In my backyard

July 2013

Dear Friends,

There's a lot that happens during a legislative session, and it boils down to bills and budgets.  Even when a bill doesn't pass, the thought may be included in another bill, or the service might be funded in the budget, or an agency might be instructed to do something in a budget note.  In this short newsletter I won't try to summarize everything that the 77th Assembly accomplished. I will highlight some topics that I hear from you about, or that I believe are important.


Now that I'm back in Eugene every day I plan to spend a little more time looking after the garden, and thank my husband for keeping container plants watered when it was warm and dry! The hummingbirds are visiting the crocosmia and fuchsia, and while enjoying evening dessert with our neighbors we all spotted a bird new to our neighborhood.  There's much to enjoy when we take time to "stop and smell the roses." 

During the interim - the time between the close of one session and the beginning of the next (February 2014) - I will be attending events, visiting neighborhoods, and working on a few legislative ideas.  For example, finishing old business and tackling new: a work group looking at alternative language for the manufactured home park bill, stopping a new twist on fencing stolen jewelry (gold buying "home parties"), and monitoring progress on the student health center and criminal background check bills. 


See below for a brief description of some of the Legislature's work this year. Out of 2,600 bills, I've chosen some that I hope will interest you. This enews is longer than usual; I've separated it into sections so you can skip around. There's also a short section on college and university projects that will bring more construction jobs, and money circulating in our local economy. See OLIS for more detail about any bill.



In This Issue
Who I met with
Legislation:bills passed
What happened with my bills
Agriculure, Business, Consumer protection
Health, Human services, Housing, Immigration
Public Safety; Smarter Government
Transportation; Veterans; More
Bills that died
Local impact, local interest
A note about the budget
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Who I met with in Salem
Over five months, and squeezed between committee hearings, briefings, and floor sessions (when we debate and vote), I had hundreds of meetings - counting when people catch me in the hall or elevator - with lobbyists representing various local agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses. For example, lobbyists representing Lane County, LTD, health care providers, medical equipment, railroads, housing advocates, nurses, students and teachers. I especially enjoyed my time with several large groups of school students, explaining our work and answering their questions.  To work on my own bills I met with judges, nurses, auto dealers, freight haulers, educators, law enforcement officers, county officials, and non-profit agency directors and staff. 
Legislation: bills that passed
2,679: That's the number of bills that were introduced, including all of the agency or Governor's bills, budget bills, and bills introduced by legislative committees or individual legislators.  About a third of all the bills assigned to a committee never receive a hearing; the rest are voted out to be heard in the House or Senate.  In total, about a third of all introduced bills end up passing both chambers. 
The following sections include only some of the bills that passed the House and Senate. 
What happened with my bills
School health center bill passes
I introduced 28 bills; 17 passed, and 2 more were incorporated into the final tax credits bill. The ones I worked hardest on, that I believe will have the greatest positive impact for Oregonians, address health care, education, consumer protection, public safety, and government efficiency.  Some will accomplish more than one of those objectives: criminal background check reforms, odometer fraud, window tinting, school health clinics, eliminating extra audits on local mental health service providers, and allowing schools more flexibility in spending their education service district money to serve their students.
I appreciate the support of many colleagues, especially Rep. Val Hoyle on school health centers and Rep. Paul Holvey on government efficiency and criminal background checks.
Agriculture, Business, Consumer protection

AGRICULTURE:  Canola.  I co-sponsored this bill that limits growing canola in the Willamette Valley, except related to a limited OSU study.  Canola directly crosses with seed crops, incubates and spreads pests and diseases to neighboring fresh vegetable and seed fields, and also contaminates clover seed through physical seed mixing. A businessman from Japan traveled to Salem for the hearing, explaining that his company chooses Willamette Valley seeds, as the "best seed quality and reliability of production compared to anywhere else in the world".  He would no longer be able to purchase from Oregon if there's a danger of seed contamination.  Canola would be a threat to our agriculture industry, a major contributor to our export economy.

Visiting a local business: 
making Chocolate Decadence


Also: revised and expanded a grant program for Farm to School, allowing more schools to purchase foods grown and processed in Oregon and provide hands-on learning experiences including gardening, cooking, composting, recycling, and farm visits.


Set up Aggie Bonds to provide early capital for startup expenses for local food producers, and added funding for water supply development projects and a new Fermentation Sciences Center at OSU to support our growing winery and craft brewing industries

BUSINESS:  We created an online business license directory to help small business navigate state regulations; expanded a program that provides incentives for businesses to operate and invest in low-income areas;  expanded a grant program based on new hires for companies planning to expand or locate in Oregon; and improved rules for planning and developing industrial properties. Funded the South Willamette Valley Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network to foster research that leads to economic growth in the UO-to-OSU region.


CONSUMER PROTECTION:  Predatory or "cash now" loan companies.  Oregonians who rely on structured settlement payments (like payments from a workers' compensation claim) are now offered additional protections; these safeguards are significant for injured and disabled Oregonians who are often otherwise exploited by these companies.


More: Cracking down on odometer fraud and sham charities, and requiring shipping and handling charges to be disclosed on consumer goods. 


K-12: $1 billion more for the next two years to begin rebuilding after years of cuts and layoffs.  While Eugene District 4J still faces large budget challenges, the majority of districts in Oregon will be able to add back teachers and school days. (I fought to the end for additional funding for Eugene area schools, along with Beaverton and Hillsboro, also facing serious gaps.)  Special funding is set aside for three programs: Early Reading, Guidance and Support for Post-Secondary Aspiration, and Connecting to the World of Work.  We funded the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Revitalization Grant program for job-training, critical for helping prepare youth for a competitive job market after high school graduation.  We are ensuring that vision and mental health screenings are available for all students. 


The Early Learning Council and the new Early Learning Division in the Department of Education will bring together in one place the many programs that support children, parents and educators, such as Early Head Start, Child care center certification, Healthy Start, and Relief Nurseries. This is the new administrative structure that replaces the Commission on Children and Families that was connected primarily with Department of Human Services.  Children need to come to school prepared to learn in order to be successful. It's important to coordinate child and family services with education in mind.

Showing students how we vote

HIGHER ED:  We added funding to the Oregon University System to reduce the projected tuition increases for 2013-15 from an average of 5% to 3.5%, and added $15 million more to Oregon Opportunity Grants. We funded projects throughout the higher ed system, including LCC, and UO's Earl and Straub Halls and the Museum of Natural and Cultural History. (see later section: Local area)


Streamlining and governance: I've been critical of adding layers of bureaucracy in higher ed, with four state boards, two state agencies and a public university system.  With one bill we start the streamlining; with another, we allow UO and Portland State University to establish their own boards to increase focus and accountability, and set up a process for other OUS universities to do so. The UO board will be appointed before the end of year, and start exercising its new responsibilities next summer.


Student Opportunity Fund: Treasurer Ted Wheeler's proposal to create a permanent and dedicated fund to finance aid for Oregon college and university students to have access to increased funds for financial assistance. Voters will have the final say on the policy on their November 2014 ballot.


Pay it Forward, Pay it Back: study and start a pilot program to enable students to borrow tuition dollars directly from a state fund, and to then repay the loan over time at a percentage of their salary income.

Health and Human Services, Housing, Immigration

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: After several years of significant budget reductions, we are starting to restore programs cut during the worst part of the recession, including in-home services to seniors and disabled.  We expanded funds for Employment Related Day Care, to help more individuals with subsidized day care so they can afford to work and feed their families.   We are expanding the long-term care ombudsman program that uses a few staff and 200 trained volunteers to protect the interests of 43,000 residents of nursing homes and other facilities, and fully funding Medicaid cost of living adjustments for assisted living and residential care services.    Home health care workers, who take care of seniors and the disabled, work for just above the minimum wage.  We're restoring hours and increasing wages following pay freezes and reduced hours imposed during the recession.


We made significant increases in mental health, alcohol and drug treatment, particularly in services for teens and young adults. Using a key federal investment, we extend state-supported health care to 180,000 more low-income Oregonians, in addition to 600,000 already enrolled, and set up an electronic marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for health insurance.  That's coming this fall: Cover Oregon. At the same time we aim to reduce the growth in per-capita cost of health care by 2 percentage points in the next two years.  How? By smarter use of dollars, primarily through the new Coordinated Care Organizations  (CCO's) that were established last year. 


We also: took action to require insurance health benefit plans to cover autism spectrum disorders, and added funds for tobacco prevention and cessation and breast and cervical cancer screening and for nutrition programs that feed children in afterschool enrichment programs
Food and nutrition: increases in the Oregon Hunger Response Fund, providing emergency food programs, WIC and Senior Farm Direct Nutrition programs, and summer breakfast program for children. (Senior Farm Direct Nutrition Program: seniors receive "farm direct" checks to buy fresh produce at farm stands and farmers markets.)


Foster Care Children's Bill of Rights: gives them the right to a safe home and access to siblings and other relatives, as well as to educational and career opportunities. Sets up a hot line to call with concerns or to ask for assistance.


Getting Oregonians working:  In addition to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, we  increased the TANF JOBS program, and 500 more families will have access to subsidized child care (ERDC).  These will help more Oregon families with children access the services they need to stabilize and connect to and keep employment.


HOUSING:  Foreclosure.  We closed a loophole to ensure that homeowners get a chance to meet with lenders in mediation before the lender starts the foreclosure process, whether that process is inside or outside the courts.  We passed the Good Neighbor bill requiring banks to maintain foreclosed properties rather than letting them become neighborhood eyesores. And we clarified law allowing the Attorney General to bring legal action for non-compliance.


IMMIGRATION:  Tuition Equity: will allow students who have lived in Oregon for at least three years and are pursuing citizenship to pay in-state tuition when attending college in Oregon.  Driver's Cards: this allows individuals who have resided in Oregon for at least a year to obtain a temporary driver's card without having to provide proof of legal residence in the U.S.  This shorter term driving license will help make sure every driver in Oregon passes a driver's test and has insurance. 


Visiting McKenzie River Trust's

Green Island

Waldo Lake in the Cascade Range: Keep it peaceful; keep it clean. We banned gas-powered motorboats and seaplanes. Using electric motors under 10 mph will still be permitted. (Once regarded as possibly the purest large lake in the world, Waldo has faced pollution and disruption from recreational motorists.)

Suction dredge mining: California's 2009 moratorium on suction dredge mining has led to a very harmful increase in mining in the Rogue River and elsewhere in our state. It can be noisy, polluting, and endanger natural habitat. We put restrictions on suction dredge operations, and limited the number of permits to 850, the same number we had prior to California's moratorium. (The permits will be issued on a "seniority" basis, and the California miners will be at the end of the line.)
Pushing for more energy efficient appliances, we adopted energy standards that align with California, Washington, and British Columbia.
And more: Extended the solar feed-in tariff allowing residential homes to send excess power into the grid; extended the paint collection and recycling program (thanks to our local paint manufacturer, Forrest Paint, for their work on this); established the Integrated Pest Management Coordinating Committee; prohibited homeowner associations from banning electric vehicle charging stations; tightened rules on removal-fill mitigation permits and credits for developers.
Public Safety and Smarter Government
PUBLIC SAFETY:  We made some modest changes to prison sentences and post-prison supervision. These changes will flatten the projected increases in inmate populations, reducing the need for new state prisons.  Money that would have been spent on incarceration and building a new prison is redirected to proven, front line community corrections strategies.  Prison beds will be used for violent offenders, and local community correction officials will receive resources to supervise parolees and incentivize good behavior, a more effective strategy than the "warehousing criminals" approach of the 1990s.

Cell phones and texting while driving: Prompted by a study showing texting is more distracting and leads to significantly worse driving than being legally drunk, Senate Pres. Peter Courtney championed this bill that significantly raises fines to a maximum of $500 if caught using a cell phone or texting (hands-free phone use is still okay).

Also, for victims of domestic and sexual violence:  increased funding, and expanded workplace protections to cover part-time and new employees.


SMARTER GOVERNMENT:  Updated the transparency website to better show how tax dollars are spent; and eliminated duplicative state audits of county jails already audited under more comprehensive reviews.

The legislature passed several bills to streamline criminal background check processes to help job applicants and employers, and close loopholes to protect Oregon's seniors, children, and consumers. (I was the chief sponsor for these bills, resulting primarily from the work group that I initiated.)

REVENUE: We passed legislation to end offshore tax shelters for corporations trying to avoid state taxes; and to allow local governments and schools to invest their money in an Oregon fund that yields higher rates, earning more money to put to work locally (another idea from my Government Efficiency Task Force). Also: added staff to Department of Revenue to crack down on tax evaders and collect taxes already owed, and improved procedures for reviewing the effectiveness of tax credits.

Transportation, Veterans, and More
TRANSPORTATION: The "Connect Oregon" program is renewed, funding non-highway transportation projects that help keep products - and the state's economy - moving.  This multi-modal program helps dozens of local airports, coastal marine ports, rail connection and loading facilities, etc.  Bicycle and pedestrian projects were added to the list of modes that can be funded.  We also established new accountability measures to ensure that projects achieve expected results.  
VETERANS: Will be able to attend public universities at resident tuition rate even if they're not yet Oregon residents; we recognize time off for Veterans Day; and additional funds for emergency housing assistance, loans, suicide prevention, and the Lebanon Veterans' Home.
Corporations are not people: Oregon has joined more than a dozen other states in calling on Congress to propose a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United ruling (which says corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns).  Passing this bill says in big, bold letters: Oregon believes tha
bill signing
Watching Gov. Kitzhaber sign
the State Fair bill
t corporations are not people.
Operations for the Oregon State Fair (both the annual fair and the Expo Center) will transfer from the State Park Department to a new public corporation, allowing more flexibility for business-like management as an event venue for the rest of the year.

Social media: prohibit employers and educational institutions (except K-12) from requesting access to personal social media accounts of employees or students and prospective students.
County rescue: To aid nearly bankrupt timber counties, the bill allows the governor, with the approval of the county commission, to impose local taxes and match with state money to preserve basic law enforcement services. The state could also temporarily take over elections and tax collection and assessment if needed.
Bills that died (and that I supported)
Toxics disclosure: Despite bipartisan support in the House, the Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act died in the Senate. It would have required corporations to disclose the use of toxins in children's products, based on lists used by the states of Washington and Oregon.
Corporate kicker: This bill would have re-allocated the corporate kicker tax funds for this budget cycle to Oregon's community colleges, to limit tuition hikes at Oregon's community colleges. (The voter-approved kicker reform starts after next year.) When economic circumstances put the kicker into effect, these funds are sent to mostly out-of-state corporations as a tax giveaway, money they never planned for or expected.
Unscrupulous bill collectors: Third-party collection agencies buy up old debt at pennies on the dollar. Some take on a debt as much as a decade old and don't even check to see whether the debt is still owed. This would have stopped robo-signed debt collection lawsuits against consumers by requiring debt buyers to provide basic evidence about who owes, how much is owed and the statute of limitations.  Unscrupulous debt buyers are trying to collect from people whose debts are long-since paid off. The bill died in committee.
Local interest, local impact
Lots of construction projects:  approved to keep jobs and local economy moving.
  • UO: the legislature approved most of their requests, including state funding to expand the Science Commons and Research Library and Straub and Earl Halls; and allowing state bonding for self-funded major upgrades for the Student Recreation Center, Erb Memorial Union and four new housing facilities; and an additional request that I submitted to help the Museum of Natural and Cultural History.
  • LCC: Center for Student Success
  • LTD: The new EmX route
Supporting fast-growing local winery and craft brewing industries: a new Fermentation Sciences program at OSU.
A bill to change the legal and court process for evaluating and holding dangerous individuals who are mentally ill, responding to the Kilcullen tragedy and that family's dogged efforts in the public interest.  The new process includes court and state hospital evaluations, balancing the civil liberties of mentally ill persons and their need for health and treatment, concern for safety of the public, and keeping order in the community and in the legal system.
A note about the budget
The state's overall budget is nearly $60 billion.  Most of that is not flexible funding - it's tied to specific uses, such as gas tax money for roads, lottery funds for education, and federal money for specific programs such as aid to needy families, education, and jobs programs.  Less than 30% is completely discretionary and within the legislature's authority. Federal funds are a large part - 28% - of our overall funds; money that Oregonians have paid out in federal taxes, coming back to  pay wages and support local economies.