GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Oregon’s legislators are halfway around their political track in Salem and major reforms in taxation, environment and education remain in the works. They now have about 90 days to finish their work and go home. Democrats, who dominate the House and Senate, say key proposals have already been passed and turned into law, including first-of-its kind statewide rent control. About 200 bills have made it through, most with no controversy. They honor influential figures and tidy up technical details in existing laws among other steps. Friday, March 29, was a critical day. Legislative leaders mandated that proposed bills were being actively processed or they would die for lack of progress. That could whittle down legislators’ “to do” list considerably.
House Democrats passed a bill Wednesday that would make public agencies in Oregon a far friendlier and sheltered spot for union organizing in the wake of a court decision that has threatened their finances. House Bill 2016 would block public access to employee information and unions’ communication with workers, provisions that conflict with the state’s public records law and would apply whether the employee is a union member or not. It would penalize public employers that allow anti-union communications on their email systems. And it would lock all public employers into a slate of requirements that are currently the subject of collective bargaining between individual employers and unions in each contract period.
Oregon’s chief medical examiner will step down Monday after a short but tumultuous tenure beset by conflict with several top prosecutors and capped by ongoing finger-pointing over who failed to secure a forensic autopsy in the death of an infant who stopped breathing at a Eugene day care. The dispute between state and county officials exposes continued dysfunction despite a 2017 pledge under Oregon Gov. Kate Brown that all child care deaths must receive comprehensive investigations.
Two constitutional amendments next year could bring the most dramatic changes in a generation to how Oregon conducts its elections. But first, they have to pass through the Legislature. The pathway for campaign finance reform looked relatively smooth until it hit a bump Wednesday, March 27. The Senate Campaign Finance Committee approved one proposal that would ask voters whether they want to limit campaign contributions in Oregon’s state and local elections. It did so without the support of the committee’s two Republican senators — including the legislation’s co-sponsor, Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend.
An Oregon lawmaker is taking to the barricades in support of a man convicted of pointing a handgun at a crowd during a “Don’t Shoot” downtown Portland protest in July 2016. But a looming court decision could overturn or vindicate that conviction. Wearing a suit and tie, conservative blogger Michael Strickland sat silently at the desk of Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, during the short speech inside the statehouse on Thursday, March 21. “He acted in self defense but was treated like a criminal,” Thatcher told her colleagues. “Free speech is free speech. We as a body should honor the Constitution’s explicit protections set aside for that.”
More than 50 adults, and about 20 children, ngathered across from the Oregon State Capitol Saturday to “support medical freedom.” Salem’s rally was one of five around Oregon, others taking place in Bend, Medford, Eugene and Portland. The rallies were in opposition of House Bill 3063, which, if passed, would remove a parent’s ability to exempt their children from required vaccinations for reasons other than a medical diagnosis. Melissa Conner, of McMinnville, said she opposes the bill because it would remove personal and religious exemptions for vaccinations.
Albany Democrat Herald
House Bill 2604 and Senate Bill 180 outline the same terms and conditions for $6 million in grant funding for school districts that create programs aimed at stemming bullying and increasing student empowerment. To earn funding, programs would need community partners and include four components: classroom presentations, empowerment groups, school staff training and parent education. Priority, according to the bills, would be given to schools based on geographic equity and to programs that targeted middle school students.
The Salem Keizer Education Association has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Salem-Keizer Public Schools for allegedly discriminating against and unfairly transferring an elementary school teacher, and restricting the union’s access to its members. The complaint was filed with the Oregon Employment Relations Board in early March, but Lillian Govus, director of communications for the school district, said they have not been served and, as a result, have not issued a formal response. Once served, district officials have 10 days to respond to the complaint.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
A federal environmental review has given a preliminary green light to a fiercely contested proposal to build a natural gas pipeline and export terminal in southern Oregon. A draft environmental impact statement released Friday lists more than 130 conditions the Jordan Cove Energy Project would have to meet to minimize its negative effects. As long as those conditions are observed, the report says, the project would not have significant environmental impact.
The purview of transit police could shrink, if a Portland lawmaker concerned about discrimination against low-income TriMet riders has his way. State Rep. Diego Hernandez, a Democrat who represents parts of outer east Portland, testified Monday on a group of bills he has introduced in response to a high-profile arrest — which a Multnomah County judge later ruled to have violated constitutional rights — at a MAX station last year. One of those bills, House Bill 3337, would prohibit police officers from enforcing public transit fares. One of Hernandez’s constituents, Ana del Rocio, was arrested last March after being stopped by a TriMet fare inspector in downtown Portland. A transit police officer at the station questioned del Rocio and asked for her identification.
On a sunny Friday morning, crews in bright orange vests and hard hats run flexible pipe into the ground outside W. Verne McKinney Elementary School. A few traffic cones divert traffic as men with shovels dig and a large industrial boring machine thunders just off the street. It’s the kind of construction work you’d expect in any residential neighborhood on a warm spring day, but the construction site marks the first tangible evidence of the city of Hillsboro’s new fiber optic internet utility, expected to launch in early 2020.
Union Pacific is asking Hermiston employees to do more with less after recent layoffs, and some have expressed concern about safety. The railroad company declined to release specific numbers relating to its workforce reduction at the Hinkle rail yard near Hermiston. But two current employees who spoke to the East Oregonian off the record, due to concerns about how speaking to the media might affect their employment, estimate about 80 employees have been let go since October.
Where a group of teens looked to restore a section of Ashland park land closer to its natural state, an Oregon legislator sees a way to reduce wildfire risks across the state. Making his announcement as he neared a team of seven youth forestry workers gathering branches into burn piles Saturday afternoon at Strawberry Park, State Sen. Jeff Golden announced plans for a statewide youth forestry corps.
As milk prices plummet, Oregon’s largest dairy hopes to cash in on another kind of commodity produced by its cows: Manure. Boardman’s Threemile Canyon Farms is partnering with a Portland investment fund in a $55 million project to convert methane from the waste produced by its 70,000 cows into natural gas, which will be sold to power buses and garbage trucks in Southern California. Because it’s designated renewable energy, the manure-produced biogas sells for 10 times more than fossil fuel natural gas, Threemile general manager Marty Myers told a state Department of Treasury panel last summer, as the company sought tax-exempt state bonds to help pay for the project.
The Legislature’s Democrats might pass a carbon cap-and-trade program that would increase the cost of pretty much everything in Oregon. It’s been on environmentalists’ wish list for years, but in its current form the plan isn’t ready. If lawmakers pass House Bill 2020, Oregon would become the second state — after California — to set up a (mostly) economy-wide cap-and-trade system. Although a straight carbon tax is preferable for several reasons, cap-and-trade systems are a decent alternative. The state would set limits on total carbon emissions. Companies that emit more than a set threshold (25,000 metric tons in this case) would buy allowances. Over time, the state lowers the number of allowances, and that drives up the cost. Companies could trade allowances or, better, install technology to reduce emissions.
When it comes to advocating for their children’s schools, Oregon families are a force of nature. They organize bake sales, car washes and auctions for a fundraising cycle that never ends. They give up national holidays to rally at the state Capitol for more education dollars. And from local school board meetings to legislative hearings, they testify about overcrowded classrooms, understaffed libraries and bottom-tier graduation rates that show just how poorly Oregon is serving its students.
Bev Clarno, 83, an influential state legislator in the 1990s, has been appointed Oregon’s new secretary of state. Gov. Kate Brown made the appointment after a search that lasted nearly a month. Brown said she wanted someone who would focus on the office’s day-to-day operations — not on running for office in 2020. Brown made the announcement Friday afternoon. Clarno, of Redmond, served as Speaker of the House and Senate Republican Leader in the Oregon Legislature. She was also appointed by President George W. Bush as Director for Region 10 of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
A former Central Oregon lawmaker who rose to the pinnacles of power in both the state House and Senate has been tapped as Oregon’s new secretary of state. Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday afternoon that she’s appointing Bev Clarno, a Republican from Redmond, as a replacement to Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who died in February.