Big Votes Bookend the Weekend



Rep. Michael Dembrow 
NE Portland, Maywood Park & Parkrose

Phone: 503-986-1445


E-Newsletter                              February 24, 2013

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

Our third grueling week of the 2013 legislative session came to an end Friday on a note of euphoria:  the floor debate and passage of HB 2787, the tuition equity bill, on a bipartisan 38-18 vote.  I’ll write more about that below, but let me say that I’m still basking in the warm glow of that historic accomplishment!

Tomorrow morning we’ll be voting on the second big bill of 2013, the I-5 Bridge Replacement bill.  I’ll be voting yes on that bill, and in this newsletter I’ll let you know why.

Thursday marked the last day for individual member bills or committee bills to be submitted to the Clerk of the House for consideration this session. (Actually, that’s not exactly true.  Each member is entitled to an additional five “priority” bills over the course of the session.)  I’ll talk more about that below.

Finally, please put Saturday, March 2, on your calendar for our next constituent coffee.  It’ll be a great chance for me to catch you up in person on what’s been going on behind the scenes.  I’ll let you know exactly when and where in the next newsletter.

 A Historic Vote for Tuition Equity

It was indeed a proud day for me personally and for many others who have been struggling for years to make Oregon the 14th state in the nation to pass a tuition equity bill.  For me, it was extra special because as Chair of the Higher Ed/Workforce Committee, I was allowed to “carry” the bill to the floor.  That means making the introductory and closing speeches and answering any questions that arose during the debate.  If you’d like to read my introductory speech, you’ll find it here.

We had wonderful, moving floor speeches from a number of legislators, including three of our new ones: Joe Gallegos from Hillsboro, who spoke about all that these young people will bring to our state; Jessica Vega Peterson from East Portland (the Legislature’s first Latina), who spoke about her mother’s experience as an immigrant in this country; and Jennifer Williamson, who spoke about a former PCC student and current PSU student, Victor Mena, a young man whom I know and admire a great deal.  Betty Komp from Woodburn talked about working side by side in the fields with workers like the parents of these kids.  Mark Johnson, Republican from Hood River, spoke movingly about a young woman in his school district whose life is full of promise and who will be able to move forward thanks to this bill.  

One unfortunate note on this wonderful day was the absence due to health reasons of one of our co-Chief Sponsors, Rep. Bob Jenson, Republican from Pendleton.  He was my co-Chief Sponsor in 2011, when, as an open advocate of tuition equity, he was very much alone in his party's caucus.  We missed him, and I know that he deeply regretted not being able to be there to cast his aye vote.

The other slight stain on the day occurred when Republican legislators attempted to replace the bill (which in the end included a number of elements they had proposed) with a bill of their own which would have “sunsetted” the program in 2016.  There was a bit of testiness around that, but in the end that went down on a 33-23 party-line vote, and the sweet winds of history prevailed, as HB 2787 passed on a 38-18 vote, with five Republicans joining all 33 Democrats present (would have been at least 40 yes votes if those absent could have been there). 

During the debate and the vote, the House gallery and balcony were filled with students, many of them the courageous kids who will at long last be able to afford to attend an Oregon university (once the bill passes the Senate).  After the results of the vote were announced, they all rose and held hands over their heads in silent celebration.  Tears filled my eyes, and I know I wasn’t alone. 

The Register-Guard’s Saul Hubbard did a good job of describing the day’s events.  You can check it out here.

Why I’m Voting Yes On the I-5 Bridge Replacement

We’ve reached the point in the long process of planning and debating the $3.2 billion I-5 Bridge Replacement Project (aka the Columbia River Crossing) when it’s time for a vote on the House floor in the form of HB 2800.  This will happen tomorrow morning.

This is not a perfect bill, and it’s not a perfect project in its current form, but it does accomplish a great deal.  Along with upgrading the I-5 Bridge to make it better able to withstand an earthquake, it meets my own primary goals for the crossing:  light rail will be extended all the way to Vancouver; the bridge will be tolled as a “demand management” tool to reduce the number of single-occupancy trips and create disincentives to suburban sprawl; and our construction industry will be reinvigorated by thousands of good jobs. 

These were all bottom-line requirements for me.  Here, for example, is my response to one of the many endorsement questionnaires that I filled out earlier this year:    

I agree that there is a solution here that has the potential to combat sprawl and mitigate harm to the environment while giving Oregon’s economy the kind of investment in public-works infrastructure and family-wage jobs that we need. I am therefore on record supporting state investment in the CRC, as long as it includes all of the following specific components:

  • Light rail, bike lanes, and pedestrian lanes
  • Tolling of both the I-5 and the I-205 bridges
  • Significant federal expenditure for light rail
  • Full participation from the state of Washington
  • Budgetary set-asides to mitigate the impact on neighborhoods in North Portland
  • Strong labor sideboards, including requirements that will lead to responsible contracting that encourages the hiring of a local and diverse workforce

I’m happy to report that all of these components are included in the final bill in varying ways.  Some were there from the very beginning, and others have been added via amendments at the insistence of some of us legislators.   

A real area of concern for me and for other legislators whose districts include the I-205 corridor is the fact that there will be no immediate tolling to the I-205 bridge.  We are worried that drivers will opt to take the Glen Jackson Bridge in order to avoid the toll, and the result will be enormous traffic jams on I-205.  The most recent analysis seems to show that there will be a small increase in traffic during non-rush hour times, but no change during rush hour; still, we are concerned about the worst-case scenario.  In any case, for now we are constrained by federal law (which bars us from tolling on bridges other than those under construction or significant renovation) and by Washington state law.   However, thanks to the last set of amendments, if we do see significant diversion to I-205, a process would be initiated that could lead to tolling or some other way of dealing with diversion impacts.

This is a controversial bill, and I know that our district is split on this one.  There is a lot of concern about the process that was followed, as well as disagreement over various aspects of the project’s design.  I share many of these concerns.  But I weighed the improvements that have been made to the bill, along with my sense that there are no other politically viable options out there to get us those federal highway dollars (which will not be available for other projects).  HB 2800 gives us a chance to improve the crossing, get light rail to Vancouver, reduce the flow of traffic over the bridge, and get good safeguards that the construction material used will be U.S.-made and the labor force will be local, fairly compensated, and diverse.  I look forward to the floor debate, which I hope will put on record our clear expectations for the project. 

This project still has many hurdles to get over:  the Coast Guard must approve the bridge height and other design elements; the bond analysis must show that tolling will bring in enough money to pay for the project; Washington must allocate its equal share of the cost, and so must the federal government.  We have inserted safeguards into the bill to make sure that the project cannot go forward until all of those criteria have been met.  Monday’s vote will be an important step, but by no means the final step in the progress of this project.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Hundreds of Final Bills “Dropped” On Thursday

As I mentioned above, February 21 was the deadline for members and committees to introduce new bills for consideration.  They are now being printed up and are being “first-read” on the House floor. The first 150 or so were read on Friday, and the remaining bills will be announced over the next few days.  You can check out the new ones on the day’s First Readings List, which includes summaries and links to information about each of the bills introduced that day.

How to Become “Popular” Overnight

One of the bills on yesterday’s first-readings list was HB 3200.  It prohibits the further sale of weapons commonly described as “assault weapons” (the bill describes them) and ammunition magazines with more than ten rounds.  It also requires the current owners of such weapons either to dispose of them or register them.  To my mind, this is a very common-sense approach to the scourge of gun violence in this country, one which is also being explored at the federal level.  However, we all know that anything perceived to be “gun control” is going to be controversial, so it’s not surprising that in the last 24 hours my email in-box has been filled with less-than-flattering comments regarding my having signed on to the bill.  As far as I can tell, few if any of them are coming from constituents in HD45.  (Please, if you are a constituent, let me know where you live, as I always try to write back to constituents.)

I’ve also signed on to a bill calling for enhanced background checks for gun purchases or transfers, and, through the House Committee on Higher Education, submitted HB 3114, which allows community colleges and universities the ability to set their own policies on allowing guns on campus.

I assume that I’ll be hearing about those as well. 

If you have feelings one way or the other on controversial bills like these, it’s really important for me to hear from you.  A brief email in your own words is the best way to communicate.

Until next week,


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