GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Oregon Public Broadcasting
This week, lawmakers are formally introducing a bill that would make Oregon the second state after California to adopt an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The bill has support from Gov. Kate Brown and the statehouse’s other top Democrats, but even its champions are treading carefully to protect the state’s economy as they aim to address climate change. Oregon has been inching toward this major environmental policy shift for years, as it has become increasingly clear that the state can’t meet its 2020 goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. House Bill 2020 builds on an earlier version of cap-and-trade legislation known as the Clean Energy Jobs bill that lawmakers considered but failed to pass during the last session. House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, revived the controversial bill by creating a Joint Committee On Carbon Reduction that has been working on the new version since last summer. Now, both leaders and the governor say they’re committed to getting the bill passed this session. Oregon’s cap on carbon emissions would directly apply to about a hundred companies — including fuel suppliers, utilities and manufacturers. But opponents say its indirect effects would be much broader. A new group called the Partnership for Oregon Communities, made up of various farming, logging and manufacturing industry groups, has taken a vocal role in opposing the new bill. Their website features videos of farmers around the state warning that cap and trade will drive up prices for fuel and electricity. Under the new bill, Oregon would set a cap on carbon emissions and require companies that emit 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent — roughly the amount of carbon released from burning 136 rail cars of coal — to buy pollution permits, also called allowances.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
In Oregon, having a pinot gris or a potent indica delivered to your door is as simple as a few taps on the iPhone. But try to get a bottle of Irish whiskey without leaving the house and you’re probably out of luck. Under the state’s highly regulated liquor distribution system, home deliveries are out of the question. State Rep. Margaret Doherty says that’s an outmoded policy.“Here in Oregon it is legal to deliver marijuana to your home, but you can’t deliver hard liquor,” said Doherty, a Democrat from Tigard. This session, she’s pushing a bill that would change that. Under House Bill 2523, the state would have the ability to license for-hire delivery services to spirit spirits from the liquor store to your doorstep. These cognac couriers would be required to confirm purchasers are at least 21 and not intoxicated before handing over the goods, and to allow the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to inspect records of deliveries. Doherty sees the move as a way for liquor stores to reach more consumers. “In this day and age when we have everything delivered to our houses, I think it’s a tool that OLCC agents can use to market their products,” she said. So far, HB 2523 hasn’t seen vocal opposition. The OLCC has a neutral stance on the bill, and the Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors Association supports the measure, though its members’ products are already eligible for home delivery. “This may be an opportunity to look at the way we do home shipments or home deliveries of beer and wine as well,” Michael Freese, a lobbyist for the group, testified at a hearing on the bill. “While this bill doesn’t address that … it’s certainly something that we want to explore and work with the OLCC and see if this really is an opportunity to have some consistency across the industry.” Oregon Recovers, a statewide coalition focused on substance abuse, does not have a position on the bill, according to Director Mike Marshall.
A federal effort to make it easier to shop for healthcare at local hospitals by posting prices online may be confusing consumers. The majority of hospitals across the U.S., including PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, PeaceHealth Medical Center, University District and McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center, made the federal deadline of Jan. 1 to post their chargemaster list — an accounting of “sticker prices” for goods and services — on their websites. But hospitals and patient advocacy groups say posting the lists online doesn’t give patients an accurate picture of their final hospital bill. The price lists are full of hard-to-decipher medical descriptions and abbreviations that catalog the price for every piece of equipment, drug and service. But the prices don’t include any discounted rates that a patient’s health insurance company may have negotiated with the hospital or any co-pays, deductibles or other out-of-pocket costs a patient may have listed on their final bill. Going beyond requirement The federal requirements for hospitals to post their pricing information is a part of the Affordable Care Act but wasn’t formalized as a rule until August 2018, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which is responsible for upholding the rules of the ACA.There are no fines for hospitals that fail to publish the information, although the Centers are considering creating one.
Oregon lawmakers may tighten restrictions on the state’s organ transplant centers to ensure they don’t discriminate against patients based on marijuana use. House Bill 2687, sponsored by Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, would stop medical providers from recommending that transplant candidates be removed from the organ waiting list managed by the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing because they tested positive for pot, the Statesman Journal reported. In Oregon, more than 850 transplant candidates are on the wait list for organs, according to the organ network. About 340 transplants were performed in Oregon last year. For some, symptoms before surgery are severe enough they turn to medical marijuana for relief. Responding to Nosse’s bill, the state’s major transplant centers disputed turning patients away based on marijuana use. Nosse told the Statesman Journal he took up the issue because he felt bad for the couple. “Why should all these doctors interfere in their relationship and deny her the chance to donate a kidney and improve his life?” he said in a text message. “Medical marijuana is legal.”
State Sen. Betsy Johnson has introduced a bill that would ease the requirements for counting hydroelectric power toward the state’s renewable energy goals — a move some say would weaken an effort to promote new clean power sources. The state’s renewable portfolio standard, created in 2007 and enhanced in 2016, calls for half of all energy consumed in Oregon to come from renewable sources by 2040. Utilities that provide at least 3 percent of the state’s retail electricity sales — PacifiCorp, Portland General Electric and the Eugene Water and Electric Board — have to meet the renewable portfolio standard. Cooperatives can purchase renewable energy credits, a lower-cost option for meeting the standard. The goal is intended to build upon hydropower, which provides more than 40 percent of energy consumed in Oregon, and promote the development of other renewables. Senate Bill 508, filed by Johnson on behalf of retired state Rep. Deborah Boone, would delete many of the requirements related to counting hydroelectric power, enabling more hydroelectric energy to go toward the renewable portfolio standard. Johnson, D-Scappoose, said she is supportive of the bill but deferred questions about it to Boone. Johnson’s bill is identical to legislation introduced by state Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, and state Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner. Boone, a Democrat who represented the North Coast in the House for 14 years, claims Oregon is technologically behind many other states and countries that count hydroelectric power as renewable.
Two dozen firms have submitted pre-application letters to serve the Oregon Health Plan in various regions of the state, as compared to 15 such firms that do so now. The prize? A share of the biggest procurement in state history. An estimated $5 billion is expected to be spent on the program in 2020, and similar or growing amounts through 2024. The competition looks to be most heated in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties, where six firms have applied for five-year contracts to serve 300,000 Oregonians. Currently, only one such firm, Health Share of Oregon, contracts with the state to serve the health plan in the tri-county region.Based on reforms approved in 2012, the Oregon Health Plan uses what are called coordinated care organizations, essentially insurance companies, to manage care for the state health plan. To qualify for the program’s free care, individual members must earn no more than $1,396 per month, or $2,887 for a family of four. For more than a year, the state has prepared to issue a new round of contracts in the program while instituting further reforms to address concerns about financial transparency and escalating costs. State expenditures have exceeded the growth cap included in the state’s agreement with the federal government for two years in a row. A Health Share press release last week said Health Share’s partners’ “first preference” is to for the care organization to continue, but “some of Health Share’s partners may submit letters of intent as a precautionary measure.” The only non-Health Share company to apply to serve the entire tri-county region is Moda Health. Moda already sells private insurance to people who don’t qualify for the Oregon Health Plan.
A bill in the 2019 legislative session would allow the names of fallen firefighters to be included in roadside memorials throughout the state. In 2013, the Oregon Department of Transportation approved roadside memorials to honor fallen members of the Armed Forces, and amended the law in 2015 to include public safety officers. Now, the family of a Columbia County firefighter who died in the line of duty is pushing to have the statute amended to include fallen firefighters. The family of Robert Hales, a former Scappoose Fire District volunteer firefighter and EMT who died from a heart attack following a long shift in 2008, proposed the language change to Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 528. “Well, I have been close to all of the people on whose behalf it’s introduced,” Johnson said, acknowledging the names of Robert Hale’s family members. “And I think it’s the same motivation of us wanting to recognize the selfless service of police officers and our military who have lost their lives in service to others.”
In the Jan. 31 issue of the Portland Tribune, state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, fired a warning shot across the bow of anyone who thinks Democrats in the 2019 Oregon Legislature are going to raise taxes without Republican support. Democrats barely have three-fifths supermajorities in both the Senate and House, meaning they can raises taxes by themselves if they all vote together. The budget requested by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown requests $2 billion in new taxes for education. A Democrat-controlled committee says schools actually need an additional $3 billion. But in a signed column in last Thursday’s paper, the famously independent-minded lawmaker wrote, “Get ready to lower your expectations.” “Shortly after Gov. Kate Brown was re-elected in November, she announced work would begin on developing tax and fee increases to raise billions of dollars. Unless there are accompanying restraints in spending, there will be no change in Oregon’s financial condition,” wrote Johnson, who represents Senate District 16 and co-chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The push by Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, to require all larger cites to allow multifamily housing in single-family neighborhoods represents a radical departure from previous state policy proposals. Kotek is co-sponsoring HB 2001, which is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Human Services and Housing on Monday. Feb. 11. According to one article, critical risk buildings includes schools, hospitals and fire stations. High risk buildings include four-plus story buildings on poor soil, or buildings with more than 100 occupants. Medium risk includes all other URM buildings. A timeline for compliance with unreinforced masonry building retrofits would be determined by the risk category, from seven years for critical, to 10 for high, and then 13 years for medium risk buildings.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
The Northwest Forest Plan was a groundbreaking policy to ensure wildlife habitat would not be lost to intensive logging in the western parts of Oregon, Washington and California. Now 25 years in, a new study shows it’s still a good ways off from achieving those goals. The research out of Oregon State University and the U.S. Forest Service examined long-term data on bird species that use different forest types, like old growth and less mature, open-canopy areas referred to as “early seral” forests. Bird populations are closely tied to these specific habitats and can be used by scientists to gauge biodiversity. Unhealthy bird populations often mean overall biodiversity is suffering as well. With the Northwest Forest Plan’s (NWFP) focus on preserving and increasing the acreage of mature forests, researchers expected the birds that use these habitats to increase accordingly. But the data showed bird populations are still declining. Severe wildfire is a major culprit for this. For example, the 2002 Biscuit Fire in southwest Oregon burned through a half million acres, largely in wilderness areas. That year, the region covered by the NWFP lost about 100,000 acres — or 156 square miles — of older forest. The agency released a comprehensive review of the forestry, ecosystem and other applicable science that’s come out since the plan went into effect 25 years ago. It covers a broad range of issues, from climate change to wildfire and new threats to endangered species, such as the spotted owl. This “scientific synthesis” is currently not available online “due to a lapse in government funding.”
A measure pending before the Legislature, House Bill 2075, would establish a development readiness program within the Department of Land Conservation and Development to assist local governments with land use goals relating to housing and economic development. What will that mean for the city of Albany? “We’re not sure,” said City Manager Peter Troedsson. The bill would create a program within the state department to provide “financial, technical and other assistance” to local governments to implement or pursue land-use planning goals. It cited the state’s ongoing housing crisis, noting that out-of-date land-use studies, comprehensive plans and limited funds have created barriers to solving the housing problem. If that sounds familiar in Albany, here’s why: Earlier this month, the Albany City Council heard a presentation by Public Works Engineering and Community Development Director Jeff Blaine on the city’s lack of planning for long-term development. Blaine told the council that little work has been done recently to examine the city’s need to prepare for a growing population and continued development, and that his department wanted to “get the ball rolling.” But that sort of planning requires resources, and both Blaine and Troedsson pointed to an eliminated staff position and budget cuts as a reason why the work had fallen behind.
When Lindsey Austin had her second daughter eight years ago, she felt confident installing her child safety seat. Two years earlier, when her first child was born, she’d taken advantage of a fire station program that taught parents how to do just that. However, once her girls started the transition to booster seats, she found that the program no longer existed. “I decided I would get certified,” she said. While obtaining her child safety seat installation certification through a three-day program, Austin, an engineering project manager for the city of Albany, noticed an entry on former City Manager Wes Hare’s blog. In 2017, Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill 3034, which requires children to remain in rear-facing car seats until age 2, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. “As adults, we know what is comfortable and we assign that to kids,” Austin said. “But kids sitting rear-facing don’t know that they’re not looking out the front window and children who are able to talk will tell us that sitting front-facing with their legs dangling makes their feet go numb.” The most common misuses Austin and her team see are parents who don’t fasten the seat securely, misuse of the seat’s attachments and children being in the wrong seat for their height and weight. Austin will represent the city at one of two national conferences later this year on the subject of car seat safety, either in Louisville, Kentucky, or Orlando, Florida. She plans to leave her position with the city’s Engineering Department later this month but will continue running the child safety seat program.
Umatilla County collected 12 tons of hazardous household waste at its September drop-off drive, topping every other event in the state. The DEQ is suggesting other counties emulate the program. Gina Miller in the county’s planning department planned and coordinated the Sept. 22 free disposal of household hazards ranging from old paint to car batteries to medications. She delivered a report summarizing the event’s outcomes Wednesday to the county board of commissioners. Miller said 502 vehicles arrived that day to the collection area at the Pendleton Convention Center parking lot with 24,000 pounds of hazardous household waste, 38 gallons of needles and 72 pounds of prescription medications. She said the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality reported this was the most successful collection event statewide in 2018. “We succeeded and bypassed all of our goals at this second collection event,” Miller said, referring to the prior event from 2016. These waste collections cost $65,000-$80,000, Miller told the board, but a DEQ grant covered the cost, and contractor Clean Harbors Environmental handled all the waste. Making the event a success, she said, took planning and outreach beginning in April, and buy-in from community partners. Solid waste franchises in the county advertised the event on their billings, and the county sent flyers to churches, doctor’s offices and pharmacies.
The Daily Astorian
The State Land Board has approved the sale of nearly 22 acres at South Tongue Point to Clatsop Community College for its Marine and Environmental Research and Training Station campus. The college will pay the state $826,500 for land on the north side of Liberty Lane it has leased since the 1990s for welding, automotive, maritime science and other career-technical programs. The purchase is funded through the college’s plant fund meant for construction, renovation and acquisition of property. Ali Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Department of State Lands, said the sale will likely close in the next few months. The purchase was a requirement for the college to pursue up to $8 million in state lottery-backed bonds, matched to whatever the college can raise by 2021. A fundraising consultant recently told the college it could only realistically hope to raise about $4 million in a capital campaign by the deadline. The college had hoped to raise $14 million to match with the state bonds and build a new maritime sciences building for its flagship program at an estimated cost of $22 million. “I don’t think we’re planning on scaling back at all,” said Christopher Breitmeyer, the college president. “We’re looking at some other funding mechanisms and talking to various entities to see what we can do to make up for that gap.” The State Land Board also voted to begin due diligence for a sale of more than 100 acres on the south side of Liberty Lane to the Columbia Land Trust. The trust has secured $1.3 million in state and federal grants to purchase the land, roughly encompassing the southern two-thirds of South Tongue Point. The land would be restored into salmon habitat with help from the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce and eventually transferred to the college for use as a living laboratory.
Hood River News
Rep. Greg Walden met with Port of Hood River officials Monday morning to get an update on the port’s current and upcoming projects, including the status of the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge Replacement Project. The informal meeting was a chance for the port to brief Walden on the project’s status, and to get advice on avenues they can explore to find federal funding and to possibly expedite the process. Walden expressed support for the project and commented on the necessity of a working bridge for this area of the Gorge. “This (the bridge) is an essential piece of infrastructure,” said Commissioner Brian Shortt, adding that, considering the dynamics of support for this project and the failing state of the current bridge, “It (the project) deserves to be expedited.” Walden said that one of the port’s biggest assets going forward is the unified support backing the project. The port didn’t present Walden with a specific financial ask, but said that their next hurdle is funding the transition period between the end of the NEPA process and construction — approximately $20 million, said Executive Director Michael McElwee, and asked what forms of federal funding would be available to them. Walden pointed to an appropriations bill being considered in the current session, but said, “If there’s a financial ask for the appropriations bill, you need to submit it now,” and offered help from his office in making that happen. The port didn’t decide on a next step, but Project Director Kevin Greenwood said that he will attempt to get staff members from each of the region’s government representatives together sometime in late March to discuss the project.
A recent Sunset High School alumna, Alexandria Goddard, attended President Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday evening at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Goddard was the guest of Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, whose district includes Beaverton and much of Washington County. “It was absolutely amazing,” Goddard said Wednesday. “I got to meet people who I’m going to have to call heroes. Seriously.” That included Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — Goddard said she got to talk to her about her voter-activism program at Portland State University — and Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia. Goddard helped organize the March for Our Live while attending Sunset. At PSU, she’s in the Honors College and has created an organization, The Agora Theory, to engage young and underrepresented groups in politics. The organization registered nearly 1,000 students in the Beaverton School District to vote over the past two years with its “Back to School, Back to the Ballot” campaign. “Agora” is a Greek word meaning public space. Gun violence prevention has been a top priority for Bonamici and the House Democratic Caucus.
Salem-Keizer Public Schools is in a unique position to address overcrowding and inequities across the district. After securing a nearly $620 million capital-construction bond last year, the district embarked on redrawing school boundaries with those goals in mind. Under Superintendent Christy Perry’s charge, the Boundary Review Task Force was supposed to create a better balance of school enrollment counts and educational opportunities between the district’s six high school feeder systems and align future populations with projected school capacities. Task force members also were told to consider the views and needs of community members from under-served, racially and economically diverse and marginalized groups. Instead of equally distributing resources across the district, they were supposed to make the changes equitable — giving more help to schools and communities with greater needs. Did the task force do what they were supposed to? Technically, yes. Does the final boundary proposal present an equitable solution to Salem-Keizer’s segregated school system? Many argue — no. Under the new boundary plan, which the Salem-Keizer School Board is expected to approve Tuesday, the older, most racially and economically diverse and overcrowded schools will continue as such, despite improvements under the bond program. The newer, more white and affluent schools also will receive building and classroom improvements, but no additional students. That has some patrons from Salem’s and Keizer’s lower-income neighborhoods venting their frustration and disappointment to school administrators and board members. More than half of the district’s 42,200 students identify with a race or ethnicity other than white.
Statesman Journal Guest Opinion
In these long, dark days of winter, wildfire may seem a distant memory. But given the last few years of record-setting wildfire disasters in Oregon and neighboring states, now is no time to forget the risks we face. Today’s wildfires are more disastrous for a variety of reasons – a warming climate, a century of fire suppression and fuel accumulation, and because we are putting more people and homes in harm’s way. Across the country, development is fastest in areas with wildfire potential, making future disasters more likely. Fortunately, a decade of research, post-fire analyses, and laboratory experiments have led to new science about how to avoid such disasters and build wildfire-resilient communities. It starts with where and how we build homes. A few simple, affordable modifications to a home’s roof, walls, windows, deck, and landscaping can be the difference between the home’s survival and loss during a wildfire. For example, home survival increases when built with ember-resistant, finer mesh attic vents, noncombustible gutters, and fire-resistant decking. Maintaining a noncombustible landscaping zone immediately around the home can reduce the likelihood of embers igniting the home. Where homes are spaced closer together, additional strategies become necessary to avoid home-to-home ignition, such as using noncombustible siding and tempered glass windows. Wildfire hazard maps can help land use planners and elected officials determine where to implement such wildfire-resistant building standards. A study released last month by Headwaters Economics found the cost of constructing a home to such standards was roughly the same as a typical home. Using wildfire-resistant materials can have added benefits such as reduced maintenance and longer lifespans.
My fellow frogs, the temperature of our pot has just been turned up again. This according to Oregon State’s fourth annual climate assessment report issued Jan. 24 by the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, which made it clear climate change is no longer something to discuss only as part of the Pacific Northwest’s future. “It’s happening now — and will get more severe.” Time to jump out and cool down? Or shall we continue to bask in the glow of our CO2 and start planning for who gets the water and who doesn’t?