April 2015 
Dear friends,

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The terrace between
House and Senate
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My goodness, how different our work is from one day to another!  On Tuesday, April 28, the House voted on 21 bills.  On Monday, May 4, we spent more than five hours debating a single bill.  Insider story: no lunch break; we could check in with the Chief Clerk to leave the chamber for a few minutes at a time to get a quick bite to eat in the Speaker's Office.   

Adopting a budget.  The budget will be developed in about 90 separate bills, one for each agency, board, commission, and various budget adjustment and fee bills. The Legislature passed the K-12 budget early, to provide school districts with some certainty about funding for the coming school year, so school boards can start work on their budgets. The funding in that bill sets the "floor" and schools are guaranteed to get at least 40% of all new revenue identified. We have just started working on, and passing, some of the smaller budgets.  Other big budgets are still being reviewed. For K-12, in addition to the $7.255 billion already set for 2015/17 ($600 million more than the current biennum), the state will spend over $1 billion more in other services to school age children, such as physical and mental health services at school, school lunches, library reading programs at local libraries, child welfare, and education and other services for children in residential facilities.

In This Issue
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Important topics getting attention: background checks for gun ownership; teen obesity and smoking
Our mailbox and phone was flooded for several days last week with messages urging me to vote to ban fracking for oil and gas in Oregon.  And for several weeks we've been working through more than a thousand messages and dozens of automated phone calls on the gun purchase background check bill, SB 941. Most of the "yes" messages encourage preventing felons and dangerously mentally ill persons from purchasing a firearm. Most of the "no" messages have a much harsher and sometimes personally threatening tone. Due to common misunderstanding of the bill many argue that it would punish law abiding citizens, take guns away from Oregonians, is part of a socialist agenda, and is an infringement on our rights to keep and bear arms. 

Felons, domestic violence abusers, and others prohibited from buying guns are stopped at stores or gun shows because they must pass a background check, but these same individuals can easily obtain a gun through a private sale where no background check is required. As stated in the House debate, the issue is to balance protecting our communities and respecting the right to own a gun; to balance public safety measures and convenience for gun sellers and buyers.

This is not a vote to restrict, limit, or inhibit responsible gun ownership; it is a vote to close a hole in the background check law, and that's why I supported it.

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A number of newspaper editorial boards are in agreement. The Oregonian states that "Thoughtful steps to help ensure guns are in good hands make sense. SB941 is one such step and should become law. If even one tragedy is avoided owing to its requirements, the extra paperwork, costs and delays will have been worth it".  And the Register-Guard's editorial states: "Polls show that a majority of Oregon voters want expanded background checks. They understand, despite gun-right groups' claims, that universal background checks are the most effective way to keep guns out of the wrong hands."

School testing

In my March newsletter, I discussed a bill that would place a one-year moratorium on using the results of statewide assessments from the 2014-15 academic year for the purpose of rating schools, teachers, or administrators. Also related to school testing, HB 2655 would allow opting out of statewide standardized assessments, for any reason. Currently, a parent or legal guardian of a student in Oregon can opt out only for religious objections or special education needs. The current bill would allow a parent to provide an explanation of why the student is opting out, and the opt-out must be renewed annually. The bill passed the House and is now in the Senate.
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Retirement Security

According to a 2011 study by the Oregon State Treasury, roughly 45% of employed Oregonians do not have access to employer-sponsored retirement plans. More than half of Oregon workers have less than $25,000 in retirement savings and more than a quarter have saved less than $1,000. HB 2960 and SB 615 would help Oregonians save for retirement by creating the Oregon Retirement Savings Board to implement a statewide retirement plan that would be privately managed under their guidance. Employees would be automatically enrolled in the Oregon Retirement Savings Plan with the right to opt out, and the savings account would follow the client through changes of job, unemployment or self-employment.

Health and Human Services Budget: mental health and disease prevention

Funding for mental health services will be a major priority in the health and human services budget. Another important consideration for the budget is funding programs to improve health and prevent disease.  Two specific areas are tobacco use and obesity.  Some new statistics show some good news, and alarming bad news: 
  • After tobacco use, obesity is the second leading cause of death and disability in Oregon
  • Since the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program (TPEP) launched in 1997, per capita cigarette consumption and youth smoking has been cut in half
  • Since 1996, obesity has increased 68% among adults in Oregon. During the same time cigarette smoking has decreased 25%.
  • Since 2001, cigarette smoking among Oregon 8th graders decreased by two-thirds. During the same time period, obesity increased over 40%.
    • Since 2001, cigarette smoking among Oregon 11th graders decreased by half. During the same time period, obesity has almost doubled (an 83% increase)
More of my bills advancing: Protecting college students' prepaid tuition; CARE Act; Raising the bar for justice
CARE = Caregiver Advise, Record, and Enable.  The CARE Act, HB 3378, just passed the House. The goal is to ensure that family caregivers are included as part of the care team when a person is hospitalized. The designated caregiver would receive training through the hospital for the patient's specific needs, decreasing the risk of the patient becoming ill again or re-hospitalized.  As I said to AARP, "I know that family caregivers need help to provide the best care at home they can. This legislation will help ensure better health, better care, and lower costs." AARP is the primary advocate for this legislation, which is being repeated in other states across the U.S. 

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College students' pre-paid tuition 

Last year saw the dramatic and sudden closure of a number of campuses of Anthem, a private, for-profit school operating in several states across the U.S. Then Heald College in Portland closed last week, leaving 306 students without a complete education.  And just last month, the U.S. Department of Education named more than 550 colleges that it has put under extra financial scrutiny because of concerns about management or administration of federal financial aid dollars. Among those listed, five have campuses in Oregon. But for students at those non-exempt institutions, there is no recourse to recover their tuition payments if a school closes or the pre-paid courses are not delivered.  One of my bills, HB 3516, would allow the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to identify bonding requirements, as necessary, when an institution is failing to demonstrate financial soundness.  A surety bond or line of credit would be kept in place for reimbursing pre-paid tuition if the student isn't going to get the courses that they paid for.
Raising the bar for justice statewide

Did you know that local court judges handling criminal cases have the ability to sentence wrong-doers up to a year in jail, yet aren't required to have a law degree, or any training in law? And that there is no required record for criminal proceedings in local courts?  Many of Oregon's 180 municipal and justice courts handle a lot of "violations" -- primarily traffic or local nuisance ordinances.  But many of them also handle some criminal cases such as assault, DUI, theft, sexual misconduct and animal abuse. To raise the bar for justice statewide, regardless of what kind of court it is, I've introduced a bill to require that judges have a J.D. or complete at least a course in Courts of Special Jurisdiction from the National Judicial College within a year of being elected, and that criminal proceedings be recorded.  The bill passed the House 42-16-2.
Budget hearings around the state
Notes from the Joint Ways and Means Committee hearings in Lincoln City, Gresham, Beaverton, and Springfield: Typically, more than 150 people attend each hearing, and we had time to hear from about 50.  Several themes emerged, with the preponderance of testimony urging funding for:
JWM budget hearing Lincoln City
Budget hearing in Lincoln City

K-12 education, including Career Technical Education and school physical and mental health services; holding down tuition at universities and community colleges; wages for home care and personal support workers taking care of seniors and disabled persons, adult foster home providers; and case workers for social services.

Also mentioned:  OSU extension services and 4-H; habitat and watershed restoration, biologists, research, and field work for water, fish, and wildlife; transportation; OSU's marine studies initiative; Legal Aid; CASA; Relief Nurseries; Farm to School; Health Care For All; and Individual Development Accounts, the savings for low-income Oregonians.  A few special comments stood out: concern for children of incarcerated parents; and the manufacturer of Nutcase Helmets speaking about the benefit of Grow Oregon business help.
Rome, Tokyo, Paris, and ... Eugene!
TrackTown 08
The 2021 World Championship Games of the IAAF is coming to Oregon! Eugene now joins Rome, Tokyo, Paris, Osaka, Helsinki, Seville, Athens, Beijing, Berlin, London and other host cities.

IAAF is the International Association of Athletics Federations. This is the first time in the three-decade history of the IAAF World Championships that the contest will be held in the U.S. 

A big deal:  This will be the largest sporting event in the world for that year.  Nearly 2,000 participants will represent up to 213 countries.  This will be Oregon's third IAAF championship event in seven years: 2014 World Junior Championships in Eugene, and Indoor Championships for 2016 in Portland.

Congratulations to everyone who participated in presenting the bid to the IAAF - and welcome, world!
In the office: Public records and privacy
H280 FullHouse
Full House at H-280:
legislative aides and interns at work
Public records and privacy

Several weeks ago, our office - and the office of every other legislator - received a public records request from a citizen asking for the names, titles, and email addresses of the office staff, and email addresses for any list used to distribute a newsletter. I am concerned about this request for your email addresses. 

I am pleased to supply the topic and information of email that I receive and send, as part of the public record; it's useful in understanding what information is used as part of the public process and deliberating toward legislation.  I do not, however, think we should be giving an individual the email addresses of everyone with whom we correspond. I have not provided email addresses, or names or other identifying information, about the constituents and others who are receiving my newsletter, or who write to me urging me to vote for or against a bill, or for help with a problem.  I do not want to expose you to being put on other lists for other purposes.

Interns coming and going

This is the last month for our Willamette University interns Caty Priebe and Izzy Peña-Venegas. Caty is finishing up her last year of college and will be graduating in May with a degree in politics. Izzy just began her college experience and is still weighing her choice of major, politics or international studies. We thank these two hard working students for their commitment this session and wish them well.

Meanwhile, Luca Perer joins us for the next two months. Luca graduated with a double major in Finance and Marketing at the University of Washington Bothell campus, and will be helping me track details in the Human Services budget as well as working with correspondence, constituent inquiries and advocate meetings.
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Representative Nancy Nathanson | PO Box 41895 | Eugene | OR | 97404