Fire & Ice: One Week Down



Senator Michael Dembrow 
SE & NE Portland, Maywood Park

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1723


Twitter: @michaeldembrow

E-Newsletter                              February 9th, 2014

Friends and Neighbors,

What a week!  We went from fire to ice, with the 2014 session igniting on Monday and proceeding at full burn—only to be stymied by snow and terrible road conditions by Thursday afternoon.  

As I mentioned in my last newsletter, during the short session, everything happens very quickly.  I’ll give you some of the key dates and deadlines below.  Committees started meeting for hearings on Monday, and by mid-week bills had already passed out and received floor votes.  Of course, the more complex and controversial pieces of legislation aren’t quite ready to go – but we don’t have long to determine their fate.

The pressure of the tight timelines for this month-long session was cranked up on Thursday when snow shuttered afternoon committees and canceled all legislative activity on Friday.  In a session this short, even losing one day of hearings and work sessions makes a difference.

Here are some highlights of this first week, and a look ahead to the next:

First, the Key Senate Dates and Deadlines

Friday, Feb. 7: This was the deadline for committee chairs to post potential votes (“work sessions”) on bills. Thanks to email and the internet, we were able to meet that deadline despite the snow closure.  If there’s a bill you’re interested in, go to the legislative website, search for it under “Bills,” and check the measure history.  If a bill hasn’t been posted for a work session, or a possible work session, it’s probably dead for this year.

Thursday, Feb. 13: Last day for Senate measures to be passed out of committee.  If successful, they go to a floor vote in the Senate.

Friday, Feb. 21: Deadline for committee chairs to post potential votes on bills coming over from the other chamber.

Tuesday, Feb. 25: Last day for Senate committees to vote on House measures.  After this date, only the Rules, Revenue, and Ways and Means Committees will continue to be able to vote on measures.  Other committees may continue to have information sessions only.

The House will be following similar deadlines.  These deadlines are designed to keep us on track to finish the session during the first week of March.  

Hot Topics in Senate Environment & Natural Resources Committee

The committee that I chair has its share of complicated bills.  The first week was full of action inside and outside the hearing room, and next week should be even busier.  
Most of our focus last week was around issues related to the proposed settlement of water rights disputes in the Klamath basin.  We had an excellent “Water Rights 101” on Monday from former Lewis & Clark professor Janet Neuman, an expert on the history of water rights in Oregon.  It was followed by an extensive public hearing on SB 1512 on Wednesday.  
This bill would allow us temporarily to put into law some of the elements of the settlement that won’t be finalized by the courts for several years.
It will create greater water-use flexibility for farmers and ranchers in the Klamath, who are looking at another bad drought year this summer, while incorporating the concerns of Water Watch and other environmental groups.  Some remaining issues of concern came up on Wednesday, and I’m having amendments drafted to address them.  We’re looking at committee passage on Monday or Wednesday.

We also have started work on SB 1511, which will require school districts to test and if necessary mitigate for radon contamination if and when a school is getting a significant structural upgrade that could affect air quality.  This bill started out much broader than I intended for the short session.  Its focus has been narrowed in the SB 1511-1 (“dash 1”) amendments, and we’re working on tightening it up further in another set of amendments that I hope will be ready on Monday.  If so, Ways and Means will be its next stop.

This week we’ll be looking at possible modifications to the Exotic Pet Animals Act of 2009 and the Suction Dredge Mining bill that passed last session.  The former would grandfather in a few animals whose owners missed the deadline to seek licenses for them and the latter would make some minor tweaks to the program.  I’m not sure at this point about whether either will make it out of committee.

On Monday we’ll be having a hearing on SB 1510, which calls for coordinated environmental and public health review of projects (such as coal export) that could impact multiple locations in the state.  This bill is not headed to a vote—the purpose of the hearing is to initiate work that will be continued by a work group between now and the 2015 legislative session.

Finally, this week we may or may not have a hearing on SB 1570, which would remove the sunset on Oregon’s Clean Fuels program, whose goal is to provide more low-carbon fuel alternatives in the state.  Without action by the Legislature, the program will expire in 2015, and advocates for the program believe that the threat of a 2015 sunset is hampering investment in clean fuels.  The effort to remove the sunset failed to get majority support in the Senate last session.  Supporters are working hard to find that sixteenth vote this time around.  Stay tuned.

Universal Background Checks

SB 1551, the bill to expand our current criminal background check system for firearms purchases to include private, person-to-person sales, had its first hearing on Thursday morning. This bill has certainly been the subject of the most attention, both by the media and in terms of my email inbox!  Of course, many of the people who have contacted my office don’t live in the district.  But because I sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’ve been a focus of attention from advocates on both sides of the issue.

The hearing went quite well.  The Committee Chair, Floyd Prozanski, extended the two-hour hearing by 40 minutes, so we could pack in as much public testimony as possible. We started with invited testimony in support from the Governor, from Mark Kelly (former astronaut and husband of Congresswoman Gaby Giffords), and the Portland Police Bureau’s Assistant Chief of Police.  Then came testimony in opposition from the regional representative of the NRA, from the head of the Oregon Firearms Federation, and from a passionate Cuban expatriate who sees background checks as government suppression of individual rights.

Testimony then alternated between proponents and opponents who had signed up to speak, and the time was well-balanced.  As you’d guess, there was passion and rhetoric on both sides of the issue and there was a charged atmosphere in the room.
The bill has been posted for a committee vote on Wednesday, Feb. 12 (8-10 a.m.), though at this point it’s still unclear whether it has the needed 16 votes to pass out of the Senate.  Personally, I’m a strong supporter.  Universal background checks are a common-sense step, and a natural extension of a system that has been in place in Oregon since 1989 – first for sales by gun dealers, then extended to sales at gun shows in 2001.  It’s time to make sure that all firearm transactions in Oregon are subject to a background check.

Opponents of the bill have said that it won’t stop criminals from getting guns.  That’s true – to a point.  But we do know that out of more than 260,000 background checks conducted last year by the state police, 2,151 potential buyers were denied.  These are folks who shouldn’t own firearms, and the system worked and stopped the sale.  The problem is that those individuals, after being denied at a gun store, could turn around and buy through the private market without a background check.  In this case, consistency is important and that’s why I hope to get a chance to vote “aye” on SB 1551.

If you’d like more information on SB 1551 and Oregon's background check system, click here.

Sitting in on the “Coastal Caucus”

The four main caucuses in the Legislature are the Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, House Democrats, and House Republicans, which meet on a regular basis to discuss and debate issues that will likely come to the floor for a vote.  (During session the Senate D’s meet every day at noon.)  But we also have several caucuses that bring together legislators from different parties and different chambers, united by common interest.  They meet less frequently, generally just once a week during session.  I belong to the Women’s Health and Wellness Caucus, the Career/Technical Education Caucus, the Multnomah County Caucus, and the Craft Beer Caucus (unfortunately, this last one has yet to meet this session!).

One of the most active of the caucuses has long been the Coastal Caucus, which brings together senators and representatives whose districts touch the Oregon coast.  They meet once a week during session, often with different agency representatives, explore issues and take positions on topics related to coastal economic development and natural resource use.

Because I’m chairing the Senate Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources, which deals with many issues of interest to that caucus, I’ve been invited to attend their weekly meetings, so that I can hear their concerns first-hand.  I’ve agreed to do so whenever possible (even though that means leaving Portland before 6 to get to their 7 a.m. meetings!)

At their first meeting last Wednesday, we mainly heard about the proposed Coastal Multi-Species Plan from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).   Here’s a summary of the plan.  They’re looking at changes in the mix between hatchery salmon/steelhead and wild salmon/steelhead in coastal rivers and bays (not including Coho Salmon, which are under special federal protections). The plan has come under strong criticism from the Native Fish Society, which feels that hatchery fish are seriously compromising the health of native salmon and steelhead.

If you have thoughts about the plan or other issues related to the coast, please let me know.

I will add that one of next week’s most exciting developments for me will be the vote on SB 1516, which formally initiates a process leading to the creation of the Salmonberry Trail—a rail-to-trail conversion project that would create a biking/hiking trail from Banks in suburban Washington County to Tillamook on the coast.  This is a project that I’ve been encouraging for several years now, and it’s exciting to see it move along.  This link between the metro area and the coast has enormous potential both in terms of quality of life and coastal economic development.

More On Next Week’s Deadlines – The Bell Tolls for Some Bills

With our hoped-for ending date of February 28th, the legislature has established strict timelines for bills moving through the process.  If those timelines aren’t met, a bill is “dead” and can’t move forward this year.  The first of the deadlines came on Friday, when bills had to be scheduled for a committee vote.  If that vote doesn’t take place successfully by this Thursday, the bill is dead.  That leaves legislators, staff and lobbyists scrambling around the building to ensure that their bills are not only scheduled, but have enough votes to make it through to the next round. 

At this point, my own two “personal” bills are in somewhat different places.  SB 1553, the public guardianship bill, had a good public hearing with no opposition and broad support in Senate Health and Human Services on Tuesday.  It’s scheduled for a vote on Tuesday afternoon, and I expect it to move to Ways and Means (the budget committee) for further action.  

SB 1543, the Affordable Care Act Compliance Bill (making sure that workers’ hours aren’t reduced to skirt the ACA employer mandate and that part-time faculty are able to combine the hours they work at public colleges and universities), will have its public hearing and perhaps a vote in the same committee on Tuesday.  I hear that there is a lot of opposition to the bill from employer groups and community colleges, so I’m not as optimistic about its passage during this short session.  But I’m convinced that it’s the right thing to do.  

Revenue Forecast Looms

One topic that is ever-present during any legislative session is money.  Every legislator and advocate in the building wants a piece of the pie for their prized project (I’m not innocent on this point either).  But extra dollars continue to be scarce, so everyone is eyeing this Wednesday’s quarterly revenue forecast in the hopes that it will show some additional projected revenue.

The joint revenue committees will receive the revenue forecast from our state economist on Wednesday at 8 AM.  I’ll send out the details in the next newsletter (and post them to twitter on Wednesday), but you can watch the forecast live if you’d like.  Just visit the legislature’s website and click on Hearing Room A to view the stream.

You Can Follow Along

Remember, the legislative website ( is the place to go if you’re interested in following the Legislature.  There you’ll find links to all the committees of interest to you, their agendas, and the bills in the works.  You’ll be able to live-stream committee hearings or floor sessions as they happen or listen to them via audio archives after the fact.  Every committee has a listserv that you can join—that will insure that you will receive notice of all the meetings and agendas. 

If you’re interested in a particular issue or process and need a little help navigating the resources, please don’t hesitate to email us.  We’ll be happy to walk you through the process of accessing the information that you need. 

Hope this information is useful to you.  My goal is to provide weekly summaries throughout the short session.  Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about anything you read here.

Stay warm and drive slowly (or not at all)!


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