GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
The growing bloc of Oregonians who don’t belong to any political party could have more say in elections under a new proposal from Secretary of State Dennis Richardson. Richardson got the idea from a former rival: Alan Zundel, the Pacific Green Party’s candidate for secretary of state in 2016. Since the election, Richardson, a Republican, and Zundel have formed what, on its face, is an unlikely alliance between people with disparate political views. Two years ago, Richardson tapped the retired political science professor to lead a task force studying how the state draws legislative and congressional districts. And now Richardson’s office is advocating for Senate Bill 225, which is based on a concept Zundel suggested to him last year. It would allow nonaffiliated voters to participate in their own primary. Richardson’s proposal is before the Senate Rules Committee, where its fate is uncertain. Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, who chairs the committee, thinks the issue is still undecided. “Basically it’s too early to tell for sure,” wrote Burdick’s spokesman in an email. Zundel is clear-eyed about the obstacle his idea faces in a Legislature where all legislators represent the major parties. “Making it easier for nonaffiliated candidates to get on the ballot is going to increase the possibility that they’ll have competition,” Zundel said. “And I think they’re less afraid of competition, per se, and more afraid of splitting the vote, causing somebody to lose an election who may have had a majority if there wasn’t another candidate in the race.”
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Child Welfare officials offered welcome news last fall in a report to Gov. Kate Brown: It had been weeks since they placed a foster child in a hotel. The development was an improvement for the state Department of Human Services, which weathered a firestorm of criticism and a civil lawsuit in 2016 after it was revealed Oregon foster care children were being placed in hotel rooms. Many of those children struggled with mental, behavioral and psychiatric issues, but the state didn’t have anywhere else to put them. But in the report, it seemed agency officials were making headway in finding placements for some of the state’s more vulnerable children. A task force focusing on children and youth with specialized needs has been meeting and is pushing legislation this session to help “the approximate 500-800 children and youth who are inappropriately placed … not considered necessary or consistent with the needs of the child,” according to the task force’s agenda. Gelser spoke of the importance of creating a more integrated system that supports Child Welfare to offer children the placement and resources they need. And said it’s important to be thoughtful about giving mandates to the Department of Human Services. It’s not enough to tell them to stop putting kids in hotel rooms. “We need to take the next step of asking ourselves: ‘Well, if they don’t do that, what will they do instead?” Gelser said.
The Oregon Department of Human Services still has significant work remaining on most recommendations in a state audit of the agency’s program that provides in-home care to the aging and disabled people. That’s the conclusion of a followup report that the Secretary of State’s office released Tuesday about work done since the original audit, which was released in October 2017. The audit had found shortcomings in programs and oversight of the Aging and People with Disabilities Program, which served about 13,230 people in 2017. The audit made 11 recommendations. Work on seven of those have started, but remain incomplete. The other four recommendations have been fully put in place. Unfinished work includes establishing minimum home-care worker training requirements, putting a new model for the home-care worker program in place that reduces the workload of staff, and developing a skills assessment for home-care workers. The agency has put recommendations in place that include training for case managers to recognize when consumers need more help and monitoring the care they receive and contacts with staff.
When President Donald Trump delivers the annual State of the Union address, at least one Oregonian’s face will be missing from the crowd. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, D-OR, announced that he will not attend the traditional update on the nation’s status, held this year on Tuesday, Feb. 5. In his place, Blumenauer invited Nate Mook, executive director of the Word Central Kitchen, to listen to the speech. The World Central Kitchen was founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres, and Blumenauer says it has provided millions of meals to the hungry, including survivors of Hurricane Maria and furloughed federal workers during the recent partial government shutdown. “The thought of spending Tuesday night in the House Chamber listening to the reckless, self-centered man who occupies the White House holds no interest for me,” Blumenauer said. “Just like in past years, I plan to skip a speech that will be filled with lies, deception and divisiveness.” He continued: “The amount of damage, division and confusion Trump has inflicted on the American people over the last six weeks has been a blemish on the new Congress and I refuse to be witness to his continued antics.” This will be the third year in a row that the Oregon congressman has not attended the State of the Union.
Why should Portland hog all the glory? A new resolution proposed in the state legislature calls on the Portland Trail Blazers to adopt a new, more inclusive title: the Oregon Trail Blazers. “Blazermania affects Oregonians from all walks of life and from every area of the state, regardless of the city they call home,” writes state Rep. E. Werner Reschke, R-Klamath Falls, in House Concurrent Resolution 15. “We recognize the importance of the team to the entire State of Oregon and its place in the hearts of Oregonians across the state.” It should be noted that only the team owners and the National Basketball Association can approve a new team name, but the nonbinding resolution would “urge” the switch if it is passed into law. The Portland Trail Blazers earned their nom de hoops back in 1970, following a contest that allowed fans to vote for their favorite name, with the final selection made by a judging panel.Rep. Reschke didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The proposed resolution was first spotted on Twitter by Gordon Friedman.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
It’s when students are having such a hard time that they scream or threaten their classmates and teachers. They lash out physically — hitting or kicking. They climb on top of desks or knock over furniture or throw pencils or scissors. Teachers or administrators are left with no good choices: either restrain the student and risk the child’s physical and emotional well-being or clear the room of everyone except the student while they trash the place. A new report from the Oregon Education Association comes from outreach to 2,000 teachers over nearly a year, aiming to press the case to lawmakers that addressing childhood trauma — and its dramatic effects on public school classrooms — should be a top priority for additional investment and policy changes. More than half of the hundreds of teachers who responded to an Oregon Education Association poll on disrupted learning say they’ve experienced “at least one room clear this year.” It’s difficult to confirm the results from the statewide teachers union or to determine how many room clears have actually happened because the Oregon Department of Education doesn’t collect information on the practice, and there’s no uniform definition or protocol for the response. But it’s not a brand new problem. Teachers in Oregon public schools have been raising the alarm about deteriorating classroom conditions for years. The new report from the Oregon Education Association — the statewide teachers’ union — tracks its involvement in the problem back to a task force on special education two years ago.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Legislative heavyweights were the first to testify Monday in favor of a measure that would make Oregon the first state in the nation to adopt statewide rent control, a signal the bill is likely to move swiftly through the state Legislature. “Oregonians cannot afford to wait another year … They are losing their housing now,” House Speaker Tina Kotek, a key lawmaker behind Senate Bill 608, testified to members of the newly-created Senate Committee on Housing. Under the bill, landlords across the state could raise rent no more than 7 percent per year, plus the annual change in the consumer price index. The bill carves out an exemption for rental properties that are less than 15 years old. Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, who has been a landlord for 35 years, said there is nothing in the bill that would “disadvantage a responsible landlord.” Republicans on the committee said the measure was written with urban Oregon in mind and ignored the rural part of the state. “The likely outcome from this legislation is fewer affordable housing units and increased rent throughout the state,” said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend. Shaun Jillions, with the Oregon Association of Realtors, echoed the sentiment that rent control has never been proven to be effective. He also pointed out that in the past decade or so, the relators have been involved in housing policy discussion at the statehouse. This time they were excluded, he noted, saying their input could have improved the bill. Democrats have a supermajority in both chambers of the state Legislature. The Senate Committee on Housing approved the bill. The measure now moves to the Senate floor for a vote.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Julia Metz stands on a sidewalk in Northeast Portland’s Woodlawn neighborhood, pointing across the street to a triplex that stands out next to a long line of single-family houses stretching down the block. “We replaced one home and were able to provide three homes instead on the same-sized lot,” said Metz, who works at Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives, a non-profit that developed and manages the homes. This is a prime example of the kind of housing that House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, wants to see scattered throughout neighborhoods that have been zoned exclusively for single-family homes. The powerful lawmaker has introduced House Bill 2001, which would require every city of more than 10,000 and county of at least 15,000 to allow so-called “middle-housing” in residential neighborhoods within their urban growth boundary. She’s talking about two, three and four-unit homes. She also wants to encourage cottage clusters – small units grouped around a central courtyard – small accessory units added to homes and more liberal rules allowing existing homes to be subdivided. But this is their major attempt to spur market forces to increase the state’s supply of housing – which by one estimate falls more than 150,000 units short of demand. Shaun Jillions, a lobbyist for the Oregon Association of Realtors, said he has talked with Kotek’s staff about potential concerns about some of the details of her bill. But he also warned that the push to expand what’s allowed could ignite fervent opposition in the suburbs. “There’s a reason people move out there,” he said. “They want a single-family detached house in a neighborhood with a bunch of kids. They don’t want a four-plex right there with eight cars now piled out in the street.” Kevin Hoar, an Oregon Republican Party official who has followed zoning battles in his unincorporated Washington County community north of Beaverton, said this bill exacerbates the difficulty Oregon has in meeting the demand for affordable single-family homes. Jodi Hack, a lobbyist for the Oregon Home Builders Association, said her group supports easing rules for multi-family development in urban areas. But she said she wants an amendment to Kotek’s bill making it clear that up-zoning existing single-family neighborhoods wouldn’t change the calculations for expanding the growth boundary – at least not until it becomes clear how much extra development results.
Winnebago will cut 220 jobs at its Junction City campus — lowering its workforce in Lane County from 250 to 30 employees — the RV giant announced Monday. “That’s a lot of jobs for a small town,” said Rick Kissock, executive director of the Tri-County Chamber of Commerce in Junction City. The Lane County town has about 6,100 residents. Just about two years after starting production of large diesel-powered motor homes in Junction City, Winnebago Industries detailed plans to shift diesel manufacturing back to another campus in Forest City, Iowa, Winnebago spokesman Chad Reece said Monday. The company expects to begin the transition immediately. The company will wrap up production of Class A recreational vehicles in Oregon by August, Reece said. “We have not achieved our targeted operating efficiency and profitability goals,” Winnebago Vice President Brian Hazelton said in a statement. He noted that the company bought the manufacturing and service facilities of former motor home maker Country Coach in 2015 to capitalize on the experienced RV workforce in the Northwest. Whether Winnebago keeps the property or sells it, the chamber’s Kissock said he is hopeful the buildings will be home to more jobs again soon. The 30-employee RV service operation that Winnebago plans to keep open in Junction City will continue to make repairs to Winnebago, Country Coach and other brands of motor homes.
Intel has acknowledged it will soon start building a massive new semiconductor factory in Hillsboro. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the company told about 50 residents living near its Ronler Acres campus that it will build a third phase of its massive D1X manufacturing complex, confirming a newspaper report last month. Intel also said it plans a new technology building to support the factory with emergency generators, utilities and additional parking. Intel was vague on details, including the project’s exact size and timing. Hillsboro city officials say the chipmaker recently submitted construction permitting applications but the city has yet to fulfill public records requests for the documents. The chipmaker says it plans to start work in Hillsboro sometime in 2019 but plans remain contingent on unspecified business and economic factors.
The Albany Democrat-Herald
Fay Stetz-Waters, former Linn County circuit judge, will be the guest speaker Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Linn County Democrats’ monthly general meeting in the Albany Public Library meeting room, 2450 14th Ave. S.E. A social time with light refreshments starts at 6 p.m. The meeting begins at 6:30. Stetz-Waters served as circuit judge from November 2017 through Jan. 4 this year. She also has worked as a 911 dispatcher, Legal Aid attorney, administrative law judge and hearings officer. She is a Marine Corps veteran.
The Daily Astorian
The Port of Astoria has returned a state infrastructure grant of more than $1.5 million because of delays in proving winter storm damage from 2015. The Port in 2016 received the state money to repair about 30,000 square feet of decrepit dock on the west side of Pier 2, where seafood processors handle much of the catch in Astoria. The grant would have required a one-third local match. The agency attempted to use the state grant as a local match on a larger pot of relief money it has sought from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover significant damage to the central waterfront from the 2015 storms. The Port has gone back and forth with FEMA, trying unsuccessfully to prove that issues under Pier 2 were caused by the storms. As of last fall, FEMA was offering less than $1.5 million overall, while the Port has estimated that between $6 million and $10 million is needed to repair storm damage. During the negotiations, the Port has repeatedly applied for extensions with the state to keep the 2016 grant available. The state has ceased offering Connect Oregon infrastructure grants through this year while it funds several specific multimodal projects around the state. Katie Thiel, program manager of Connect Oregon, said the money meant for the Port will go toward funding those projects. The future availability of Connect Oregon grants will depend on revenue returns from a new 1 percent tax on the sales of vehicles, she said.
The Bend Bulletin
We have a rule for government programs: They should work. And not just work for work’s sake. They should make progress toward a deserving goal. That’s why Oregon legislators should pass Senate Bill 348. It directs that the state do a cost-benefit analysis of its low carbon fuels program. The program’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gases. That might help with global warming. Does the state’s program produce a benefit worth the cost? Of course, Oregon lawmakers would never let a program like this continue without checking, right? The program is designed so fuel importers gradually lower the carbon intensity of their fuels. They can do that by blending in lower carbon fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel. But if they can’t meet the toughening standards that way, they can buy credits from public transit districts, biofuel producers and other credit generators that sign up. The extra costs of fuel get passed along to consumers in what they pay at the pump. The state claims the program is a resounding success. “Over the first two years of the program, approximately 1.7 million tonnes of GHG were reduced at a cost to comply less than a third of a penny per gallon,” the DEQ reported earlier this month. But as Oregonians have learned from the state’s wasteful Business Energy Tax Credit Program, disastrous launch of the Oregon health care marketplace, terrible performance in caring for foster children and more, it’s always a good idea to dig beneath the surface of what the state says in happening. The Bulletin is already in a legal battle to get public records that would explain details about how the clean fuels credit market is working. Chevron and REG, an Iowa biofuels producer, are fighting to keep those records hidden. Hmm, there couldn’t possibly be something they don’t want Oregonians to know? Passage of SB 348 won’t answer all the needed questions about the state’s low carbon fuels program. It’s a good start.