GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Portland Business Journal
A public hearing in the Oregon House turned tense on Tuesday, as a veteran committee chairman lashed out at two lobbyists and was later scolded by a newly elected representative. The House Committee on Health Care was taking testimony on five bills designed to rein in prescription drug prices, including one that would allow importation from Canada. During a discussion of House Bill 2658, which would require drug makers to give a 60-day advanced notice for certain price increases, Chair Mitch Greenlick chimed in. Greenlick later added that they appeared to be “stupid.” He promptly closed the hearing, then reopened it almost immediately because a committee member wanted to ask a question. At the end, Greenlick apologized — but not to everyone. “I want to apologize to you for my outburst,”Greenlick said to his colleagues. “It’s not appropriate behavior on the part of the chair. I don’t apologize to pharma.” Those sentiments didn’t satisfy Rep. Christine Drazan, a Republican from Canby who was elected just last year. “We’ve been through extensive training about equity and a respectful workplace and what I’ve seen here today troubles me deeply,” Drazan said. “What I saw today was an expression of power that demeaned other people, that is inappropriate and below this body. I recognize passions get the best of us. The most important thing we can do moving forward is not to justify this behavior.” Greenlick shot back: “I would appreciate if you came to me in private rather than showboating here.” To which Drazan retorted, “You showboated here.” Later, she said she could “absolutely work with” Greenlick going forward. “I was standing up for people who come before this committee,” she said. “This is the people’s building and we do the people’s work. They should feel safe and respected. I have no doubt he was sincere in his apology, and it won’t happen again.”
The first public hearing on a series of bills designed to lower the cost of prescription drugs in Oregon became heated Tuesday afternoon after House Health Committee Chairman Mitch Greenlick pushed representatives from two medical biotechnology organizations on why pharmaceutical companies couldn’t give the state and consumers a 60-day warning on prescription drug price increases. “OK, let’s say it’s a stupid solution,” Greenlick said, referring to the bill. “What’s the problem with giving a 60-day notice?” Lohmes said the final price of a drug includes rebates and discounts that drug companies negotiate with insurance companies and pharmacies. The wholesale price set by the drug companies doesn’t reflect that final price. He blamed insurance companies and pharmacies for not passing on the savings to customers. “There is no problem, except you guys like to play hide the ball,” Greenlick said.
The Lund Report
A rare scene of drama erupted in a House health care committee hearing on Tuesday as the chair and a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry clashed over a fairly straightforward bill that would require greater transparency on the part of drug manufacturers. House Bill 2658 would require that drug manufacturers report some planned price increases to the state Department of Consumer and Business Services at least 60 days before taking action. For brand name drugs, it would affect increases of at least 10 percent or $10,000 over a 12-month period, and for generics it would apply to increases of at least 25 percent or $300 over the same period. Committee member Christine Drazan, R-Clackamas County, said she appreciated the apology, but was disturbed by what she called an “abuse of power” used to belittle others. Drazan said legislators are increasingly trained on their conduct in office and that Greenlick’s words reflected poorly on Capitol culture. In response, Greenlick said he would have preferred that Drazan air her grievances in private instead of “showboating” in front of a public audience. This led to a heated exchange between the two that continued after the hearing’s formal adjournment and did not end until Nosse stepped in to separate them.
Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney has held the gavel for 16 years. It’s one reason he’s named in the lawsuit against former state senator Jeff Kruse. Courtney is one of the named defendants in a lawsuit filed by two former interns in the Oregon State Legislature that accuses Kruse of repeated sexual harassment. The lawsuit also alleges that legislative leaders, including Courtney, failed to prevent the harassment. Courtney is Oregon’s longest-serving member of the legislature with a total of 34 years in the House and Senate. He understands the culture here as well as anyone. “This will be a different place when we sine die on June 30 or earlier in terms of workplace issues,” he said. “It will be a different place.” One of the specific changes involves how sexual harassment is reported. A special division within the legislature will be set up to take complaints.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Lawmakers in both Oregon and Washington are considering bills that would ban single-use plastic bags statewide to reduce plastic pollution. Right now, bills in both states would prohibit retailers from giving out single-use plastic check-out bags and require them to charge a 10-cent fee on paper bags. Washington lawmakers have already passed two versions of the bill out of the committee. Oregon’s House Committee on Energy and Environment took up the bill on Tuesday. A statewide law could replace local ordinances that also ban plastic bags. Bill co-sponsor Rep. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, said paper bag use in Portland increased by nearly 491 percent after the city banned plastic bags. She and other supporters say the fee will encourage people to bring reusable bags while dramatically reducing the amount of plastic polluting waterways, harming wildlife and clogging up machinery in recycling facilities when people mistakenly put plastic bags in their recycling bins.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Discussions among top education leaders and Gov. Kate Brown started Tuesday with the same chicken-or-the-egg dilemma that has faced Oregon for years. The state’s schools are short on money. Yet educators’ struggles to manage the resources they do have keep interfering with political efforts to find more. Brown met with a collection of educators, advocates and administrators in the wake of a state audit that criticized fiscal management at both the Oregon Department of Education and Portland Public Schools. The governor has been pushing legislators to find more money for education this year, and she told the education leaders that “the dynamics of the money on the table” calls for “tightening standards.”
The Bend Bulletin
he Bend area’s two first-term Republican House members went separate ways on Tuesday’s vote on a bipartisan bill to partially fund Medicaid in Oregon. House Bill 2010 passed 44-15. Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, was among six Republicans who joined with Democrats in support of the bill. Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, was among 15 Republicans voting “no.” The bill now goes to the Senate. The bill would plug just under half of the estimated $900 million funding gap in the Oregon Health Plan. “My vote didn’t come without concerns,” Helt said. “The funding is not finished yet. We still have a gap.” “It’s hard enough for schools to pay for everything else, they don’t need the additional cost,” Zika said.
Christine Bynum, 17, can be charged and sentenced as an adult, drive on interstates with adults, work and pay income tax, but she can’t vote. Bynum, daughter of state Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, went to the Capitol on Monday to urge legislators to change that. “If I can be tried as an adult, why can’t I vote like an adult?” said Bynum, who attends La Salle Prep in unincorporated Milwaukie, during a press conference Monday, Feb. 18, at the Capitol. “I pay income tax like an adult. I drive like an adult. I can be charged and sentenced as an adult. Why is something so important such as voting limited to people who are our present and not our future?” State Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-East Portland/Happy Valley, has proposed legislation to place a measure on the Oregon ballot in November 2020 to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote. It could make Oregon the first state to open up voting to people younger than 18, Fagan said.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler says he’s exploring his options to try to block the growth of a terminal that unloads oil train cars in North Portland. Zenith Energy, tucked between the river and Forest Park in the city’s northwest industrial district, began receiving train shipments of crude from Canada’s oil sands last year, records show. Now there are obvious signs of construction underway; the company is building three new rail platforms used to offload oil. The expansion could more than double the number of oil trains that pass through Portland. The company received permits and approval for the project in 2014, but since then public awareness and opposition to oil train shipments has grown.
The Bend Bulletin
Deschutes County’s top legislative priorities include getting the county another judge and killing a bill that would prohibit the county from charging new marijuana growing operations for the impact they’ll have on county roads. County commissioners went through a list of bills during a work session Wednesday and picked the ones they think Deschutes County should lobby for or against. The marijuana system development charge prohibition, a bill increasing the number of judges and a bill that would let Redmond add affordable housing outside city limits topped the county’s list.
With his position as the head of the Pendleton School District secure for at least another year, Superintendent Chris Fritsch is engaging in the education funding debate that should be a focal point of the current legislative session. The Pendleton School Board approved extending Fritsch’s tenure through the end of the 2019-20 school year on Feb. 13. On Tuesday, the East Oregonian published an editorial column in which Fritsch implored lawmakers to fund K-12 education at an adequate level and provide districts with enough flexibility to spend the funding in the areas where they need it the most.
Ashland City Council overruled Mayor John Stromberg’s veto Tuesday night on an ordinance to allow Uber and Lyft to operate in Ashland. The changes will go into effect in 30 days after Tuesday’s 4-2 vote, and it does not require the mayor’s signature. The council tried to negotiate with the transportation network companies to provide stricter requirements for drivers that are more closely aligned with what taxi cab companies use, including more in-depth background checks and requirements to have vehicles that can transport wheelchairs. But the companies wouldn’t budge, and after more than a year of trying to negotiate, the majority of the council felt that it was worth settling on the companies’ terms. The ordinance originally passed with a majority vote Feb. 5, but the mayor vetoed it Feb. 10, citing a list of concerns, including large corporations paving their way into Ashland and their impact on local taxi companies.
The Bend Bulletin
New arrivals to Oregon sometimes have a hard time figuring out how state government works. For instance, the state has a $26 billion unfunded liability for its future pension costs. That means schools and other government entities can’t do as much teaching, road paving and law enforcing as they would otherwise. Why not? Because year after year, they almost inevitably have to pay more and more into the state’s Public Employees Retirement System to deal with runaway costs. Schools in Oregon already have a future PERS shortfall of some $9 billion. Their PERS costs are likely to go up by $375 million over the next two years, and costs will continue to rise after that. Gov. Kate Brown would like to increase school funding. She is hoping to get some $2 billion more into the schools with new taxes on businesses. But to make that $2 billion a real increase she would also need to find a way to add in another $3 billion just to keep up with projected PERS increases through 2021, according to The Oregonian. Ideally, policymakers would look at the PERS problem from two angles. First, what can be done to pay the liability down? Second, what can be done to reduce the cost drivers that created a $26 billion unfunded actuarial liability?
Minority Leader Baertschiger is a Republican who represents District 2,
which spans Josephine and northern Jackson County. Sadly, with the
Senate passing statewide rent control, Senate Bill 608, we can see the
beginnings of a new way of governing here in Oregon. Democrats now have
the supermajority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Portland Democrats can pass anything. Period. SB 608 is the first
example of this new way of governing. There were no amendments allowed.
No ideas from the minority party were heard. Only Democrats had their
say. The bill was passed out of committee with three Democrat “yes”
votes, and two Republican “no” votes. This bill has been on the fast
track from the start and went to the floor of the Senate where it passed
without any Republican votes. This is the first statewide rent control
measure in Oregon — and in the United States — passing without
bipartisan participation or consideration of different ideas. Oregonians
may not recognize it, but the state is changing the way it governs.
Democrats are not changing the constitution, but they are slowly
shifting power and authority to the executive branch.