Weekly Review
   Where does Rural Oregon fit into the Grand Scheme?  

Traditionally, rural Oregon is dependent on agriculture and timber,  and is in need of legislative help to preserve important services such as health care, and address important issues such as water storage that could help foster economic growth. (Brent Wojahn, Oregonian).

 

Last week, the Oregon House passed HB 3246 creating tax breaks for energy efficiency improvements in the city of Portland...and nowhere else in the State! It was another bill that was focused on the urban...leaving the rural communities in the cold! I appreciated what Rep. Mark Johnson (R-Hood River) said, "The Legislature should be crafting policies that are good for all Oregonians, not just those in the wealthiest part of the State."

 

Mark hit the nail on the head with his comment.  Unfortunately, this measure is far from the only example of why the 2015 Legislative Session is going down in history as one that disproportionately benefits parts of the state that need help the least. "If nothing else, the Legislature at least put some limits on the Portland tax breaks - the pilot program sunsets in 2022. Meanwhile, this session likely will leave many rural Oregonians metaphorically wondering when they can expect the sun to rise again." (Oregonian Board).

 

"We feel like we're not just under the bus, we're under the train and that hurts even more," Rep. Carl Wilson (R-Grants Pass).

 

This session has been defined by the majority and that translates to urban control. The conservative members in Oregon Legislature have become largely a rural representation. Meanwhile, it's not an accident that two of the three Democrats who voted against HB 3246 were from Coos Bay and Clatskanie, who represent predominantly rural districts. The third was a representative from Aloha, who has been one of the most moderate Democrats since he was first elected in 2002.

 

I think the Oregonian Editorial Board says it best...

 

"On the flip side, some of the legislation likely to define this session would play out quite differently in Burns and Brookings than in Portland and Eugene. Consider mandatory sick leave, which was approved by the Senate Wednesday. Most large businesses already offer paid sick leave. They also have staff available to handle new paperwork created by the new mandate and absorb the work when employees are gone. Small Oregon towns have few large businesses - one big reason they are struggling economically. The smaller a company is, the more difficult it becomes to absorb new paperwork or to make last-minute scheduling changes. One positive: The Senate sick-leave bill does exempt businesses with fewer than 10 employees."  

 

                  Staying Under the Radar

SB 632 is one of those measures that could easily fly under the radar screen without detection unless one is paying attention. It just so happens this bill appeared the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services which I a voting member of.

 

The bill directs the Department of Human Services (DHS) to establish two pilot programs, one in a rural community and the other in an urban setting to improve the quality and effectiveness of foster care for children. Having been involved in placing several kids in foster homes while serving in the Oregon State Police, I was skeptical of this bill, until I heard some of the testimonies.

 

Rep. Duane Stark was one of those giving testimony in support of the bill. Duane has been married for 10 years and has three children. He and his wife are proud foster and adoptive parents with counseling degrees. His background serves him well having been a Community Service Supervisor, Inner-City At-Risk-Youth Director, and a Supervisor for Residential Psychiatric Treatment Center with foster kids. 

 

Duane shared a story of one of his foster kids who had been bounced from one foster home to another until the little guy arrived in the Stark home. Because of knowing how to deal with serious issues, Duane and his wife were able to work through the issues this little boy brought. Rather than dismiss the child to another foster home, the Starks worked with the boy. Today, two years later, the youngster has grown and become part of his family.

 

Jim Seymour who is the Executive Director of Catholic Community Services in Salem, shared on any given day they serve more than 100 children in Marion, Polk and Yamhill Counties that suffer from serious emotional and behavior problems. He shared the following story:


 

"Ricky is one of the children we serve. When he came to us, at ten years old, he had already been in 40 different foster home placements and had never been able to attend public school. He has been in his current foster home for three years now and is doing well.

 

I'm confident that none of Ricky's prior foster parents wanted to give up on him, but without adequate training and support he simply wore them down. The kind of extra support we provide includes specialized trauma informed care training...Catholic Community Services provides these enhanced services without any State support."

 

That's what SB 632 is all about, giving foster parents tools through DHS, who would provide specialized training to foster parents to better work with foster kids with special needs. This important bill will improve foster care outcomes and reduce costs for Oregon taxpayers, but more importantly it will help provide foster youth with what they need most: safe, stable, and nurturing relationships.

 

I'm glad I signed onto the bill. 


 

Until next week,


 

 

Andy Olson

 

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