signatures to make the November ballot. Voters in several other counties, including Union, Umatilla and Baker counties, approved their versions of the measure. The new ordinance he proposed Wednesday lacks the requirement that a sheriff determine which laws are acceptable. Instead, it broadly defines local, state and federal gun control regulations as “extraterritorial acts” that would be considered null and void in Deschutes County. Laws that tax ammunition, require background checks, ban accessories that give semi-automatic weapons the same features as fully automatic weapons and restrict open or concealed carrying of firearms would be among those nullified. “Any gun law is against the Constitution,” Robison said in an interview with The Bulletin. He said efforts to gather signatures for the earlier measure in time for elections in 2020 are ongoing, but the new ordinance he proposed Wednesday might be easier to pass.
Some special-education students in Portland soon will learn the finer points of cooking thanks to rock superstar Paul Simon. Simon recently donated $10,000 to Portland Public Schools and the district decided to use most of the funds for culinary programs for special education students. Half of the money went to Lane Middle School and the other half went to the Community Transition Program, which serves 130 students, ages 18 to 21, who have completed high school but have a variety of challenges, such as Down syndrome or severe autism. Simon donated to local organizations at each stop of his 2018 worldwide farewell tour. The Community Transition Program combined Simon’s $5,000 with $5,000 from the Oregon Community Foundation and is building a teaching kitchen on the campus, at 6801 S.E. 60th Ave., to teach the students some basic culinary skills. The Community Transition Program helps adult students gain life and job skills to navigate the world after high school.
A longtime ally of Jackson County Fire District No. 3 has been placed in charge of a high-tech initiative meant to make the community safer. Justin Bates started this week as the fire district’s new deputy chief of strategic services, according to the fire district, where he’ll oversee a push to improve rescuer response times through new data-analysis tools. Bates has more than two decades of experience — most recently as deputy chief of operations with Medford Fire-Rescue. District 3 Deputy Chief of Operations Mike Hussey said Bates brings “a good analytical mind” to the role, able to pull data from different sources for a variety of purposes. Hussey said they plan to draw from that data for a pair of initiatives — an internal program focused on improving equipment logistics, and an external program seeking to reduce common calls for service by fostering community partnerships. On the equipment end, Bates will draw from updated systems that tell fire chiefs exactly where their crews are located at a given moment, according to Hussey, along with deeper real-time information about the equipment crews are using, such as how many calls the fire engine they’re driving has responded to that day. Bates will also manage the inventory program to ensure that the consumable equipment involved in rescues, such as oxygen tanks, are ready and in the right place ahead of service calls.
Lane County Public Health is asking local doctors to keep an eye out for measles after more than 20 cases of the disease were reported in Washington state. At least 23 cases of measles have been reported in the Vancouver area since Jan. 1, according to Oregon Public Radio. Clark County in Washington state has declared a public health emergency because of the number of cases of the disease and officials expect the virus to cross the state line into Oregon. The Clark County, Washington Public Health website lists several locations in the Portland area that were visited by people infected with the virus, including Portland International Airport, several stores and the Jan. 11 Trailblazers game at the Moda Center. “Given the proximity of these cases to Lane County, the amount of travel that happens daily between us and the greater Portland metro area, and the particularly contagious nature of measles, we are concerned about the risk of exposure,” said Dr. Patrick Luedtke, Lane County senior public health officer, in a press release. In order to decrease exposure to others, Lane County Public Health is urging anyone who might show symptoms of measles to call for medical advice before going to an emergency department, doctor’s office, urgent care office or the public health department. This allows medical staff to isolate the person properly in order to prevent the spread of the virus in the medical facility. In addition to vaccination, people can help prevent the spread of measles by staying home if they’re sick, covering their cough or sneeze, washing hands frequently and disposing of tissues used for coughing or sneezing. The last time Oregon and Lane County had a case of measles was in 2015. That case was linked to a man who visited Disneyland with his family, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. That year, the CDC reported 125 cases of the virus in seven western states, Mexico and Canada from people who all had visited Disneyland.
The Albany City Council reopened a public hearing on accessory dwelling units on Wednesday night, but it won’t deliberate on two proposed ordinances until its regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 13. The hearing, which lasted nearly two hours, included familiar arguments on the familiar proposals. ADUs are detached extra living units on property that also contains a primary dwelling. Residents often use them as in-law apartments on room for grown children. The majority of the council had previously voted 4-2 to allow ADUs to expand in size from 750 square feet to 900 square feet, to allow homes with ADUs to have one of their three required parking spaces on site, and to remove a mandate that the owner of the property live in one of the homes on the land. Mayor Sharon Konopa vetoed the vote twice, supporting the current rules in place. Proponents, including a handful of builders, said on Wednesday night that easing restrictions wouldn’t create a deluge of new structures, but would result in more affordable housing in Albany.
Emily Fitzgerald’s article in the Jan. 11 issue of the News about liability concerns by the Port of Hood River directs needed attention on a critical issue for the Gorge region. The issue of recreational liability is a critical one for public bodies and private sector businesses in our area. Recent court decisions have found the state of Oregon liable for accidents that occurred in the ocean and at a state-owned lake simply because surfers and swimmers weren’t notified that accidents may happen when you choose to surf of dive into lakes. Ski areas have already been successfully sued by patrons who had unfortunate accidents while performing risky maneuvers on the slopes and in terrain parks. Left unchecked, this issue has the potential to drastically curtail outdoor recreation in the Gorge, or at least make the sports much more expensive as businesses boost their liability insurance. By the way, Meadows weekend day pass is now 99 bucks … hardly an affordable activity anymore. The problem is language in Oregon law related to liability and inherent risk is very weak. Other big outdoor recreation states like Washington and Colorado don’t have this problem, as they have stronger language in statute. A few years back, Mark Johnson worked on this issue in Salem along with the Pacific Northwest Ski Association to try to get a bill passed that would remedy the problem. They were stopped cold by the Oregon Trial Lawyers who love the status quo and who have great political strength in Salem. Now we have a new representative, Anna Williams. Her party has super majorities in both chambers of the legislature. They have the power to fix this issue so that public bodies like the Port of Hood River won’t have to worry about frivolous and costly lawsuits. And companies that serve skiers, boarders, bikers and sailors won’t be priced out of business. Will Anna show leadership on this issue? The complication is that she took in over $43,000 in campaign money from the trial lawyers in her campaign to get elected. Will she listen to them or her constituents in the Gorge on this issue? We’ll be watching.
East Oregonian Editorial
We live in an era of black-and-white, of lines drawn in the sand, of non-negotiables. The only problem: That’s not the way life is. Anyone who has ever been married — or involved in any other committed relationship — knows compromise is a large part of life. Ironically, decisions are often better because of compromise, not in spite of it. But it takes goodwill and a willingness to say “yes” to reach an agreement. That observation came to mind as we digested the shenanigans perpetrated by four environmental groups that took part in mediation over the revision of the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. In straight talk, they bailed out of the discussions because they wouldn’t budge on their opposition to killing wolves that continue to attack livestock. They believe ranchers are at fault for not keeping the wolves away from cattle and sheep. No doubt they also blame the cattle and sheep for jumping into the mouths of the wolves. The groups — Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity — told Gov. Kate Brown in a letter that the whole exercise was a sham because everyone else in the room didn’t go along with their demand. All sides should recognize that success, such as it is, by acknowledging the resilience of gray wolves. The predators know how to take care of themselves. The idea that an apex predator that dominates the countryside wherever it roams needs protection demonstrates — once again — that the federal Endangered Species Act needs to be rewritten to take reality into account. Only a handful of those wolves have caused problems, and ranchers and wildlife managers are only saying those few need to be removed. That’s not an ultimatum, which the environmentalists like to use as part of their playbook. It’s just plain common sense.