Sense and Sensibility



Rep. Michael Dembrow 
NE Portland, Maywood Park & Parkrose

Phone: 503-986-1445


E-Newsletter                              March 12, 2013

Friends and Neighbors,

Hope you were able to enjoy some of that beautiful weather on Saturday, either in the yard, in the great outdoors, or around town.  I’m happy to say that I did.  But now it’s back to another week of commuting to Salem, 8 am committee hearings, and lots of other fun.  You can read about some of it in this week’s newsletter!


Town Hall – Saturday, March 23rd

My next town hall meeting will be Saturday, March 23rd from 10:30 AM to Noon.  I’m co-hosting, as usual, with our neighboring Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, and our State Senator, Jackie Dingfelder.  With the session going full steam, it’s a good chance for us to update you on what each of our offices is working on, and get your feedback on bills and the budget.  I hope you’ll take the time to join us.

WHAT: Town Hall

WHO: Rep. Dembrow, Rep. Keny-Guyer, Sen. Dingfelder and YOU

WHEN: Saturday, March 23rd from 10:30 AM to Noon

WHERE: PCC SE Center, corner of SE 82nd Ave. & Division (Tabor Hall, rooms 139/140)

Constituent Coffee Report – Civility Prevails

Last Saturday’s constituent coffee at the Hollywood Senior Center was packed, mainly with constituents, but also some from outside the district.  We had a lively discussion about several timely topics:  education funding, and my predictions for the Co-Chairs’ budget (read about that below); the I-5 Columbia River Crossing (which has now passed both the House and the Senate and was signed by the Governor this morning); and the various measures intended to reduce gun violence. 

What I really like about these coffees is the way that we sit around tables, looking at each other as individuals, not stereotypes, and share our perspectives.  It’s not just me up there answering questions and criticisms, as can happen in a traditional town hall setting.  While there was a lot of disagreement at this one, particularly over the gun issues, I’m happy to report that the discussions remained civil throughout and I never felt that I was under attack.

I’m continuing to receive dozens of emails on gun issues each day, nearly all of them opposed to any form of regulation, and nearly all of them from people who don’t live in our district.  The majority of those who identify themselves as residents of HD 45 remain very supportive of sensible regulation measures.  As far as I could tell, the half-dozen or so people who were at the coffee to express anti-regulation views were from other districts.

One of the issues that arose during the coffee was whether or not video recording should be allowed.  One of the people there to argue against gun regulation wanted to record the discussion, and most people objected to his doing so.  I myself don’t object to being recorded—for me as an elected official, it kind of goes with the territory.  However, it clearly had a chilling effect on others, who didn’t feel comfortable expressing their views without a clear sense of how the recording might be used.  The individual doing the recording stopped immediately when the participants asked him to do so, which helped defuse a potentially difficult situation.

It did get me to thinking, though, about what my policy should be on the recording of my coffees and town halls.  I’ve decided that it’s appropriate for recording to occur at town halls, which are by nature public events.  The focus there is on the legislator(s), and the cameras can be kept in the back of the room, without visually identifying those in the audience.  For coffees, however, which are intended to be conversations among constituents and guests, it would not be appropriate, so I’ll be asking that it not occur there.

More On Sensible Gun Regulation

The Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to soon be hearing a number of different pieces of gun regulation legislation, including barring concealed carry in K-12 schools and requiring background checks for private gun purchases and transfers.  As I mentioned above, we are getting mass emails from individuals claiming that any kind of regulation is an infringement of their 2nd Amendment rights, a position they claim has been affirmed by the Supreme Court.

I was reminded by my colleague Lew Frederick that in fact the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2008 case (D.C. v. Heller), which affirmed the individual right to own weapons, also specifically reaffirmed the right of government to promote community safety via sensible regulation.  It ruled that a city or state cannot ban gun ownership outright, but it can impose common-sense restrictions.  The majority opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, said the following:

"Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. … Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

Thus, I believe that there is a clear constitutional path for us to enact sensible regulation that enhances public safety.  I’ll soon be scheduling a hearing in my committee on HB 3114, which would restore to community colleges and universities the ability to set their own on-campus gun policy.  Nearly every other state either bans guns on campus (including those owned by people with concealed weapons permits) or leaves that decision up to the individual college or university.  For more on this issue, take a look at this article.

Next Steps for Tuition Equity

HB 2787, the tuition equity bill, has passed the House, and is now in the hands of the Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development.  It will have its public hearing in that committee on Tuesday, March 19 at 1 p.m.

Last Thursday, March 7, the Senate committee was able to hear from former-Senator Frank Morse (R-Albany), a long-time champion of tuition equity and my partner in getting it through the Senate in 2011.  He gave the Senators some of the background on the bill and recounted the reasoning that led him from being an opponent to becoming a strong supporter.  It was great to have him there.

I’ll let you know more about next week’s hearing in the next newsletter.

Budget Co-Chairs Prioritize K-12 Funding

Oregon uses a joint House-Senate appropriations process in creating the state budget.  The two Co-Chairs of Ways and Means (Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, and Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland) carry a great deal of authority in the process.  They take the framework created by the Governor’s recommended budget and turn it into something that reflects the Legislature’s priorities.  That normally doesn’t happen until the last month or so of the session, but this year there was a desire to do it much earlier.

The co-chairs took as their starting point one of the core principles of the two Democratic caucuses—we need to get the K-12 budget funded to the point where further cuts can be avoided by most districts.  That means a biennial budget of $6.75 billion, nearly a billion dollars more than today.  It’s a huge lift, given the slow pace of the economic recovery, but a necessary one. 

The co-chairs’ budget assumes that we will get to that level through a combination of savings from “collaring” PERS rates (to lessen the impact of the residual effects of the stock market plunge on employer PERS rates), capping the annual COLA paid to PERS recipients, and eliminating a number of tax credits and deductions aimed at wealthier Oregon taxpayers and corporations. 

Though I admire much of what the co-chairs tried to do with their budget (and it is in many ways an improvement on the Governor’s initial budget), I think there are real problems with the proposal at this point.   There was no increase in funding for community colleges or universities from the Governor’s budget; if this isn’t changed, we’ll again be looking at sizeable tuition increases next year.  Also, at this point, most of the new money is coming from the projected PERS changes, which is unfair, and its legality is highly questionable.  Unless any projected PERS savings are matched dollar for dollar with savings from closing tax loopholes, it’s going to be hard for me to support it.

But please be patient—we’ve got a long way to go with the budget.  You can see the Co-Chairs’ plan here.

A Vote On the Death Penalty?

I’m a co-sponsor of HJR 1, which would ask the voters to approve a constitutional amendment mandating the end of the death penalty in Oregon, replacing it with the sentence of life without the possibility of parole.   Most people who have studied this issue agree that the death penalty is expensive, does not deter crime, is inequitable, and precludes new information from rectifying a wrongful conviction.  Other states are voting to eliminate the death penalty, and I believe that Oregon should join them.  On Feb. 26 I was able to be part of a press conference along with three other legislative champions--Rep. Mitch Greenlick, Rep. Jules Bailey, and Senator Chip Shields—along with community representatives, including the last Oregon warden to have overseen an execution.  This bill faces an uphill battle, but it’s definitely a fight worth pursuing.

Paying Tribute to Harold Williams

Last week I was able to start the week with a task that was a real privilege, but a sad one.  I was able to speak about the late Harold Williams (1943-2012), a giant of a man, and a member of the PCC Board of Directors for 22 years, and welcome his family to the floor of the House.  The occasion was the vote on HCR 9, a memorial to the life and contributions of this man, who gave so much to his community and in particular to PCC-Cascade.  Rep. Frederick, pictured above, carried the resolution, and several legislators spoke of how Harold and his work touched their lives.

 Check out the resolution to find out more about Harold.

CTE Bills Clear Their First Committees

Last week was CTE week at the Capitol.  We passed three bills related to Career/Technical Education out of committee.  All three bills were following up on the work that I did in 2011 with Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian to create the CTE Revitalization Grant program.  That grant program (funded to the tune of $2 million) was our attempt to begin to turn around the ship of disinvestment and begin to create new partnerships between school districts, community colleges, labor, and industry.

SB 498, for which I was the House Chief Sponsor (with nearly every senator and representative signed on as a sponsor or co-sponsor), passed out of the Senate Education Committee unanimously and is now being considered in Ways and Means.  It seeks to increase the Grant fund up to $20 million. 

It was accompanied by two House bills that came through the Higher Education/Workforce Development Committee.  HB 2913 is a technical fix that clarifies the role of the Revitalization Grant advisory committee (which consists of representatives from labor, industry, and education).  It goes directly to the House floor for a vote next week.

HB 2912 calls for the creation of joint CTE industry advisory committees for high schools and community colleges, so that students in high school professional programs have a clear and coordinated path from high school to community college to apprenticeship or other employment.  I’m very proud of this concept, and am looking forward to its path through Ways and Means and on to passage.

Leg 101:  Do You Have a Smart Phone?

If so, you can easily download the Legislature’s mobile app, which makes it very easy to search for bills, see committee agendas, and access other useful information.  Simply use your browser to go to the full legislative website (, look all the way over to the right, and you’ll see “Mobile Site.”  Click on it, and you can then download the app.

PPS Budget Town Hall, Listening Sessions

Portland Public Schools will be hosting a series of meetings for public comment and questions on the proposed budget for the 2013-14 school year.  I'd encourage you to attend one of these events if you can.

Next Monday, 3/18, Governor John Kitzhaber and the Portland School Board will hold a town hall on education investment and improvement.  The town hall will be at 6 p.m., Monday, March 18th in the Madison High School cafeteria, 2735 NE 82nd Ave. It will be streamed live at and broadcast on Comcast channel 28.

In addition, the district is holding two listening sessions on the budget with Superintendent Carole Smith.  More information can be found here.

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