Senator Michael Dembrow
Democrat - District 23 - Portland
Capitol Phone: 503-986-1723
District Phone: 503-281-0608
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE, S-407, Salem, Oregon 97301
District Address: 2104 NE 45th Ave. Portland, OR 97213
2009 Session Recap
July 14, 2009
Friends and Constituents,
The 2009 session of the Oregon State Legislature came to a close two weeks ago. It was the end of six months of committee work, floor sessions and seemingly non-stop meetings with constituents and advocates, and of course lobbyists. Phew! And, for me, it was back to work of a more familiar kind--the beginning of my summer term of teaching at PCC Cascade.
SESSION IN REVIEW
With the 2009 session in the rearview mirror, it’s time to offer a brief recap of the 75th Oregon Legislative Assembly.
This was a session dominated by budget difficulties. With the reality of a $4 billion shortfall hanging over our heads, we first had to struggle to balance the current biennium’s budget, then do the even more difficult job of dealing with the 2009-11 biennium. We were obliged to keep spending on new programs to an absolute minimum, which was particularly frustrating when we could see that the new programs would save us money (as well as do necessary things) in the long run. Still, I feel that we accomplished a great deal this session, achievements that will benefit Oregonians for years to come.
While I don't have room here to list all of the things that happened, let me highlight some of the major bills that the Legislature passed in 2009:
A HEALTHIER OREGON
HB 2009 and HB 2116 enacted the recommendations of the Oregon Health Fund Board, a process that began over two years ago. With the passage of these bills, we will be ensuring that an additional 80,000 children and 35,000 low-income adults will be covered by the Oregon Health Plan, while putting in place new cost-containment measures to help provide health care more efficiently. These bills will also bring Oregon an additional $2 billion in federal dollars for health care. My office was instrumental in seeing that part of the core mission of the new Health Authority will be development of the healthcare workforce.
SB 316 requires insurance companies to continue providing routine care to patients who participate in clinical trials, ensuring that no one will lose their basic medical coverage because they enroll in a clinical trial. SB 701 creates a loan repayment program for nursing instructors to help address the need for more faculty to train our nursing workforce. HB 2726 requires chain restaurants to post nutrition information, including calories, directly on their menus for every menu item. HB 3450 mandates that landlords must install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in all rental units.
HB 2186 will establish a low carbon fuel standard in Oregon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. HB 2626 makes it easier for homeowners and businesses to do energy-efficient retrofits to conserve the use of energy, save utility ratepayers money, and encourage the development of renewable energy. HB 3298 extended new protections to the Metolius Basin to preserve this amazing area and protect it from new development. SB 596 bans the use of a type of flame retardant (DECA-BDE) that is a potential carcinogen, and encourages the use of safer alternative retardants that are already in common use.
With SB 5540 and SB 5554, we passed a $6 billion K-12 budget that will protect our local districts from the need to cut days from their school year. We were also able to protect funding for our community colleges and public universities from the devastating cuts that were initially proposed. SB 5519 maintains critical investments in Head Start, reaching out help prepare more than 6500 preschool children for success in their education. HB 2011 allows Oregonians over the age of 65 to audit college courses for free, increasing diversity on our campuses and quality of life for seniors.
HB 2867 and HB 2500 introduce new levels of transparency and accountability for government contracts, and new standards for government agencies that want to contract-out work that could be done in-house. The legislation also sets up a one-stop website where the public can access information about how state agencies are spending our tax dollars.
HB 3405 and HB 2649. Regarding taxation, we were at long last able to raise the corporate minimum tax, so that all corporations will be paying for the public services that they use. And we were able to base it on ability to pay, so that small businesses will be paying a much lower rate than large ones. In addition, we were able to increase the income tax rates on income earned by households and corporations above $250,000 per year. Together, these increases prevented nearly $800 million in cuts to vital services, and will allow for much-needed investments in education once we get out of this recession. Also, HB 2607 will sunset all tax loopholes after six years, making it easier for us to get rid of those that are a useless drain on the budget.
HB 5054 allocates $800,000 to support the ongoing work of the East Metro Gang Enforcement Team, which investigates gang-related crimes in East Multnomah County. With HB 2508, we were able to maintain 24/7 coverage of State Troopers on our highways. SB 570 and SB 728 continued our commitment to crack down on meth abuse and related crimes like metal theft by increasing penalties and fines. HB 2426 and HB 2870 will help keep dangerous drivers off the road by increasing penalties for DUI cases where the driver had a blood-alcohol level above .15, and by permanently revoking the driver’s licenses of people convicted of vehicular homicide or manslaughter.
TAKING CARE OF OUR SENIORS
SB 5529 increases funding for Oregon Project Independence, the popular program that helps seniors stay in their homes by providing in-home care services. HB 5054 provides funds to increase transit options and access for seniors and people with disabilities. SB 287, HB 2138 and HB 2442 establish new rights for residents of nursing homes, adult foster homes and residential care facilities, while providing the Department of Human Services with the authority to take aggressive actions against facilities that are allowing abuses to continue.
While I was involved in the development and passage of many of these bills (HB 2009 and HB 2116 in particular), there were also some major victories on bills that I sponsored and helped shepherd through the process. Among them:
SB 767 sets quality standards for online “virtual” public charter schools, and establishes a task force to study and make recommendations on how best to ensure quality and financial accountability for this new form of learning. SB 519 protects workers from having to attend mandatory meetings that are called for the purpose of discussing their employer's opinions on politics, union organizing, or religion. HB 2578 cracks down on abusive towing practices and introduces new regulations to protect Oregonians from “patrol towing.” HB 2557 is a bill that was particularly important to me personally. It will allow hundreds of part-time college and university faculty across the state to purchase high-quality health insurance at an affordable group rate, based on their work at one or more institutions. The bill will also require the institutions to report annually on their use of part-timers, so that we can make progress on fighting against exploitation of these valuable professionals.
We’ll be giving you more information on these and other bills—both those that succeeded and those that did not—in future newsletters.
Aside from legislation, my main goal heading into the session was to establish a strong connection to constituents. I'm proud to say that I was able to stick to our goal of sending out an email newsletter every week throughout session. I also held two major town halls, as well as a first-of-its kind “town hall on two wheels” bicycle tour of the district. In addition, we had constituent events at coffee shops in the district twice a month. That's on top of the thousands of emails and phone calls that my staff responded to over the last six months.
I’ve received lots of positive reaction to our outreach program, but I know that there’s so much more to be done. It’s critical that Oregonians feel included and engaged in the legislative process, and that they see their representatives as advocates and problem-solvers. So, heading into the interim, I'm going to increase my presence in the district and continue to work toward better communication with constituents.
Best wishes for a safe and fun summer,