March 2015 
Dear Friends,

The House is working through 1,554 bills that have been drafted by House members (Representatives) and filed with the Chief Clerk. Among those are a couple dozen that I have had written.  Several of mine have already had a hearing, and two have passed the House.  This week is a doozy: five of my bills are being heard in committee, so I've been working on testimony and contacting allies to support each of them. We're also starting to hear bills that started on the Senate side.  One of those we dealt with early on was Senate Bill 1.   

Ladybug Rescue Crew
Time out for tiny creatures: rescuing a ladybug stuck in my office, to take her outside
SB 1 put an end to an unfortunate chapter in our recent health care history that allowed Cover Oregon to function completely outside the system of accountability that we all expect from state government.  Through a number of administrative changes, the responsibilities of the insurance exchange are moved from the outside - as an independent agency - back to the inside.  In my time serving on the Joint Committee on Health Insurance Transition I worked to find the best way to restore accountability and transparency, while making sure that we're not creating barriers between struggling families and the health care coverage they need.

I'm glad that we have moved past Cover Oregon.  I continue working on bills to increase accountability all of our government contracts to ensure that we are using taxpayer dollars in the best way possible. In fact, my bill on Public Contract Accountability (see below) was heard in February, and I hope will move forward this month.

In This Issue
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Drones, Sunscreen, and School tests
Of the 110 bills the House passed in March, I've selected just three of the interesting ones.

Drones, and hunting and fishing. Do you want to see drones chasing down deer? HB 2534 would prohibit the use of drones and unmanned aerial systems in hunting and fishing, which are largely seen as oppositional to the "sporting ethic of fair chase." The bill faced virtually no opposition throughout the process, and is now headed to the Senate.

Sunscreen is okay.  This bill is a good example of a low-profile bill that the Oregon Legislature takes care of to make sure children are safe and healthy.  I had no idea there was a problem with allowing kids to use sunscreen at school, but it was. Kids may spend time outside during the school day, or at school activities, and HB 3041 allows children to wear sunscreen at school, by clarifying that nonprescription sunscreen is not a medication. Childhood exposure to UV radiation is a leading cause of skin cancer, and more than 40% of an individual's exposure to UV rays occurs within the first 20 years of their life.

Cherry Blossoms at Capitol
From the front steps of the Capitol: cherry tree blossoms
Testing at school.  Testing, teaching, learning, and accountability. This has been bubbling up for several years; now it's front and center at the legislature.  Oregon has adopted a test approved by 46 other states and the District of Columbia, and without a standardized test for evaluation, Oregon stands to lose $42 million in federal support for schools.

Since 1991, the state has used the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) to determine student progress. For the 2014-2015 school year, Oregon will move to Smarter Balanced Assessments -the new national test- for English language arts and mathematics. OAKS will continue to be used to assess science and social science until common standards are developed for those content areas.

The debate rages between "teaching to the test" and allowing teachers to help students learn and prepare them for future endeavors. School boards and administrators want to track progress of students, teachers, and schools; meanwhile, some children and parents are boiling over with worry about the new test, which is said to produce a likely 60% failure rate.

House Bill 2680-A is a one-year moratorium that prohibits using the results of statewide assessments from the 2014-15 academic year for the purpose of rating schools, teachers, or administrators. This prohibition applies to the Smarter Balanced Assessment results for that period of time. It also directs the Superintendent to convene a work group to study the current system of assessment and recommend a better approach.   There are plenty of good reasons to want to know how our kids, and schools, are doing.  But there's an awful lot of people concerned about the current direction.  We need to pause and get to the bottom of it.
A few of my bills:
More accountability. College student debit cards. Trains. Housing
Contract accountability. We need to improve our track record on state contracts by starting off on the right foot: solid contract language in place to protect the public interest, and a better job of managing contracts. House Bill 2375 is designed to improve oversight and accountability, get better outcomes and save money. This bill has four main sections.  One key part focuses on the contracts as they are written, requiring agencies to start with standard language approved by experts in procurement and contract law.  Another important section requires training for any employees who act as contract administrators.  Enforcing the contract is just as important as starting with the right words. (My testimony)

Student debit cards. Over the past decade, Oregon students have borrowed more than $12.2 billion to finance their education. The financial burden faced by students seeking higher education is well known. At many colleges across Oregon, for students to get their financial aid, they are stuck using aggressively-marketed debit cards that are the product of contracts with terms often unfavorable to students. At the same time, students are given no information about the terms of these cards or available alternatives.

LCC student advocates
LCC students visiting my office
after testifying to committee
about student debit cards
By accepting these student debit cards, students expose themselves to fees that can be both steep and frequent as they use their financial assistance. Common fees charged to students include a variety of per-swipe fees - like 50 cents each time they use the card for anything.  Two large providers charged a fee for purchases using a personal identification number (PIN) rather than taking the extra step to write a signature. There are fees to reload a prepaid card, $25 to transfer money to another account (like one without swipe fees), and $4.50 to use another system's ATM, like when the student is off campus or back at home.  And one provider charges a fee of $19 for not using the card!  

My bills are about transparency and better deals. HB 2832 requires those contracts that colleges sign with financial institutions to be made public and published on the web. HB 3184 is to get better contracts and better deals. Rep. Paul Holvey is also championing the topic, and we are collaborating to present a unified effort to the committee.  Stay tuned. (My testimony)

Passenger trains.  I'm working to preserve and improve Oregon's passenger train service. I've held  meetings with legislators and staff from the Oregon Department of Transportation to talk about funding for the Amtrak Cascades trains between Eugene and Portland; keeping that service is on the line this year. We can't afford to lose it. Once we give it up,  it's not a temporary shut down; it would likely be years before we would get it back. I can't imagine designing a transportation system taking us into the future without inter-city trains in the Willamette Valley as an option for people without cars, or who prefer avoiding I-5 commutes, or to reduce future Willamette Valley travel congestion.

To improve on-time performance for passenger and freight trains, I've written House Bill 3401, directing ODOT to study operational and infrastructure improvements, such as parallel tracks, sidings, switches, and separated grade crossings.

Affordable homes.  FalconWoodWalk1In the district that I represent, House District 13, there are eight manufactured home parks, providing more than 900 spaces for individual homes. I've visited several in the Harlow, Cal Young, Northeast Neighbors, and River Road/Santa Clara neighborhoods.  This session I'm continuing to work on solutions for concerns brought by homeowners (who are tenants on the land) and park owners (landlords). Oregon has more than 63,000 residential spaces in 1,100 manufactured home parks. Nearly every legislative session since 1997 has had a bill negotiated by the Manufactured Housing Landlord/Tenant Coalition, helping to protect this critical housing option. House Bill 3016 comes from over 30 hours of negotiations over the past year to reach a consensus. Among its several components, it includes the requirement to provide access to natural gas or propane, where available. Another important feature will resolve problems I was alerted to by my constituents and others around the state: it protects tenants from a potential conflict of interest when their landlord, who also owns homes in the park, is competing with the tenant (individual homeowner) for buyers or renters. I'm pleased that we're able to hammer out solutions and thank the hard-working attorneys, and tenant and landlord representatives for their efforts.
Licensed medical professionals
Lobbying in the lobby:
hearing from some people with disabilities, and their caregivers
We have a shortage of health care providers in Lane County and in other counties. My colleagues and I discuss this a lot.  But for a moment I'll set aside the heavy policy and money issues.  As a fan of numbers in telling a story, here are a few that recently came across my desk. Lane County has 1,202 licensed MDs, 75 Doctors of Osteopathy, 17 Podiatric Physicians, 154 Physician Assistants, and 81 acupuncturists. For a population of around 265,000, this puts Lane County at an overall ratio of 168 residents per licensed healthcare provider. Multnomah County has the best ratio, with 106 patients per provider, while counties such as Gilliam and Columbia had the worst of 649 and 822 residents per provider, respectively. This highlights a critical problem: the availability of health care in rural and other underserved areas.
In the mail. Scam Jam. And a reminder about free tax preparation help.
CASA visitors
Court Appointed Special Advocates:
CASA working with kids in foster care
On one day in March (March 27) my office received nearly 700 email messages.  My staff needs to swiftly sort through those for meeting and hearing notices, urgent matters, individual constituent issues, etc.  On that day, about 600 were "blast" emails on a single topic: gun registration.  The vast majority came from people outside of Eugene.

Scam Jam. AARP is hosting a free event to help people protect themselves against ever more sophisticated scams that aim to con Oregonians out of their hard-earned money. Leading experts and fraud investigators, as well as our very own Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, will lead the event.
Monday April 27th, 9:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Hult Center. (Parking in Hult Center garage costs $5)
Here's an idea: Maybe you're a member of an organization that would like to send one or two people, and then share the good ideas with the group! Registration required.

Reminder: Free tax preparation help

The Tax-Aide program will be available throughout Oregon again this year to help people prepare tax returns. Volunteers are trained and IRS-certified to ensure knowledge of revisions to US Tax Code. Helpful to many low and moderate income working people, they can identify when an  Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) will bring a refund.
AARP Tax Aide website offers information about the service, what information you need to bring with you, when and where,  including the downtown Eugene Public Library, United Way at Gateway Loop, ShelterCare on W. 4th, and Campbell Community Center on High Street. Lots of choices of days, times, and places.
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Representative Nancy Nathanson | PO Box 41895 | Eugene | OR | 97404