Close Encounters of the Sine Die



Senator Michael Dembrow 
SE & NE Portland, Maywood Park

District Phone: 503-281-0608


Twitter: @michaeldembrow


Friends and Neighbors,

We’re in the final days of the 2014 session now, and it definitely feels that way.  Although we technically have until Sunday to adjourn “sine die” (i.e., adjourn for the session), right now it’s looking as if adjournment will come late Thursday or early Friday.

All the policy committees aside from Rules and Revenue and all of the Ways and Means subcommittees other than Capital Construction have shut down for the session.  The main purpose of Capital Construction (as its name suggests) is to make final recommendations on public bonding projects.  However, it is also the place where last minute amendments can be made on a variety of important bills, and it’s where we’ll see the budget bills finalized.  Since both the Speaker of the House and the Senate President sit on this committee, it becomes the place where final agreements between the chambers are confirmed.

For me, last week was a roller-coaster series of encounters with Ways and Means.  Projected fiscal impacts for two of them came out much higher than expected, final amendments needed to be drafted for three of them to ensure passage (in the end, only two of those survived), and one of them sailed through.  You can read the gory details below.

I had two special moments on the Senate floor at the end of last week.  On Thursday, I got to recognize my student intern for this session, Lizzy Atwood Wills.  Lizzy is a Political Science major at PCC-Sylvania, where she serves as the student government legislative director.  She’s been a great presence in the office, sitting in on a variety of meetings, helping with constituent feedback.  Many thanks to PCC’s Rob Wagner and Dr. Michael Sonnleitner for putting together such a great internship program.  Lizzy and the other interns have been able to get a clear understanding of how things really work in Salem, an understanding that they could never have gained in the classroom alone.

On Friday the entire Senate bade a formal farewell to my Senate predecessor, Jackie Dingfelder.  This often occurs at the end of a session when we know that legislators are not returning, but since Jackie made her decision to step down during the interim, the Senate never had the chance to do this.  So, Jackie got to endure a series of mild roasts and warm accolades from people who had served with her over the years.  It was a very nice moment.

Stay tuned for next week’s final wrap-up.

Are Partisan Bills Being Jammed Through?

We’re at the point of the session when partisanship begins to rear its ugly head and people start making comments to the press that really don’t hold water.  One of the charges being made is that the short session is merely an opportunity for lawmakers to score political points on the opposition.  If you look at the many good, important bills we’ve already passed this session (this newsletter includes many examples), you’ll see proof to the contrary. 

What most people don’t realize is just how bipartisan most of these bills have been, despite charges of partisanship.  Look at the statistics on the 95 bills that had passed in the Senate as of last Friday:

75 were unanimous

16 passed with at least 20 aye votes (out of 30 senators)

4 passed with fewer than 20 but with bipartisan support

So far, not a single bill has passed the Senate on a straight party-line vote.  That’s a pretty remarkable statistic.  In my next newsletter I’ll let you know the final vote count for all bills.

Great News for Guardianship!

SB 1553, the bill that would allow us to provide coordinated guardianship and conservatorship services for indigent Oregonians, has successfully made it out of Ways and Means and through the Senate!  It was my honor to present it on the floor of the Senate this morning.  Representative Margaret Doherty, who was also on the task force that led to this wonderful bill, will present it to the House soon.  I expect it to pass there and head to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

Here’s a write-up on the Ways and Means hearing in this week’s edition of The Lund Report.

Class Action Lawsuit Bill Stalls – Temporarily?

In last week’s newsletter I reported on HB 4143, the bill that would send unclaimed class-action distributions to Legal Aid, rather than to the offending corporation.  The bill passed by a 3/5 vote of the House, with several Republicans joining the Democrats to pass it.  It was just passed out of the Senate Rules Committee and is headed to the Senate floor, though it is not yet clear that there are the sixteen votes that would pass it.  Intense lobbying against the bill by a variety of corporate interests seems to be working in the Senate.  We were scheduled to take up the bill this morning, but it has been held over until tomorrow while negotiations continue.

If it doesn’t pass this year, I’m sure that it will be back before us in 2015.  You can read about its final fate for this session in next week’s newsletter.

More Funding for Programs Like Future Connect

One of the successes of this session will be the likely passage of HB 4116, the bill that sends $750,000 to the community colleges to allow for the replication of a very successful program at PCC called Future Connect. 

Future Connect is a scholarship program that is sponsored by the City of Portland, The City of Beaverton, The City of Hillsboro, the PCC Foundation, and Portland State University.  Future Connect is an opportunity for high school students within Multnomah County, the Hillsboro School District, and the Beaverton School District who are low income or first generation in their family to attend college.  It provides financial assistance, advising and mentoring, and overall career guidance to students who have good potential, but could easily fall through the cracks and never make it to college.  It’s a great example of partnership between schools, college, local government, and private philanthropy.  This bill will help the program become a model for districts throughout the state. 

The bill won the unanimous approval of the Ways and Means Committee and is headed to the House and Senate floors.

Environment and Natural Resources Committee Goes 0 for 3!

The committee that I chair now that I’m a senator has completed its work for this session.  We ended up having a number of good hearings, passed some good bills to the floor for passage, and held others back for this year.  But I’m humbled and somewhat bemused to report that NONE of the three committee bills made it to the floor. 

SB 1510 was important legislation creating a more comprehensive environmental process for projects that have a statewide environmental and public-health significance. To be honest, it was never intended to be passed this session, but rather to provoke a good public hearing that would lead to a work group charged with creating legislation for the 2015 session.  The workgroup process is now being put together, and I look forward to it.  Oregon needs a better, more comprehensive way of addressing complex and controversial projects like coal export, and I hope that this process will help get us there.

SB 1511 was a bill that sought to address the need to reduce the number of kids who are potentially exposed to radon in their schools.  The issue was first brought to me by Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer.  We managed to tighten the focus of the bill and amend it in a way that would make it easier and more affordable for school districts to implement, with testing to be done by the Oregon Health Authority.  At the end of the day, it failed because Legislative Fiscal didn’t have time to come up with a clear analysis of how many schools might need to test and mitigate in any given year.  But we now know what needs to be done over the next year, and both Alissa and I are confident that we’ll be able to get this much-needed program in place during the 2015 session.  Here is a one-pager on the bill.

SB 1512 was a bill that was intended to temporarily put into law some of the anticipated elements of the Klamath water-rights settlement that won’t be finalized by the courts for several years.  It would have created 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.  I was eager to help facilitate that much-needed resolution.  Unfortunately, obstacles to the final Klamath settlement arose, and the bill therefore proved unnecessary for now.  The Governor has declared a drought emergency for the region, which will allow many of these measures to be implemented for this summer.

Each of these was an important issue on which I wound up spending a lot of time.  As you can see, I’ll be spending a lot MORE time on them in the future.  But that’s how important legislation gets passed: you’ve got to think in terms of the long term, not in terms of a short-term “scorecard.”

Land Use in Washington County - Legislature Steps In

I usually don’t like to see the Legislature get into the middle of land use disputes.  We have a long-established process for state, local, and regional boards and commissions to deal with these difficult issues.  However, from time to time situations arise that do require prompt legislative action, and this session has just experienced one of them.

HB 4078 is the product of a “perfect storm” of factors driving us to resolve disputes over the Portland-area urban growth boundary.  The Oregon Court of Appeals has just issued a decision that effectively throws out Metro’s growth plan for Washington County.  To begin all over again would most likely set us up for a process that would last years, leave many people in limbo, and potentially jeopardize prime farm land in the region.  Instead, different interest groups (including local and regional governments, developers, farmers, and environmentalists) took advantage of the fact that the Legislature is now in session, came together, and reached a remarkable (and very unusual) consensus on how to proceed.  The result is this bill.

In the end, this was not a case of the Legislature imposing its will on local government, but rather local government coming to us for help.  The House voted unanimously in support of the bill on Friday, and it passed the Senate this morning 30-0.

Updates on Legislation

For a complete update on key bills from this session, including many that I've mentioned in previous newsletters, click here.

Until next time,


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