Legislators met in Salem for "Legislative Committee Days" in November. All House and Senate committees met, and the Joint Ways and Means and E-Board met as well. For example, in the House Transportation and Economic Development Committee, we had informational hearings on transportation funding as well as the topic I requested: rail congestion and choke points. To take advantage of so many people already traveling to Salem, I called a couple of extra work group meetings. Activity in the Capitol is many times greater than any other "interim" (in between sessions) week, and the pace is almost like a week during session. I had dozens of brief in-office meetings and phone calls about policy and budget matters. Stakeholder groups, staff, and legislators all seem to appreciate these well-organized opportunities to get our work done.
I've been spending some time in Salem and Portland for meetings on education, health care, human services, and passenger rail. One work group is looking at programs that provide long-term care for seniors and disabled. Another group is looking at opportunities to provide more and better support for schools and teachers, with lower costs to preserve funds for direct classroom support. We'll look for creative partnerships and regional delivery of certain services, such as internet, online textbooks, or technical support. I've also asked for a review of the costs and effectiveness of various grants, loans, and tax benefits intended to attract or keep health care professionals in rural or under-served communities: it's important to spend the money in the best way so that access to primary care, especially, is available.
Back in Eugene: I am so happy I was able to help youth, their families, and the 4J school district! It's hard for kids to learn when they're sick or need help, and the school district is facing tremendous budget pressures. It's great working with the School Board and district staff. Through my legislative and budget work in the last session, school based health centers statewide will receive additional funding and technical assistance. The School Board invited me to a recent meeting to acknowledge the additional help for 4J's own school-based clinics, and also increased funding for mental health therapists that work with school-based health centers.
Cold weather tips and help
EWEB: Simple actions like closing and opening curtains at the the right time of day, and moving obstacles to the flow of warm air, are among the reminders in the EWEB list of 5 no-cost ways to stay warm.
Lane County publishes information on Energy and Weatherization programs for low-income renters and homeowners.
Redesigning the education system. Nancy Golden, former Springfield Superintendent of Schools, has hit the ground running as Oregon's Chief Education Officer. One series of meetings last month was convened for business, civic, and education leaders around the state "to discuss the redesign of Oregon's education system to meet the needs of all learners." I joined Senator Lee Beyer and Rep. Phil Barnhart to talk with Nancy and several others including representatives of Oregon Business Council. I raised several issues including lack of support for technology in the classroom, poor use of data systems, and a fresh look at providing technology, business, and student services to schools through ESD's, regional collaborations, or statewide programs.
Health care. Oregon Primary Care Association presented me with an award last month:
"Thank you for your work being an exemplary partner to promote equitable access to healthcare and services for all Oregonians. We at the Oregon Primary Care Association value your service to the health of low-income Oregonians and the clinics that support their health. OPCA is a non-profit membership organization comprising Oregon's 31 community health centers that operate 201 health clinics statewide. Our member health centers provide coordinated care to 330,000 rural and/or medically underserved patients annually. Community health center patients are primarily on Medicaid or uninsured. You are an OPCA Healthcare Hero for your work in the 2013 Legislative Session!"
Solar energy. Good news about energy and Oregon's economy in a recent issue of the Oregon Solar Review, according to a study performed by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council. And all this in a state not known as a land of sunshine, and with only 1% of the U.S. population!
Oregon has maintained its status as a national leader in the solar industry ... providing friendly metering policy and interconnection rules, and working with manufacturers and developers to encourage them to choose Oregon as their home. There are more than 120 companies earning significant revenue from solar, employing almost 3,000 people. In the second quarter of 2013, Oregon ranked 5th in the nation in solar job creation and in a recent study conducted by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Oregon was named one of the top 4 most solar friendly states in the U.S.
In addition to major manufacturing companies choosing Oregon as their home, there are major renewable energy developers housed in Oregon. Smart Energy Capital, for example, is headquartered in Oregon and arranged financing for the 5.7 MW Solar System installed in Christmas Valley... Oregon is currently ranked #12 in the nation in total PV (photovoltaic) install and #11 in the amount of installed solar net metered capacity.
What's up with the health insurance exchange?
I'm frustrated, too, with reports of slow or non-functioning websites and paper forms replacing the convenience of submitting information online via internet connection. Once the legislature established Cover Oregon as a public corporation, the state's role became limited and minimal. Cover Oregon has its own Board of Directors, and a budget separate from the state of Oregon, without state funds for start-up or ongoing operations. I'm still confident that an insurance exchange, or marketplace, once it's fully operational, will have great value for Oregonians to compare options and shop for the best plan to fit their budget.
So what's wrong with the roll-out of the federal and state health care exchange web sites? Trying to connect unrelated computer systems (connecting a vast state database with separate private for-profit and nonprofit insurance providers) in real time is challenging under the best circumstances. Vendors doing the system design work had a relatively short amount of time to accomplish it.
in the snow
And it was an all-or-nothing rollout: on day one, the whole thing was expected to be live, everywhere, for everyone, rather than a phased in approach for certain pieces, products, or locations. In Oregon, the main player - Oracle, the huge database software developer - has sent the top dogs to get it straightened out, at their expense. Meanwhile, Oregon has already signed up 88,000 people in the fall for insurance coverage beginning Jan. 1, with a creative approach to using information already in other systems to notify those eligible and get their enrollments ready. This alone reduces the number of uninsured Oregonians by 15%.
Note: Cover Oregon reports that they are receiving applications with missing information. If yours is missing information Cover Oregon will call you and/or email you a letter, and asks that you respond as quickly as possible to ensure your application is processed.
Around the district
Manufactured Home Parks. I joined Rep. Val Hoyle and John VanLandingham to talk with manufactured home park residents about our work, hear concerns, and see how we can help. They own their homes but rent the spaces from park owner landlords; it's a tough position to be in. Since this meeting, a legislative work group met again in Salem and finished work on a compromise proposal for the legislature to consider. The proposal revamps the law describing park owners' responsibility to notify residents that the park might be for sale, and residents' opportunity to come together to present an offer to purchase it and preserve their community of homes. I presented the proposal to the House Committee on Human Services and Housing, and the committee will have a bill prepared for the February session.
Seniors. Lane County Senior and Disabled Services partnered with AARP to host a housing conference. About 250 people came to get information on Staying At Home and housing options as we age. Senator Lee Beyer and I discussed a number of legislative and budget actions including those that relate directly to services that help seniors stay in their homes.
Rail for passengers and freight: tracks, routes, and funding. I recently toured track and sidings in and around Eugene with a representative of G&W (Genesee and Wyoming). These tracks are used by short line freight haulers, moving basic materials like flour, plastic pellets and lumber for local manufacturers. We also stopped in at the CORP Locomotive Shop, at the UP rail yard, where locomotives and cars are repaired and maintained. Trains can move four times more ton-miles of freight per gallon than trucks. Moving more freight by train keeps more trucks off the highways. Those are among the reasons why I'm working hard to keep rail "on the radar" and in the discussion as we talk about infrastructure to support Oregon's economy.
I got to talk about rail some more to the members of Lane ACT (Area Commission on Transportation) at their October meeting. The ACT, chaired this year by Mayor Kitty Piercy, includes representatives for bike/pedestrian, environmental land use, freight, the 12 cities, Port of Siuslaw, and others. See Lane ACT. I described my legislative work on the bi-state passenger rail corridor and collaboration with the state of Washington, the legislature's funding for transportation projects, and the tension between providing for immediate needs versus funding for long-term improvements. Also on the panel were Oregon's DOT Rail Division Manager, and the Governor's Policy Advisor for Transportation.
Award-winning NEDCO: Helping people and small businesses
Congratulations to NEDCO (Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation) for winning the Innovator of the Year Award from OMEN (Oregon Micro-Enterprise Network) this November. NEDCO was recognized for the work it does as a private non-profit community development corporation to equip people in need with the tools and resources to succeed through homeownership, business development, and neighborhood revitalization.
Neighborhoods: Their early work included the revitalization and historic preservation of the Whiteaker neighborhood with projects such as the 22-unit scattered site East Blair Housing Cooperative and the Red Barn Marketplace, which includes the Red Barn Natural Grocery and the New Day Bakery. Their work in the Whiteaker neighborhood continues with projects like Red Apple Grocery, Baldwin Market, and expanding into homeownership programs in Eugene, Springfield, and beyond.
Home buyers: Since 1990 NEDCO has developed over 130 quality affordable homes for low-income first time homebuyers, through new construction, house moves, and renovation. With its intensive Threshold Homeownership Education and Counseling Program and its ABC's of Homebuying curriculum, NEDCO continues to work with over 1,200 future first time homebuyers each year at centers in Springfield and Salem. Its successful lease-purchase program and comprehensive homeownership education and counseling program are recognized innovations by both the non-profit and for-profit communities.