GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Republicans in the Oregon state Legislature are outnumbered. Democrats enjoy supermajorities in the House and Senate. They have a governor (who isn’t seeking re-election) in Mahonia Hall. From the start, Democrats made it clear they saw this legislative session as an opportunity to pass a progressive agenda, from raising $2 billion in taxes to fund schools to ushering through a cap-and-trade program aimed at curbing carbon. “The big issue with us [is] we went a number of months without being consulted on any of the major policies being debated here,” said House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass. “And only after we went to bill reading did we get someone coming to us and say, ‘OK, this is getting bothersome, what will it take to make you stop this?’”
Republicans have forced a clerk in the Oregon Legislature to read aloud every word in nearly every piece of legislation, giving granular details about farm loans, motor vehicle taxes and other government minutiae as the minority party uses the stalling tactic to try to gain leverage. Democrats have supermajorities in both the state Senate and House, and Republicans are using the strategy to push their own initiatives and weaken Democratic ones. Lawmakers in statehouses and in Congress have a history of turning to delay tactics — sometimes imaginative ones — to stall or kill legislation.
Legislative budget writers are preparing a backup plan in case lawmakers and the governor don’t finish up their work by the end of June. While that plan, known as a continuing resolution, is a routine part of the legislative process, it comes as Republicans in the Oregon House continue to slow the pace of work by requiring bills to be read in their entirety. With a new budget cycle starting July 1, any state agency without an approved budget would have to close its doors. House Bill 5048 would allow those agencies to continue operating at the spending level approved in the just-expired budget. The money they spend would effectively be borrowed from the new budget, once approved.
About a dozen teachers convened Tuesday morning at the Oregon Capitol to oppose a piece of legislation they say will siphon money from their retirement accounts. State lawmakers are considering Senate Bill 1049, which would divert retirement contributions from the accounts of public employees to help pay down the public employee retirement system’s $27 billion debt. If the bill is signed into law, most public workers would see a 1-2% reduction in their overall retirement benefits, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. The bill passed the Senate on May 23 in a narrow 16-12 vote, with three Republicans joining 13 Democrats in voting for the bill. Tuesday was the first reading in the House, and a floor vote is expected sometime this week. Teachers, union officials and others who oppose the bill say it unfairly targets public employees. They’ve also expressed concern that if the bill passes, it would pave the way for future lawmakers to make similar benefit cuts.
Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday signed a bill into law that lowers the degree requirement for child welfare caseworkers. Under House Bill 2033, Oregon can now hire as caseworkers people who hold associate’s degrees and have completed “additional training or additional certification in human services or a field related to human services.” State law previously required workers who investigate reports of child abuse and make decisions about whether to remove children from their families to have earned at least a bachelor’s degree.
It’s one entry in a Department of Human Services’ budget document that’s hundreds of pages long. Written in bureaucratic shorthand, it is virtually incomprehensible. That may be no accident. “CW — Backfill TANF over 15 percent admin cap (pkg 107) — $40 million (maintains 2,240 positions”) The translation? The agency needs $40 million from the general fund after determining that it had spent federal money on staffing and administrative costs – money that was supposed to go to the poorest of Oregon’s poor.
Oregon will require public schools to teach about the Holocaust under a measure sent to the governor. Lawmakers unanimously voted Tuesday to add Holocaust instruction to the school curriculum starting in the 2019-2020 school year. Ten other states require some level of genocide education in schools. A recent poll found that one in five American millennials surveyed were unfamiliar with the Holocaust.
Sen. President Peter Courtney didn’t expect to pass a bill to lower Oregon’s legal drinking limit to .05 blood-alcohol content this legislative session, but the Salem leader wanted to start the conversation. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee did just that. Courtney, the Salem Democrat, got his wish for an informational hearing on his proposal to lower Oregon’s legal drunken driving limit from .08 to .05. “This bill is about changing the culture we live in,” Courtney told the committee. He likened it to the culture shift undertaken in the early 1980s to lower the legal drinking limit from .10 to .08. Courtney introduced the bill in February but started discussing the idea last year. Oregon wouldn’t be alone if it lowered the legal blood alcohol content level; Utah already lowered its limit to .05, a proposal pushed by the National Transportation Safety Board and other organizations.
State Rep. Greg Smith (R-Heppner) may be the best compensated lawmaker in Salem. The high-energy, perennially sunny economic development specialist is the longest-serving member in the state House. The descendant of an Oregon pioneer family, he grew up near Portland, where he became an Eagle Scout and graduated from Barlow High School. Despite his urban beginnings, Smith, 50, long ago adopted the trappings of Eastern Oregon. A sign above the door to his office in the Capitol reads, “My cow died so I don’t need your bull.” Inside the office: a vintage saddle. Smith’s district includes Umatilla, Morrow, Gilliam, Sherman and Wasco counties, and covers great swaths of north Central Oregon: water-starved high desert, rolling wheat fields and, these days, nearly as many wind turbines as people.
Home prices are merely inching higher in the West Coast metros, including Portland, where they once soared. The West has become the vanguard of a nationwide slowdown, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller home price index. Three California metros, Seattle and Portland all lagged the national average for year-over-year growth in March, and national price growth slowed to 3.7% annually, the slowest in six and a half years.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Officials in the city of Myrtle Creek, Oregon, are giving the “all clear” to water that was likely compromised by a nearby fuel spill. Investigators have completed two rounds of testing after evidence that automobile fuel had infiltrated one of the city’s water treatment plants. They concluded Tuesday night that the water is now safe to use and consume. “Although taste and odor effects may linger in the system, the water is safe to use for all purposes,” read a statement from the city’s website posted Tuesday evening.
Students with native or learned ability in languages like Spanish, French, Chinese or Korean could already take foreign-language tests for credit. So with a growing number of Chin students populating Lewisville schools, teachers prodded the district to develop a similar test for those kids to capitalize on an expertise they already possessed. “This is the group, when you look at the percentage of student population that we have, where there were disparities,” said Annie Rivera, Lewisville ISD’s world language administrator. “They had no opportunity to show their skills.” Last fall, the district began working with Avant Assessment, a Eugene, Oregon-based company that develops tests in languages ranging from Vietnamese and Tamil to Amharic and Urdu, to develop proficiency testing for Hakha.
Amazon’s packing and shipping center in southeast Salem should open in August, with about 1,000 jobs that are expected to pay at least $15 an hour. Hiring for the 1-million-square-foot building at 4775 Depot Court SE kicks off in June, Amazon spokeswoman Shevaun Brown said Tuesday. Jobs will range from line workers to management positions. The company in January also was advertising management jobs. Amazon is building the crew “from the ground up,” Brown said. The exact headcount is to be determined, but company officials are still tracking toward the 1,000-worker number, she said.
Billions of gallons of water have been hidden behind the Willamette River Basin’s 13 dams since they were constructed starting in the 1930s. For 30 years, powerful interests including cities, farmers and industry have been slugging it out for access to that water, which has yet to be designated for a use. Fisheries and environmental groups also want a say in how the water is distributed from the dams, operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. We’re talking about stored water — not what flows freely down the Willamette and its tributaries. Who has a right to it, and when, mostly has never been decided. That’s about to change.
Portland has fallen behind in delivering dozens of transportation projects described in a 2016 voter-approved gas tax, failed to provide annual audits or updates to City Council and provided “incomplete, inconsistent, and outdated” to a citizen group tasked with monitoring the projects. That’s according to a report from Portland’s Audit Services division released Wednesday. Auditors examined whether the Portland Bureau of Transportation is living up to commitments made before voters approved a 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax in 2016. According to the report, thus far the results are a mixed bag.
The group working to bring a Major League Baseball team to Portland announced Tuesday that it has extended its contract with the Port of Portland to study its Terminal 2 site for six more months. The Portland Diamond Project released a statement on May 28 that said it will pay the port $37,500 for each month of the additional due diligence period, beginning on June 1. The statement said the underused terminal is still its preferred site to build a stadium for the team it hopes to acquire.