January 2013

Part 2
Dear Friends,
The 77th Legislative Assembly convened Monday January 14, and I was ready! We have new staff to help Adam with the hundreds of calls, letters and email messages we receive each week, in addition to the dozens of scheduling requests, committee meetings and hearings, and reviewing and managing bills. The Speaker of The House, Tina Kotek, appointed me to continue as Vice Chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, preside as Co-Chair of its JWM Human Services subcommittee, and serve on several others (see below).  To fine-tune the legislative concepts that I am developing into bills, I've been meeting with people who have special expertise.  Last month I reported briefly on responses to my August-September survey; I've included more details below.  
I believe the mood in the Capitol will be a little brighter this session with news of the continuing, although slow, economic recovery.  We still have a tough job to scrutinize funding requests and balance the budget.  Costs continue to increase at a rate faster than revenue grows. Taxes received this year will be based on taxpayers' incomes from the previous year; more people are working more hours, but the tax revenue won't be realized until the following year. We will continue to hope for better news in the official revenue forecast in February, and again in May before the final budget is adopted. 
Would you like more timely notice of what's going on in Salem and around the district? To see what else I'm up to or thinking about, please "like" my Facebook page.  I will post short comments there occasionally about specific topics, projects, or events.  
In This Issue
Committee Assignments
Issues facing the Legislature
Legislative Proposals: Bills
Public Safety
Around the local area
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My Committee Assignments
Ways and Means
In a Joint Ways and Means hearing
Vice chair, Joint Committee on Ways and Means. 

Ways and Means, sometimes called "the budget-writing committee" of the Legislature, is comprised of members from both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and reviews all revenue and expenditures. Requests are vetted in the seven subcommittees prior to going to the full committee. The committee reviews recommendations from the subcommittees, as well as agency requests to submit proposals for grant funding, and proposed budgest for all revenue and expenditures.


Co-Chair, Ways and Means subcommittee on Health and Human Services. This will be my first year on this subcommittee. It is responsible for the budgets of multiple agencies, such as the Oregon Health Authority, the Department of Human Services, and the Oregon Health Licensing Agency. Tax dollars not only fund operations, but also support hundreds of private sector and non-profit health and human service providers, which manage programs for some of Oregon's neediest citizens.


Ways and Means subcommittee on General Government.   This subcommittee reviews budgets for several departments, including the Department of Administrative Services which provides fleet, facilities, human resources, information technology, and other services for state government agencies; the Secretary of State and State Treasurer; and a number of boards and licensing agencies such as Tax Accountants, etc.


Ways and Means subcommittee on Capital Construction.  The Capital Construction subcommittee reviews proposals for major construction projects. For example, in early 2009, this committee was the first to hear and vote on a proposal for bonds for an Oregon economic stimulus plan, quickly starting projects for public buildings in all 36 counties. 


Transportation and Economic Development Committee.  We review and receive testimony on topics related to transportation including road, air, rail, marine, public, and alternative modes of transit.  We also work to promote economic development, business and jobs in Oregon.

What the Legislature will be Considering

Balancing the budget is the number one responsibility, and supporting a solid and sustainable economic recovery is a primary objective.  You've probably read something about these topics: fine-tuning the health care transformation process; reviewing tax credits that have been on the books for years; strategies for protecting and wisely using water resources for people and agriculture; marine reserves; updating election laws; programs and funding for children, seniors, and disabled persons; replacing the aging and inadequate I-5 bridge over the Columbia River; and smarter choices in public safety corrections.  Those are just some of the major areas that I expect to be discussed.  The League of Women Voters of Oregon has published a report  summarizing many of the major topics expected to be discussed in this session. 

Legislative Proposals: Bills

                                                                                                                                                About 700 bills were filed "pre-session" with the Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives, before the December 21, 2012 deadline, with another 529 filed in the Senate.   Returning and new legislators can submit new bills for another few weeks.  In a typical session, 3,000-4,000 bills are drafted and about two-thirds will be filed for consideration; about a quarter will pass both chambers. (The House and Senate each adopt specific rules governing filing, committee hearings and voting during the organizational meeting at the beginning of the session.)  I will be submitting several of my own bills on behalf of the Government Efficiency Task Force, and others dealing with topics including health care, education system reform, consumer protection, affordable housing, rail service, and streamlining the criminal background check system.

During the 2012 session, I introduced a bill to curb the theft of precious metal goods by requiring second hand dealers and travelling road shows to maintain sales records of gold, silver, platinum, and palladium.  The bill went into effect on January 1.  Law enforcement will now have a more complete picture and better opportunity to identify and locate stolen goods and return them to their rightful owners, and criminals may be discouraged from stealing gold and silver since they will no longer be able to sell it anonymously. 

Public Safety

My office has received nearly 400 email messages regarding the tragic shootings at Clackamas Town Centre and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The vast majority are one of two standard "blast" emails, mostly urging the legislature to allow staff to have guns at schools to protect children.   More than 95% are from people living elsewhere in Oregon -- not in my District, north and downtown Eugene.  Of the comments from my constituents so far, all but four urge allowing staff to have firearms at school to more quickly react to threats.  I heard varying perspectives from constituents at our coffees last Friday and Saturday.    


Those terrible incidents have brought another critical topic to the forefront: mental health.  The Oregon Health Authority, Division of Addictions and Mental Health Services  has posted a list of resources to help people respond to crises or traumatic events.

Around the Local Area

Beltline Traffic Safety Project
Construction began on January 7 to install four ramp meters on the Randy Papé Beltline Highway.  The objectives are to "reduce traffic delays, improve safety, and decrease fuel consumption and air pollution" during peak travel times.  The meters will be located at River Road eastbound, River Avenue eastbound, Green Acres westbound, and Coburg Road westbound.  The Department of Transportation has posted more information about this project, ramp meters in Oregon generally, and comparison videos of how Beltline would function with and without ramp meters.  


Survey Results
Last summer and fall I received about 220 postcard and online responses to the survey that I sent out: "What matters to you?"  Respondents were asked to rank the ideas to show what was most important, and use the last section, left blank, to provide additional comments.  


The first set of questions asked about strategies to grow jobs and support local business.  The stand-out favorite, selected by over half, was to invest in infrastructure, followed by health care reform (35%), buy local (26%), and low cost loans for business (24%).   None of the choices received more than 12% marked as "cannot support."   


The second set addressed the most important goals for education and strengthening schools.  Funding was the top priority with over two-thirds of responses ranking it #1 (68%).  Education partnerships with community colleges, apprenticeship programs and local business came in next (33%), followed by cost of higher education (30%).  

January 2013 - coffee
Listening to constituents at a coffee event.


The last set listed several ideas to protect individuals and families.  Using effective strategies to reduce crime (49%), and clamping down on unfair practices used against homeowners (44%) were the most frequently ranked as the #1 priority.   Student loan (30%) and debt-collection (19%) practices were ranked #1 less often.    


I have read through 121 notes, some outlining two or more topics. The range of topics is wide, such as accountability in government; farm and forest conservation; LNG and coal (both pro and con); taxation (increase and decrease taxes); and many more.   As with all lively participation in an open forum, some comments are in direct conflict with others.  I appreciate the thought and feeling that respondents have put into their writing.  Here's a sample of individual comments: Increase classroom discipline; more jail beds; raise revenue; support our foster children; stop the outsourcing of jobs; reduce taxes on garages; stop all social engineering; buy local; GLBTQ marriage equality; stricter laws ...against cruelty to animals; sales tax-"long overdue"; and stop the deconstruction of our social fabric.

Casey - chamber
Casey in the House Chamber

Casey Houlihan, Eugene resident, has joined my legislative team in Salem as a part-time Legislative Assistant.  His college study centered on political science and English. I am also happy to welcome two interns: Emily Ann Farrell and Dominique Rossi.  Emily is a graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law and a member of the Oregon State Bar.  Dominique is in her second year at UO Law School, and is interning as part of a class on the legislative process.  All three of these individuals bring a strong work ethic and sense of dedication to public service to this office.  I'm glad to have them on board for the upcoming session working on behalf of District 13!