GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
A faith group held a rally and vigil Sunday evening in Portland, calling for a ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Lift Every Voice is made up of religious leaders, students, and other organizations. More than 100 people packed into Augustana Lutheran Church for the event. There were several speakers, including two high school students who said they should not have to live in fear of a shooting at their schools. The group said they hope to ban assault weapons to prevent mass shootings. “They are the tools of choice in the majority of mass shootings,” said event speaker Liz McKenna. School lockdowns and mass shootings are why many who attended the rally said Oregon gun laws need to change. he group proposed two bills to the Oregon Legislature. One would ban assault weapons and require those who already have them to either register them and pass a background check or get rid of them. The other bill would ban large capacity magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets. Read more on their website. Group members said they are not against the Second Amendment or people having guns, but said there is no need for assault weapons.
Anticipating possible additional federal government shutdowns, Oregon’s Senate president has prepared a bill that will allow federal employees who are working but not being paid to receive unemployment benefits. The draft of the bill also would allow a state-funded program to pay unemployment benefits to active duty U.S. Coast Guard personnel stationed in Oregon who are legally compelled to provide regular service without compensation during a shutdown. Lisa Taylor, spokeswoman for Senate President Peter Courtney, said the bill is expected to get its first reading in the Senate Tuesday. House Speaker Tina Courtney said she hopes the bill gets bipartisan support and that it passes before the agreement by President Donald Trump to end the shutdown expires Feb. 15.
Kim Thatcher and Rep. Bill Post, the two Republicans representing
Keizer, are expecting a trying 2019 session. Democrats hold a
supermajority in the Oregon Legislature and the governor’s office which
means that Republicans have little recourse when it comes to stopping
the bills they oppose without getting Democrats to cross the aisle. What
Thatcher and Post are hoping is that Sen. Peter Courtney can reign in
his party to some degree. “He’s the last Oregon statesman and that’s
what this session will be about,” Post said. “But he has a fractured
caucus and I think it will be difficult to keep the more divisive stuff
at bay,” said Thatcher Post is again trying to free up allergy sufferers
to purchase Sudafed-type medication without seeing a doctor for a
prescription. Oregon’s restrictions on Sudafed are some of the strictest
in the nation while other states keep the medication behind the counter
and allow purchase of the medication as long as the consumer presents a
photo ID. Post has new hope for the bill, which has failed previously,
because it appears to have the support of House Speaker Tina Kotek. “All
the legislators are tired of driving to Vancouver for Sudafed,” Post
said. Post is pushing for a new $2 million allotment for recipients of
SNAP and TANF benefits. He knows it isn’t going to be popular with some
of his constituents, but he’s heard from many families who are running
out of money for basic needs like diapers before the end of the month.
Another bill that even Post admits is something of a surprise for him,
is one that would give certain youth offenders a chance for a sentencing
review before being transferred to adult facilities. “I’ve spent a lot
of time hanging out with the youth at McLaren as part of my church
(Salem Evangelical), and I’ve met enough of these guys who can say they
were being idiots or made a mistake. I have a young man in my mind who
deserves a break, and this is coming from a hard-on-criminals guy,” Post
said. While they are still waiting to see what other major issues rise
to the surface, one issue they are united in standing against are gun
control efforts including a proposed limit on ammunition sales and
outlawing magazines with a capacity of more than five rounds. “Only
allowing someone 20 rounds a month limits people’s ability to be
proficient with their weapons. That’s a safety issue for me,” Post said.
Patrick Starnes, former candidate for governor, earns a living now as a carpenter renovating an 1878 house in Brownsville. In his spare time, he is working to remodel Oregon’s campaign finance laws to cut the influence of major donors. Limiting campaign money was a primary plank for Starnes as he campaigned for governor last year as the candidate of the Independent Party of Oregon. He took no more than $100 from any single donor though Oregon law would have allowed him to take checks of any size. Shortly before the election, he dropped out in a deal with Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, getting from her promise to champion campaign finance limits in the 2019 Legislature. He means to hold her to that promise and is continuing his one-man campaign for reform. He calls on the governor’s office regularly to check on campaign finance proposals. He’s been assigned a point person in the Governor’s Office, executive assistant Jack Polales, to meet with weekly. “The commitment is important to see it through rather than getting the promises from everyone,” Starnes said. He also shows up at legislators’ offices, sometimes unannounced, with a bright smile on his face and a ready speech on why there should be controls on how much donors can spend on political campaigns. Some legislators have already agreed to support a constitutional amendment needed to make limits legal. “Some lawmakers aren’t interested in it and don’t think it’s a big issue,” Starnes said. His dream is to limit campaign contributions to $1,000 for individuals and political action committees each election cycle. In 1997, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that such limits violated Oregonians’ constitutional right to free speech, but voters could authorize the caps by approving an amendment. Legislators in each chamber have proposed separate referrals to voters revising different parts of the Constitution. The legislation would let voters decide whether to allow caps but proposes no specific limit.
Portland Business Journal
Cap and trade legislation will be unveiled late this week, beginning what Democratic lawmakers expect will be a robust public discussion of the climate policy. Some Republicans have grumbled about not being in on crafting the bill over the past month, and the Partnership for Oregon Communities, an alliance of business groups opposing the climate policy, accused Democrats of keeping voters in the dark. Sen. Cliff Bentz, an Ontario Republican, said he’d devoted hundreds if not thousands of hours to cap and trade over the course of the past year, but had been shut out of discussions since just before Christmas. Asked about that in an interview, Sen. Michael Dembrow, a Portland Democrat who co-chairs the committee, said the bill — likely to be posted online Thursday and introduced in a Friday public meeting — will be strongly informed by that earlier work. “I really feel like it has been a very public process,” Dembrow said. “We had so many hours of public hearings and meetings.” Dembrow said Democrats expected to have the bill out to the public earlier, but the writer working on it in the legislative counsel’s office was off for two weeks over the holidays. Dembrow said the bill will be “very similar” to SB 1507, legislation that was introduced last year, with “more clarity” on a wide range of potentially contentious issues, including oversight, handling of vulnerable industries and the rate of the cap’s decline. And then stakeholders will have a chance to pick it apart, he said. “The bill that comes out this week is going to be subject to amendments that I know will be there — I have some in mind,” Dembrow said. Dembrow forecast a “noisy few weeks” for the committee. “People will get up during the public process that we will have and they will talk about the lack of public process,” he said. “In the end, I’m confident all voices will have the opportunity to be heard.”
A Senate Republican from Keizer wants the state to demand back millions of dollars the Oregon Health Authority overpaid to organizations that coordinate Medicaid benefits for approximately 1 million Oregonians. State Sen. Kim Thatcher revealed a legislative proposal Monday that would require the Health Authority to recover all overpayments to coordinated care organizations within 60 days of the bill’s passage. The issue dates back to late 2017 when an Oregon Secretary of State audit found the Health Authority could have avoided spending an estimated $76 million on patients who were members of coordinated care organizations, but may have been ineligible for coverage under the Oregon Health Plan, also known as the state’s Medicaid program. The estimate included about $17 million in state money. Thatcher’s proposal is designed to get coordinated care organizations to pay back the money. “We need to know why this has been allowed to happen and how we can prevent it from ever happening again,” she said in a statement. “Every dollar thrown away is a dollar robbed from taxpayers that is not spent on promised health care for those most in need.” Health Authority officials did not respond to requests for comment.
As federal employees returned to work Monday after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney pushed forward on a bill to support those workers in the case of another shutdown. The bill, which will be introduced in the Senate Tuesday, would allow Oregon federal workers required to work without pay to apply for unemployment insurance through the state’s Employment Department. As the law is currently written, employees working without pay are exempted from unemployment insurance. The bill would also allocate funds to financially support members of the Coast Guard not receiving pay. About 10,000 federal workers in Oregon were either furloughed or worked without pay during the shutdown. There are about 28,000 federal employees statewide. Legislative leaders, including Salem’s Democratic senator, discussed this idea in the days leading up to President Donald Trump and Congressional Democrats coming to an agreement that reopened the government on Friday. But the stopgap legislation only funded the government for three weeks as both sides begin to debate paying for Trump’s border wall, meaning another shutdown could be on the horizon. “What D.C. does or doesn’t do is outside of the Oregon Legislature’s control,” Courtney said in a statement. “We can’t force the federal government to pay its employees, but we can extend the safety net to everyone.” Senate Republicans spokeswoman Tayleranne Gillespie said Republicans would be open to discussing the proposal. Kotek said she wants the bill to stay above partisan fighting.
Oregon’s land use regulators have temporarily expanded restrictions on solar arrays on high-value farmland over the objections of advocates who claim they’ll impede development. Solar facilities larger than 12 acres on high-value farmland have required conditional use permits in Oregon, but ambiguities in the regulatory language raised concerns among farm and conservation groups. For example, one project was approved without a permit last year because the county government determined it didn’t “preclude” agriculture use, since bees could still forage beneath the solar panels. In response to these concerns, the Land Conservation and Development Commission issued temporary rules clarifying that solar projects cannot “use, occupy or cover” more than 12 acres, regardless of whether they “preclude” farm uses. During a Jan. 24 meeting in Salem, the commission voted to approve additional provisions prohibiting most solar development on top-quality soils: those defined as Class I, Class II, prime and unique. However, the revised rules will allow solar facilities of up to 20 acres on such soils if the project includes a “farm use element” for the project’s duration, as determined by county land use rules. The special rules for “dual use” facilities are set to expire in 2022. Due to a request to submit additional information, the commission will also revisit the solar rules again at its meeting on March 21-22 with the goal of enacting permanent regulations. A representative of Renewable Northwest, a nonprofit that supports solar energy, hopes the additional information will be compelling enough for the commission to decide changes need to be made to the rules. The rules are likely just the beginning of the conversation and 1,000 Friends of Oregon would like to see Oregon continue to revisit the issue and develop a statewide vision for renewable energy and land use, Darzen said. Data collected by Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development — which is overseen by the commission — indicates 80 projects are currently proposed on nearly 1,000 acres of high-value farmland in the Willamette Valley. Although solar advocates argued that proposed solar projects represent less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the nearly 1.46 million acres of high-value farmland in the Willamette Valley, DLCD recommended enacting the stricter regulations because the farmland impacts have been “disproportionate” in some areas.
Federal workers were back on the job Monday around Lane County, the first day of work after a record-setting 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government. In all, 590 people in Lane County work for agencies affected by the shutdown, said Brian Rooney, a regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department in Eugene. The largest federal employers in the county are the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. “We don’t really know how many didn’t work or how many weren’t paid,” said Rooney of those workers impacted by the shutdown. Rooney said he would have a clearer picture of the impact next month once he receives payroll data. Federal officials said that one of the first tasks after the shutdown is to make sure employees receive paychecks promptly.The Springfield building shared by the BLM’s Northwest Oregon District and the Willamette National Forest Supervisor’s Office was abuzz Monday as workers for the two public land agencies returned to work, said Willamette National Forest spokesperson Chiara Cipriano. During the shutdown, national parks around the country drew media attention due to visitors running unchecked across the signature landscapes. Snow this time of year already limits how much of the park visitors to Crater Lake can access, and about a month ago officials fully closed the seven-mile road to the Rim Village to vehicles, saying the closure was “due to conditions caused by the impact of human waste buildup on the park’s water system.” McCabe said the closure helped minimize trash, human waste and other potential damage issues.Over the weekend, snowplow drivers cleared the road to Rim Village and on Monday Crater Lake’s visitor center reopened. Winter is slowest time for visitors at Crater Lake, with most people coming on the weekend to go skiing or snowshoeing.
The Daily Astorian
Power will start rolling out new smart meters in Clatsop County in
February that track power usage by the hour. The project is part of a
$117 million investment by the private utility in 590,000 smart meters
across Oregon, including 24,000 in the county. The installations will
begin on the north side of the county and move south, with completion
expected between the end of April and early May. The smart meters have a
communications module that uploads power usage data via a secure
wireless mesh network to Pacific Power’s servers. About six weeks after
installation, customers will be able to look at their hourly power usage
on a secure website. Cory Estlund, Pacific Power’s manager of field
support, said there are about 70 million smart meters across the U.S.
More than two-thirds of Oregon homes and businesses have them. The
utility waited several years to allow the technology to be refined and
come down in price before investing. The change to online meter-reading
will cut 100 positions from Pacific Power’s statewide workforce of
5,500, including six in Clatsop County. Pacific Power gave employees two
years’ notice of the change and has helped them find other internal
positions or other employment, Dunlap said. Some people have raised
concerns about privacy from data collection and health worries over the
mesh network, which sends information via radio waves between a
collection of devices. Estlund said the concerns are largely the result
of fearmongering online. Pacific Power has been reaching out to
customers about the installations. Workers with Aclara Technologies, the
manufacturer of the new meters, will visit homes and businesses with
badges identifying them as installers for the utility. There is no
charge for installation. Customers can opt out of having the smart
meters installed, but face a $36 monthly fee for meter reads.
Portland parks facing $7 million shortfall
Portland Parks & Recreation is facing a potential $7 million shortfall in next year’s budget — 7.5 percent of its approximately $94 million operating budget.Commissioner Nick Fish, who was assigned the parks bureau four months ago, says the because costs are outstripping revenues, the City Council will have to make “hard choices” about the budget. Fish says he has already curtailed spending. “Effective immediately, I have directed PP&R to severely limit hiring, spending, and training. As we develop a sustainable plan to bring costs in line with revenues, we’ll continue to consult with the community,” said Fish, adding, “My goal is to put PP&R on solid financial footing while continuing to deliver the high-quality services our community expects.” The bureau had previously been overseen by Commissioner Amanda Fritz. The shortfall is largely caused by personnel costs increasing faster than revenues generated by the bureau, the FAQ sheet says. More than a quarter of it revenues come from fees for programs, which the City Council has kept low to encourage public participation. “Personnel costs are growing at a fast pace. In 2016, we added more than 100 new full-time employees following a labor arbitration. But between Council allocated General Fund and program fees, we can’t keep pace with growing costs for healthcare, PERS, cost of living adjustments, and other benefits.” The problem has been growing for years.
As the Portland school board considers withdrawing its support for a contract to pay the city more than $1 million per year for nine full-time police officers to patrol the district’s high schools, students want more say in what happens. Students from across the district opposed the Dec. 11 school board vote to approve the contract and wanted to pressure the City Council, which also would need to approve it, to spike the agreement. “Ideally, for me, and for a lot of students I’m working with, is that we’re wanting this program to end,” Roosevelt High School senior Isabel Mace-McLatchie said. “Our needs are already being met by the administration and security at our school.” She’s part of a group called No SROs PDX, which uses the acronym commonly used to refer to school resource officers, as officers in schools are known. The group argues that uniformed police officers aren’t necessary to maintain order in Portland’s public high schools. Instead, Mace-McLatchie and Grant High senior Micah Mizushima say, teachers, administrators and school security guards should be the ones disciplining students.
Pamplin Media Editorial
The research firm Rhodium Group reported on Jan. 8 that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions rose sharply by 3.4 percent in 2018. That report was very troubling, because last October the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned us that we have less than 12 years to take significant climate action or we will face very damaging consequences. Fortunately, we do have solutions. 1. Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs bill, to be voted on and passed in the upcoming 2019 Oregon legislative session. Clean Energy Jobs is a policy to put a limit and price on climate pollution from the largest polluters in the state. It will secure greenhouse gas reductions and reinvestment into communities across Oregon to create clean energy jobs and a thriving economy, especially in communities that need it most. 2. Ask your members of Congress, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, Rep. Greg Walden and Washington U.S. Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler, to support the recently introduced bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (HR 7173). This congressional bill would be effective at reducing carbon pollution by over 40 percent in 12 years. It’s good for people by improving health and saving lives by reducing pollution that Americans breathe. Best of all, it’s good for the economy, creating 2.1 million additional jobs over the next 10 years.
On Tuesday night, Portland Public Schools board members will vote on whether to suspend an agreement they approved last month to pay the Portland Police Bureau for school resource officers in high schools. The PPS Board should absolutely, unequivocally vote to rescind that decision and make a choice that reflects the voices of those most impacted – the students. As a concerned educator who shares the racial identity of students who are historically disproportionately harassed – and killed – by law enforcement, and as a citizen who has been personally targeted by Portland police in my community, I share the following thoughts. The presence of law enforcement in schools is a critical issue with profound ideological implications. This is a significant decision that reflects the mission, purpose and overall strategy of the district. Yet, the majority of the school board voted for the agreement in haste even after the only person of color on the board, Julie Esparza Brown, gracefully and courageously provided the counter-perspective to this short-sighted proposal. Guided by her awareness of students’ experiences and her own ideological views about the excessive nature of armed officers in schools, Esparza Brown was the lone vote against the agreement.