GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
The Oregon Legislature is considering 46 bills that would limit access to public records, including documents related to state investigations, trade secrets, personal medical information, election security, crime victims’ identities and more. The reasons for limiting public disclosure of these documents are enumerated in so-called open-government impact statements that, for the first time during a regular legislative session, are required to be completed for every bill introduced. When the Legislature took on Oregon’s public records exemptions in 2017, one of the bills it passed created the Oregon Sunshine Committee. The group is tasked with reviewing all of the state’s public records disclosure exemptions.
Imagine a day when you could go to a Portland Trail Blazers or Timbers game and in addition to spending $20 on a burger and Coke you could wager $100 on the game. That day could be fast approaching as Oregon Lottery officials intend to launch sports wagering in time for football season. The lottery hopes to put the state at the forefront of a national sports betting bonanza after a U.S. Supreme Court decision last May cleared the way for every state to get into the business. Local lottery officials warn Oregon is a relatively small market. But even here, they expect the handle will hit $330 million in the first year and more than double to $680 million by the third. That’s an enormous number given the lottery’s total annual revenue in 2018 was $1.3 billion.
The long debate over a highway cutting across rural Washington County to bypass congestion on roads and freeways has stretched into 2019. State legislators heard testimony last week on Senate Bill 413, which would put the ability to finance and build public highways in the hands of local government, giving them the authority to create special highway districts. Districts would build and maintain highways within their boundaries. They could also use eminent domain, establish tolls and sidestep local regulations and land-use decisions. The legislation was requested by former state Rep. Rich Vial of Scholls, who served one term in the House and chairs the Washington County planning commission. Vial has long championed a highway between the Wilsonville and Hillsboro areas.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Vancouver city officials pictured travelers to the 2010 Winter Olympics leaving only water vapor exhaust in their wake. But Oregon and Washington didn’t warm to the idea. There are still no public fueling stations for hydrogen cars in either state. (Schwarzenegger replaced his hydrogen-fueled Hummer with an electric Mercedes-Benz SUV in 2017.) Today, automakers Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes make hydrogen fuel cell electric cars in very limited numbers. None of their Pacific Northwest dealers currently stock or sell those models to local drivers. Nevertheless, Toyota is laying the groundwork to bring its hydrogen-powered vehicles to the Northwest.
The Portland Aerial Tram could eventually have some company on unusual transportation mode island. Aside from figuring out how to pay for an estimated $2.7 billion light rail line through Southwest Portland to Bridgeport Village, one of the main quandaries facing planners is how to connect riders disembarking trains at Southwest Barbur Boulevard with Oregon Health & Science University and surrounding campuses atop Marquam Hill.
Developers would be able to build in wetlands more cheaply and quickly if three bills in the Oregon Legislature are approved. The legislation would reduce the amount of wetland mitigation required in some cases, streamline the permitting process and create a pilot program to create a local mitigation bank. Backers say the bills will help address Oregon’s housing crisis and spur economic development. “As much of our valley is wet and delineated as wetlands, we are at a disadvantage when trying to develop new housing, economic opportunity or industry,” Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber said during public testimony on the bills.
Operations at Oregon’s only crude oil export terminal went off the rails on Earth Day weekend — after activists blocked all train traffic leading to the Northwest Portland facility. Extinction Rebellion protesters dumped topsoil and planted a “Victory over fossil fuels Garden” on and adjacent to the train tracks as early as 6 a.m. on Sunday, April 21. By mid-day, a tiny house, large globe and a crowd of at least 100 had sprouted outside the Zenith Energy terminal, 5501 N.W. Front Ave. A BNSF oil train was turned back from the rail spur around 9 a.m. Activists say they plan to occupy the site indefinitely. “We are here to demand from our political leadership, at the city and county level, that they take effective action to end Zenith terminals,” said Corbett resident Ken Ward, whose well-known exploits include a 2016 arrest for activating the Trans Mountain pipeline emergency shutoff valve.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
When you step into Kate Tibbitts’ kindergarten classroom at Lava Ridge Elementary in Bend, it feels different. Instead of bright colors and posters all over the walls, the tones are neutral and muted. The only materials hanging are intentional — a line of small pictures in a row pinned behind the reading table. Each picture has a different animal and advises kids to “ask for help” or “make connections.” Almost every piece of paper is at eye-level for kids, designed to help them feel calm and focused — and ready to learn. The classroom looks like this because of Kendra Coates. She’s the director of early education up to third grade at Oregon’s High Desert Education Service District, where she is part of a regionwide initiative to help teachers better teach social-emotional skills, such as self-awareness and relationship-building.
Gov. Kate Brown says she is not willing to kick the PERS can down the road any longer. But her plan for rescuing PERS would do just that. A generation of students would pass through our public schools by the time Oregon’s public pension crisis was fully resolved. That drawn-out solution depends on future legislatures and governors remaining committed to Brown’s strategy. And while Brown focuses on schools, the state and local governments will continue struggling with their ever-growing obligations to the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System. As pension costs climb, schools and agencies too often are forced to cut jobs and reduce services so that savings can pay for PERS. Fully funding PERS will require meaningful reforms, including the option for public employees to make a complete switch to a 401(k)-style plan.
Albany Democrat Herald
With about two months remaining in the legislative session, we’ve reached the point at which the focus is narrowing onto the biggest and most contentious issues in the Capitol — and at least some Democrats are starting to sense that, despite their super-majorities in both chambers, they may not be able to win approval for all the items on their agenda. In that light, it was interesting to note this comment from Speaker of the House Tina Kotek in a recent story in The Oregonian: “We only have so many super-majority votes in our pocket.” So, the question at this point becomes this: Where will legislative leaders choose to use those votes? Which agenda items will rise to the top? Which ones will be set aside? And how long can Democrats maintain those super-majorities, the three-fifths edge in each chamber that will allow them to pass revenue bills without the benefit of a single Republican vote?