A Snowy Update



Senator Michael Dembrow 
SE & NE Portland, Maywood Park

District Phone: 503-281-0608

Email: sen.michaeldembrow@state.or.us 
Website: senatordembrow.com

Twitter: @michaeldembrow


Dear Friends and Neighbors:


First of all, I want to welcome those of you who are new to this newsletter. As of November 20, I’m representing the residents of HD 46, along with those of HD45, in my new role as senator for SD 23. I’ve taken over Senator Dingfelder’s email list, which is why many of you are receiving this for the first time. I hope you find the information in it clear and useful. I’m honored to be taking on this new challenge, and I hope that you will feel comfortable responding to the information that I provide and share with me your thoughts, questions, and concerns.


I’ll be continuing my practice of holding monthly constituent coffees on the first Saturday of each month. (Read more about this month’s gathering below.) Now that I’ve doubled the number of constituents, I’ll be expanding that practice to include an evening gathering somewhere around the middle of each month. Stay tuned for more information about that.


In this newsletter, I want to report on my first week as a senator. It happened to coincide with the Legislature’s quarterly interim “Legislative Days,” when committees and task forces meet, the Senate confirms the Governor’s executive appointments, and other behind-the-scenes work happens. (Having all or nearly all legislators in the same place at the same time is a real opportunity to get things done.)


As part of my appointment to the Senate, I inherited Jackie’s committee assignments: I chair the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and sit on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources and the Judiciary Committee. I also remain part of the joint House/Senate committee on University Governance and the joint task force on Apprenticeship in State Contracting. I’ll be talking about some of the work done by some of these committees during Legislative Days. Again, please feel free to get in touch if you need any clarification on any of the issues that were discussed.


Finally, I just want to say how wonderful my inauguration ceremony was on November 20. Senate President Peter Courtney led the ceremony, with Governor Kitzhaber doing the actual swearing-in. Secretary of State Kate Brown attended as well, along with a number of my former House colleagues and new Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, my mother had a bout of pneumonia (she’s doing much better now) and couldn’t be there, but Kiki and my father-in-law could, which was wonderful. This very special event was made even more special because the gallery was filled by a group of Portland Community College students, who happened to be in the building that day. What a great, heartwarming coincidence that was! I thank everyone who has been so kind to me throughout this process and promise to do my very best to represent you and narrow the distance between you and your state government.


Constituent Coffee This Saturday


I hope you’ll join me tomorrow morning (Saturday) at 10am at the Hollywood Senior Center for my monthly constituent coffee. I’ll bring the coffee, you bring yourself!


First, Who’s Going to Replace Me as Representative? 


All I can say at this point is that the process to replace me as HD45 Representative has begun! I resigned the seat on November 20, so the Multnomah County Commission has 30 days from that date to appoint the new representative.


For those of you who followed my appointment process to the Senate, this will all be very familiar. The first step will be the nominating convention of the HD 45 Precinct People (PCPs). It will be held this Sunday, December 8, at the Multnomah County Democratic Party headquarters at 3551 NE Sandy. The nominees must be elected by Democratic activists because an elected Democrat is being replaced.


Those who are throwing their hats into the ring to succeed me (there appear to be around 10 at this point) will be there at 5:30 to answer questions generated by the PCPs. Then, at 7:00 pm, the candidates will formally present themselves, and the voting by HD45 PCPs will begin. (Anyone can attend the events of the evening, but only PCPs can vote.) By the end of the evening, anywhere from three to five names will be forwarded to the next stage. For further details about the nominating process, click here.)


Then, sometime within the following week or two, the Multnomah County Commission will hold an appointment meeting and will select the interim representative. Whoever wins the appointment will still need to file to run in the May primary (as I must, by the way).


Any questions about the overall process? If so, let me know.


The December Revenue Forecast: As the Recovery Continues, Budget Remains On Track

On Thursday of Legislative Days, we received the quarterly revenue forecast from Mark McMullen and Josh Lehner of the State Office of Economic Analysis. These quarterly forecasts allow us to read the pulse of the state economy and to see if we’re on track to receive the amount of tax revenue that we expected when we built the final biennial budget last June. The word this time is that we remain in a slow, steady recovery here in Oregon, and tax revenues remain pretty much on track as predicted. They are somewhat higher than we expected last June, but only because the recent special session added revenues.


There is a slight downturn in revenue coming from estate taxes, for reasons that are still unclear, but personal income tax revenues are holding as predicted.


In fact, there is a good chance that by the end of the 2013-15 biennium, revenues will have come in stronger than predicted. On the one hand, this is of course a good thing, as it would reflect a growing economy and means businesses are at last investing in new jobs. On the other hand, it means a good chance that the individual kicker will kick (the kicker kicks when revenues are more than 2% more than was initially projected) and at least $300 million would then go back to the taxpayers and not be available for schools or for the rainy day fund. At this point, there appears to be a good chance of that happening. (It already appears likely that the corporate kicker will kick, but if so, that money will go to education, thanks to the ballot measure that we passed last year.)

Here are the forecast’s main points:

  • All signs point to expansion.
  • Oregon’s growth continues to improve, thanks to improvements in regions outside of Portland, particularly in the Bend and Medford areas, which had been particularly hard-hit during the recession.
  • The risks, if any, come from weaknesses in the broader U.S. economy, the ongoing effects of federal sequestration, and potential downturns in China and the European Union.
  • Educated workers are doing better, as workers with some college are being hired first.
  • Part-time work is starting to give way to full-time, though there is concern that the Affordable Care Act will cause some employers to cut workers’ hours.
  • No growth in corporate income taxes.
  • For some reason, estate tax revenues are down.
  • Extension filers are showing good investment earnings.
  • Including new revenues from the special session, projected revenues are up by $136.4 million.
  • In part due to the special session increases, the corporate kicker is now on track to kick and there is a chance that the individual kicker will kick.

 For those of you interested in the details, here is the full economic analysis and the PowerPoint slides of the presentation.


If you have any questions about the presentation or any of the details in it, please let me know.


Chairing My First Senate Committee

I was sworn in at 11 a.m. on November 20 and was chairing my first Senate committee at 2 p.m.! For the remainder of this biennium I’ll be replacing Jackie D. as chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Senate committees are smaller than House committees, so there are only five of us, three Democrats and two Republicans: Alan Olsen (R-Canby), the Vice-Chair; Mark Hass (D-Beaverton), Alan Bates (D-Medford), and Bill Hansell (R-Pendleton). Though I don’t have anywhere near Jackie’s background on these issues, I did serve on the House Energy and Environment Committee, so I do have familiarity with (and passion for) the topics with which we’ll be dealing. We’re also blessed with a very able and experienced committee administrator, Beth Patrino.


This meeting’s topics included a report from the Dept. of Agriculture on a program that they have underway to prevent and control water pollution from agricultural activities. They have established and are studying 38 “water quality management areas” around the state in order to come up with a standard for best practices. It’s very much a work in progress, an important one, but to be honest, I’d like to see more progress more quickly.


We also heard from the Assistant Attorney-General in charge of natural resources issues regarding allegations that Oregon’s Clean Fuels program (which mandates that a certain level of Oregon’s fuels be from renewable sources) is a violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, based on a recent ruling regarding California’s program. He clarified that the recent court case does NOT put our program into jeopardy and assured us that Oregon’s program is on solid ground.


We also heard about plans to study the feasibility of a “clean air fee” (also known as a “carbon tax”) in Oregon. This study is the result of legislation passed last session, SB 306. It follows in the wake of a British Columbia program instituted a few years ago, which is already showing positive results in terms of mitigating fossil fuel use and using the revenues for job creation and lowering other taxes.


SB 306 directs the Legislative Revenue Office to submit a report to the interim committees on revenue and the environment concerning the feasibility of instituting a tax or fee on greenhouse gas emissions. SB 306 specifies that the report must evaluate different methods of instituting the tax or fee, the impact of the tax or fee on the state economy in terms of jobs and overall economic activity, and the impact of the tax or fee on different regions, industries and income groups across the state. SB 306 further specifies that the report evaluate the costs and benefits of a clean air tax or fee in the context of existing laws designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Legislative Revenue is directed to submit a preliminary report to the Legislature prior to December 1, 2013 and a final report prior to November 15, 2014.


To carry out the provisions of SB 306, Legislative Revenue prepared a request for proposals. A contract was awarded to the Northwest Economic Research Center (NERC) at Portland State University. We heard an initial report from NERC regarding the timeline and parameters of the study. You can see an overview and a detailed report.


By the way, today’s New York Times has a story about the politics of carbon taxing that you’ll find interesting. Check it out.


An Historic, Very Expensive Fire Season

I’m now serving as one of the three senators on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources (each budget subcommittee has three senators and three representatives). Our meeting during November legislative days was devoted to the subject of the 2013 fire suppression season and the need to recommend an additional allocation to deal with higher-than-expected costs.


We heard from Doug Decker, Oregon’s State Forester, that this year’s fire season had been forecast to be worse than average, and it got even worse as a result of very adverse weather conditions in southern Oregon. Three hundred lighting strikes led to four large fire complexes in June and July. It then hit Eastern Oregon in August. Fortunately, though these fires were very intense in July and August, the fire season ended relatively early, thanks to rains coming at the end of August and September.


Decker told us that this was the most challenging fire fighting season in over sixty years. More than 1000 fires of ten acres or less were suppressed, and overall it demonstrated that the firefighting professionals were as capable and prepared as they ever have been. Nevertheless, it was extremely costly, and not just in terms of dollars. It was very costly in terms also in terms of timber loss, habitat loss, and environmental impact. According to Doug, these losses dwarf the monetary cost.


Thanks to measures that we took in 2013 (the Firefighting Protection Act of 2013), more money was set aside to deal with this crisis. Still, we needed to allocate an additional $2 million from General Fund reserves, along with the authority to spend $124 million from a partnership fund that includes federal and private timber owner contributions (insurance money covered additional expenses). Most likely, a further 40 million will be needed in February to make sure that we are covered for the second year of the biennium.


If you’re interested in seeing the full agency report with all the details, here it is.


The subcommittee also received a report from a think tank called Climate Solutions warning us that with climate change we should expect more years like this one. It’s a very interesting report, which you can read here.


Judiciary Looks at Marijuana Legalization

My third new committee is Senate Judiciary. This is a very interesting assignment, and an unusual one for a non-attorney. In the House we have so many lawyers and former law enforcement professionals that it’s very difficult to get a seat on Judiciary; the Senate, on the other hand, has very few lawyers.)


My very first meeting was in fact a joint meeting with House Judiciary, mainly dealing with the controversial and fascinating topic of marijuana legalization. We heard from Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who is a proponent of state-based legalization efforts. (You can read his report on the subject, “The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy” here) We heard from experts on the subject from Washington and Colorado, where the voters have recently passed legalization measures. They pointed out ways in which those measures could have been drafted in a better way and efforts to deal with those problems. We also heard from representatives of “New Approach Oregon,” which is working on another ballot initiative for November.


Faced with the likely prospect of another legalization measure coming to the ballot next November via the initiative process, the question we face is whether or not the Legislature should itself refer a measure to the ballot that would ask the voters whether or not they support legalization. If they were to say yes, then the Legislature would work out the details of the program in 2015, through a public process, based on the experiences of the new voter-approved programs in Washington and Colorado.


To that end, Judiciary Committee Chair Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) shared a draft of legislation that would do just that. He intends to introduce it in the February session. As you’ll see, it includes a set of principles that any new program would have to include. You can check it out here.


Time for February Bill Draft Requests 


November 26 was an important date in the process leading up to our next legislative session in February. It was the date by which all legislative concepts had to be submitted to Legislative Counsel for legal drafting into bills. Since the 2014 session is a short one (just 5 weeks long), each member is limited to just two requests and each committee is limited to just three committee bills.


The first of my two personal bill requests will use money freed up in the recent special session as a result of changes to the senior medical deduction to finally create the Office of Public Guardianship/Conservatorship within the Long-Term Ombudsman office, which will create badly-needed protections for indigent Oregonians in need of safe and responsible guardianship. It has been in the works now for four years, and I’m pleased to see that our perseverance will finally pay off and protect a growing population of vulnerable Oregonians.


The second bill will tackle the problem of Oregon workers at risk of having their hours cut in an attempt to bring them under the threshold of healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act. It’s a danger faced by many Oregon workers, and it’s important that we try to get out ahead of it.


The deadline for Legislative Counsel to complete the drafting is January 13, and we then have until January 21 to get co-sponsors and submit the bill for consideration in February. I’ll let you know how these two bills progress.


City of Portland’s “Advocacy 101”


Next Tuesday at 6pm, the City of Portland is hosting a panel discussion to preview the upcoming legislative and Congressional sessions and provide interested citizens with tips on how to be an effective advocate. Click here for more information on the event.


See you tomorrow,


Update your subscriptions, modify your password or e-mail address, or stop subscriptions at any time on your User Profile Page. You will need to use your e-mail address to log in. If you have questions or problems with the subscription service, please contact support@govdelivery.com.