GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Gov. Kate Brown’s newly released plan for shielding school districts from debilitating rate increases tied to the state’s pension fund has garnered kudos and outcry since it was unveiled last week. House Speaker Tina Kotek on Monday gave the proposal mixed marks and suggested legislative leaders may bypass Brown’s recommendations. While Kotek found much to agree with in the governor’s proposal — in particular plucking a one-time cash infusion from the state’s bountiful worker compensation fund, known as SAIF, and redirecting the “kicker” tax refund expected to go back to taxpayers next year — she disagreed with one key element.
A national advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Oregon early Tuesday morning, seeking to force leaders to fix deep-seated problems in the state’s foster care system. Lawyers for the 10 plaintiffs, who range in age from 18 months to 17 years old and are all in Oregon foster care, accuse the state of consistently violating the children’s rights guaranteed by federal laws and the U.S. Constitution. The lawyers, who are seeking class action status so they can represent all of the approximately 8,000 children in Oregon’s foster system, point to evidence the problems are widespread and go back at least a decade.
A federal class action lawsuit alleges that Oregon’s foster care system has failed to shield the children in its care from abuse and further neglect. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, says Oregon’s Department of Human Services violated federal and state law by not providing foster kids with permanent, long-term foster homes. The agency has struggled to house its 7,500 foster children and often has no choice but to house children in hotels, homeless shelters and refurbished jail cells. The case is one of the most expansive complaints brought against DHS. The lawyers said they hope the federal court can compel DHS to provide more adequate services. DHS has not responded to request for comment. The agency’s director told lawmakers last week he recognizes the agency has made mistakes, but said those individual slip-ups “don’t constitute a system that is broken.”
Oregon Public Broadcasting
A Nike executive and Portland school board member’s work helping new Secretary of State Bev Clarno transition to the office has led to speculation in recent weeks. Now Julia Brim-Edwards wants to put a fine point on it: Her work there is done. Brim-Edwards said as much in an email she sent the Secretary of State’s Office early Friday — and shared with a reporter. “With your formal and ceremonial investiture completed, your initial round of introductions/re-introductions of state leaders done, and the executive team recruitment nearing completion, your transition from appointee to Secretary is well underway,” Brim-Edwards wrote Clarno. “Given that, you no longer have a need for my assistance with your transition.”
State Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, has been chosen by Secretary of State Bev Clarno to replace a controversial activist as the office’s representative on the state Board of Education. Helt’s new role was one of the highlights of the past week in the Capitol. With 75 days to go before the constitutionally required June 30 adjournment of the 2019 Legislature, lawmakers are jockeying to get their bills a place on the crowded calendar. “With Cheri’s incredible breadth of professional knowledge and previous school board experience in Central Oregon, I have no doubt she will represent this office and all of Oregon’s children well,” Clarno said. Helt said she appreciated Clarno putting “such great trust” in her. “I can’t wait to serve the students and teachers of Oregon.”
Two complaints of sexual harassment by city of Salem employees have been dismissed, with state investigators pointing to a lack of sufficient evidence, according to public records. The complaints, first reported by the Statesman Journal in February, were filed by two workers, Casey Levy and Deirdrie Wade. Letters from the state Bureau of Labor and Industries dated April 9 and 10 stated the complaints, filed with BOLI’s Civil Rights Division, were “dismissed because the Division did not find sufficient evidence to continue our investigation. This is the Bureau’s final determination.”
Ron Wyden covered a lot of ground with Morrow County constituents at his town hall meeting on Sunday. But the focus of the day was health care, with Oregon’s U.S. senator fielding several questions about his thoughts on Medicare for All, pharmaceutical costs and rural health care. Wyden spoke at length about his goal to keep pharmaceutical costs down, and keep manufacturers from inflating prices. He talked about his efforts to hold PBMs, or Pharmaceutical Benefit Managers, accountable for hiking up prices on medications.
In any given grocery store, meat products line the shelf with labels showcasing the terms “natural,” “free range,” and “organic.” However, as more consumers become savvy to the food industry, Larissa McKenna, who is with Food Animal Concerns Trust, pointed out that there is a feeling that these terms aren’t as meaningful because of loopholes in label terminology. “Consumers are asking for it and wanting to know how animals are being raised,” she said. “There’s such a disconnect from the farm and plate that certification comes in handy.” This concern of “greenwashing” is what led Thomas Gillett and Gwynne Mhuireach of Black Tansy Farm to work toward on their application for animal welfare certification. Although they are still considering becoming organically certified, Mhuireach said the label doesn’t represent a farm’s actual practices.
With Oregon’s wolf population growing, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on Monday issued a draft conservation and management plan that established a new timetable involving when wolves can be killed for preying on livestock. The old plan allowed for hunts after two confirmed wolf depredations of livestock in an area. The new plan would allow hunts only after two confirmed depredations within a nine-month period, said Derek Broman, state carnivore biologist. The new plan also includes a hefty section on how to attempt to resolve conflicts involving livestock without killing wolves, which environmental groups prefer, Broman said. The goal of the 160-page proposal remains the same as previous plans issued in 2005 and 2010: “To ensure the conservation of gray wolves as required by Oregon law while protecting the social and economic interests of all Oregonians.”
Albany Democrat Herald
Some pieces of the puzzle to generate an extra $1 billion per year in business taxes to spend on K-12 education are starting to come together in Salem. And, somewhat to our surprise, the proposal might be going hand in hand with some serious thoughts from Gov. Kate Brown about reforming the state’s underfunded public-pension system. A legislative subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, and Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, has been laboring since the start of the session to find ways to raise $2 billion per two-year budget cycle to invest in K-12 schools.
Oregon legislators like to talk about government transparency and accountability. Making those things actually happen can be more difficult. Here’s a timely example. A proposal pending in Salem would allow slapping modest fines on public agencies that fail to respond to public records requests by the deadlines imposed by the 2017 Oregon Legislature. But critics say House Bill 2353 is premature. Those deadlines, they note, didn’t go into effect until 2018. More time is needed, they say, to see whether the new regulations work. They’re wrong. And here’s the proof. If you want to know how many kids at your local high school are on track to graduate on time — and how that compares to state averages — that’s easy. Thanks to a 1999 law, that information is available online at the Oregon Department of Education website. Same goes for how many local students regularly skip school, qualify for free and reduced lunch and are up to date on their vaccinations.
Oregon’s foster care system isn’t broken. Treating it like it is only makes matters worse. Pointing fingers doesn’t help either. If local community members really want to help, I would encourage them to step up, join forces with the Oregon Department of Human Services, and become the second line of defense for children when their families can’t, or won’t, protect and nurture them. I’m not saying constructive criticism of DHS and the foster care system isn’t in order. It is. The system is far from perfect, and it is a wonderful thing when the community at large takes an interest in what is happening and is eager to find better ways to do things.