August 2014
Dear Friends,
It's been a month packed with visits and meetings of great variety! I'm listing some of here to share with you how rich and interesting this work is.

Organizing a legislative Kids' Caucus.  IDA's - Individual Development Accounts to help low-income people start saving money for the first time.  Science meets business - product pitches at FertiLab from UO's Innovation Entrepreneur program.  Program ideas for OregonAsk summer learning.  How to bring energy conservation help to small business.  Kids in Transition to School (KITS) summer reading program. Behind-the-scenes tour at Lane County Jail and briefing on Search & Rescue. And NYC:

Northwest Youth Corps
  Northwest Youth Corps working at top of Skinner Butte
All of these topics are the subject of legislative work in committee or budgeting, or priorities that I am pursuing.  I've also been to Salem several times for work group meetings on long term care for seniors and disabled persons, regional approaches to education support services and health care in schools. 

Disturbing stories from across the nation and around the world are on my mind, and I know you are concerned as well.  In this newsletter I'm choosing to report some good news that doesn't make it to headlines or just gets lost in the noise.

In This Issue
Health insurance rates
Hard hat tours
Retirement security
Game Trains
See to Read
H.S. grads and job readiness
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Health insurance rates starting to come down
Average health insurance rates will be lower in 2015 for individual and small employer health insurance plans.  The plans cover about 10 percent of Oregonians, including businesses with fewer than 50 employees and individuals who buy their own coverage rather than getting it through an employer.  The Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS) Insurance Division announced the approved rates a few weeks ago, and observed that the lower rates reflect the effect of competition and Oregonians' expanded access to health coverage.

The average monthly premium for an individual standard plan for a 40-year-old in Portland in 2015 is estimated at $250, compared to $262 in 2014. For a similar small employer plan, the average 2015 premium is an estimated $308 per month, compared with $327 in 2014.

The rate changes vary by insurer.  DCBS has published a table showing sample 2015 premiums.
Hard hat tours: new construction at LCC and PeaceHealth
On the left: looking at a big Lane Community College project.  If you've ever visited campus, this is the Center Building with the west side torn down - bringing light, new walls and stairwells to the new CLASS, Center for Learning and Student Success.  The old library will be replaced with a brighter learning commons, bookstore, food services, and student services referral desk. 
LCC renovating a Learning Commons A new Johnson Unit On the right: touring the new Johnson Unit, for treating people with mental illness.  This is a significant upgrade for PeaceHealth's University District campus.  I toured the old Johnson Unit a couple of years ago, and the best way I can summarize what I saw coming together, the physical facility and program supporting it: "It's like night and day."
Saving money for individuals and for the state
I took this photo from the audience at State Treasurer Ted Wheeler's Eugene town hall meeting on retirement security. The appointed task force will make official recommendations soon. Wheeler talked about the need for a retirement savings program that reaches more Oregonians who are not currently participating in a retirement program through an employer or individually.  Such a program should include any employee regardless of how employed, or self-employed, and continue as an employee changes jobs (i.e. portable); be easy to administer, enable automatic payroll deduction, and not require employer participation.  In response to objections that it's risky for the state to get into this new idea, Erika Seiferling said, "it's a risk for the state NOT to do this. So many people will otherwise have to depend on government programs and services when they can't afford housing, medical care, food, and transportation."

Wheeler also announced last month that the Treasury generated savings in excess of $30 million after locking in prices for two revenue bond refunding transactions where the interest rate savings appeared to be strong.  "Refunding" sales allow the state to take advantage of low interest rates in the municipal bond market.  Treasury has now saved more than $80 million since the beginning of 2013, simply by refunding bonds to lower rates.  I've enjoyed working with Treasurer Wheeler on these and other topics that come through my committees in Joint Ways and Means.
Game trains, free bus, and special activities on Duck weekends
Collaboration, enthusiasm, and rolling up sleeves! A year ago I convened a meeting of people from University of Oregon, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Travel Lane County, Amtrak, and more, to talk about getting trains for fans coming to football games in Eugene.  We'd love to have special "game trains" ... and last week's announcement is a first step.  I'm so pleased to see this coming together, with LTD, too!

Amtrak trains and buses will offer a 25% discount on fares to all home games this fall, and passengers can also use their tickets to ride LTD buses for free. The discount generally works the day before and day of the game going to Eugene, and also the day after the game for a return. For the dates and details and to purchase tickets, see the Amtrak website.

Once in Eugene or Springfield, folks can take advantage of Travel Lane County's Duck Downtown events and promotions. Thank you to all of the partners in this effort for making it happen! 

ODOT press release | Amtrak GoDucks website
See to Read
A "Happy Face" on this quick testing tool.
It's important for kids to start school ready to learn.  I spoke with a constituent who told me her experience with Head Start, and we talked about the "soft skills" - like knowing how to get along with other children, how to take turns, and being polite - as well as the ABC's.  Early screening for eyesight is helpful, too. The Legislature passed a bill in 2013 requiring vision screening for children seven or younger, who are entering public school for the first time.

Earlier this month, I visited the downtown Eugene Public Library to watch the See To Read program in action.  Volunteers from Lions and Elks clubs, and this UO intern in a program with OHSU, showed me their work.  While I was there, several kids came away with a report of A-OK, and two others were referred to a health provider for further testing. 
A new idea for test-taking, graduation, and job readiness
We've talked about career skills and Career Technical Education (CTE, or "voc ed") in these newsletters, at the door and at meetings.  Here's an interesting development that will mean a lot to young job-seekers and local employers:

Lane Workforce Partnership connected with over 100 seniors in high school who were not going to graduate last spring as a result of failing the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) test in math and reading.  These students were given the opportunity to take a different test for the National Career Readiness Certificate.  The NCRC test questions are framed in a work setting that is familiar to most test takers.  Instead of an abstract math equation, for example, test takers are often asked to solve a problem regarding profit margins, percentages and square footage based on a real life scenario.

Over 90% of these students passed the test in math and reading, enabling them to graduate from high school with their class.  These students graduated with a high school diploma and a National Career Readiness Certificate, which is recognized by over 180 employers in Lane County and nearly 1,500 employers throughout the State of Oregon.

Sheldon, North Eugene, Churchill, Pleasant Hill, Springfield and 4J's Early College and Career Options (ECCO) School at LCC participate this year.  More Lane County schools are signed up for next year. 

Lane County is setting the pace: other schools across Oregon are taking a serious look at offering this opportunity. 
Summer Intern: Amanda D'Souza
Amanda D'Souza, a graduate student in the UO Planning, Public Policy, and Management program, joined my office as a summer intern. She's been helping with research related to student debit cards, energy efficient trucks, and incentives to recruit and retain primary care health care providers.  Thanks for all of your hard work, Amanda!