Victories, Defeats, and Task Forces



Senator Michael Dembrow 
SE & NE Portland, Maywood Park

District Phone: 503-281-0608


Twitter: @michaeldembrow

E-Newsletter                              3.17.14 

Friends and Neighbors,

It’s been a little over a week since “sine die,” the end of the 2014 short legislative session.  During this past week I’ve been ruminating over the accomplishments and frustrations of the session (there were plenty of both), and have concluded that on balance there is much to feel good about and to be proud of.  I’ll go into more detail in this newsletter. 

The Legislature will not meet again to pass legislation until February 2015.  But that doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot to do between now and then.  We’re now officially in the “interim” period—i.e., the period between sessions—and the work begins on preparing for 2015.  Many of the bills proposed or passed in February and March resulted in task forces, work groups, and study groups as a way of moving forward on difficult issues.  These groups will start meeting soon.  As Senate Environment/Natural Resources Chair, I’ll be supervising several, and I’m also chairing or a member of a number of others related to education, workforce development, and human services.  I’ll be reporting on this work in future newsletters.

My staff and I will also be busy doing constituent service during the interim, trying to solve problems that residents of SD23 may be encountering with state government.  This is a part of the job that I take very seriously.  In many cases, we address constituent problems in partnership with the constituent’s State Representative (Rep Alissa Keny-Guyer or Rep Barbara Smith Warner).  We like to approach this work as a team. Sometimes the individual problems are anomalies and easy to fix.  At other times they have the potential to affect many people and will require legislation to really fix the problem. 

I’ll also be attending lots of neighborhood and organizational meetings, learning more about the good work that people are doing in our district, along with the challenges that they face.  In this newsletter you can read about one of those meetings, with a great organization called FolkTime.  And of course, I’ll be doing my first-Saturday-morning coffees and mid-month evening meetings.  This month’s evening meeting will be this evening’s Session Wrap-Up Town Hall with Reps Smith Warner and Keny-Guyer. 

As always, please feel free to contact me with any ideas, concerns, or questions. As I mentioned, this is the time to start researching and preparing new legislation and many of our best bills had their origin in constituent suggestions.  Some of you made suggestions a few months ago that we were unable to pursue due to the limited number of bills that could be introduced in the short session.  If so, please remind me of them and I’ll see what we can do to move them forward in 2015.

Finally, on a more personal note, I’m happy to report that my mother, Sara Dembrow, is about to celebrate her 90th birthday!  Family has begun to arrive in Portland to help us with that celebration.  Her health is precarious, so it’s really special to have the family here with us for this momentous day.

Town Hall Tonight!

I hope you can join me tonight at Earl Boyles Elementary (10822 SE Bush St.) for a joint town hall with Barbara Smith Warner and Alissa Keny-Guyer.  We'll be going over details of the just-completed session, answering your questions and gathering feedback for legislation going forward. We'll be meeting in the cafeteria at 7pm.  I'll be providing coffee and there might even be some shamrock-shaped cookies!

Session in Review—

Overall, a Session with Many Accomplishments

You may have seen or heard legislators and others complaining about some of the bills introduced in the short session, calling into question the purpose of the session. They argued that when the voters agreed to annual sessions, they did so because the short session would only be dealing with the budget. 

Well, that’s simply not true.  That kind of restriction is nowhere to be found in the constitutional amendment that voters approved in November 2010.  And the vote on the constitutional amendment followed two “practice” short sessions (in February 2008 and February 2010), both of which included important pieces of legislation and not just budget adjustments.

Generally speaking, when you hear people complaining that a bill is “too complex” for the short session or “not ready for prime time” (a phrase you hear often around the Capitol), they probably wouldn’t have supported it in the long session either!  Blaming it on the short session is all too often a convenient excuse to avoid having to vote against a bill on its merits. 

If you look at the list of bills that passed during the short session, you’ll see that many good bills passed, bills that will do good things for many people.  In many cases, these were bills that had been worked on during the interim and were ready to go. A great example of that was one of my own priority bills, SB 1553, the Public Guardian bill, which has been in process since 2009. There was no reason to keep a good program like this in abeyance for another year.  In other cases, there were bills that really were not ready to go, and that did not pass; however, their public hearings did help to pinpoint the additional research and negotiations that are needed to help them pass next time. 

Without a doubt, there were bills that were very important to me that failed (e.g., the bills related to children’s toxics, class-action lawsuit distributions, improved background checks prior to firearms purchase), and that was frustrating. In some cases, they may have passed in the longer session, as there would have been time to work out last-minute kinks.  But of course, had we not had a session, they certainly wouldn’t have passed! 

I might feel differently if a lot of bad bills had passed during this session, but from my perspective that wasn’t the case.  There were a few that I voted against or wished that they had passed in a different form, but in all cases the majority prevailed.  And as I mentioned in my last newsletter, most bills passed the Senate with strong bipartisan majorities.  In fact, at the end of the day, only one bill passed on a party-line vote (oddly enough it was a vote to support the House amendments to a fairly innocuous Senate bill, SB 1525).  We did hear some people complaining that the majority party was trying to ram bad bills through, but this was just run-of-the-mill political grandstanding: the bipartisan record speaks for itself.

In some cases, the fact that we were in formal session created an opportunity for advocates to come together and create solutions that just would not have happened without the pressure of deadlines.  A great example of this was the land use deal involving Washington County.

One final observation:  in my experience, when we are in session there’s a lot more transparency to the legislative process.  Public hearings mean that anyone can give testimony on issues of concern to them, either in person or in writing, and a public record is established.  Legislators are obliged to take positions on important issues.  There is more media attention, more of a public spotlight.  I think that’s a good thing, the way government should work.

In the next newsletter, I'll have a link to a full update on legislation that passed in various issue areas.  For now, you can visit the site to read a rundown of some of the more notable bills that passed, in no particular order.

Firearms Background Checks Stay On the Table

Despite a lot of work and a very good hearing, SB 1551—the bill to expand criminal background checks to people who seek to purchase firearms from the internet, want ads, or non-family individuals—was not able to get that 16th vote in the Senate that would have allowed it to pass. I remain very committed to ensuring more responsible gun ownership, to doing what we can to keep guns out of the hands of those who will misuse them.  I feel confident that we can get there next year if we keep working on this issue during the interim. 

During the public hearing we heard two complaints from the NRA and “gun-rights” advocates: first, that the current system of requiring background checks for those who buy guns from licensed dealers and at gun shows isn’t working because the police are not notified when a felon tries to purchase a gun.  A second objection was that it’s the mentally ill that we need to worry about, and we should instead concentrate on providing more treatment services for those with mental illness. (I do agree that we should be doing this, but don’t see it as an either/or.) 

To address these two objections, an amendment was drafted that I hope will become part of the bill next year.  The amendment includes two changes. The first change gives statutory authority for local law enforcement to be notified when a felon or someone with a restraining order has attempted to purchase a firearm.  They can then take action against that person.

The second change would allow a court to use its existing authority to direct someone with mental illness to participate in assisted outpatient treatment to also prohibit them from purchasing or possessing a firearm during that treatment period.  Specifically, “The court may prohibit the person from purchasing or possessing a firearm during the period of assisted outpatient treatment if the court further finds that there is clear and convincing evidence that the person would constitute a danger to self or others or to the community at large as a result of the person’s mental or psychological state as demonstrated by past behavior or participation in incidents involving unlawful violence or threats of unlawful violence, or by reason of a single incident of extreme, violent, unlawful conduct.”

Read the full amendment here.

I think that these two changes have real potential to work alongside of the closing of the existing background check loopholes to create safer communities.  Getting them drafted and made public this year will allow them to be widely analyzed and if necessary improved in time for next session.  That’s a good thing.

Please let me know if you have questions or suggestions about them or about this legislation in general.

Another $2 Million for Career/Technical Education

Despite ongoing budget constraints, the Ways and Means Co-Chairs were able to find $2 million to fund additional CTE Revitalization Partnership Grants for next year.  This is on top of the nearly $10 million that we put into the budget last year to fund CTE and which is being used in high schools and middle schools all around the state.  There were some excellent proposals left on the table, which is why we needed the extra funding.

The rebirth of support for CTE over the last few legislative sessions really makes me proud.

Learning about FolkTime

Last week I attended the annual breakfast for an organization called FolkTime, which provides services for people with mental illness in a unique and very effective way.  It uses Peer Support Specialists—trained individuals who are themselves at various points in their mental health recovery process—to provide one-on-one and group support for their peers.  They do a lot of work with veterans with various forms of PTSD.  They also have a community-driven program based in Clackamas County called Open Minds Open Doors, whose purpose is to reduce the negative stigma around mental illness so that people are willing to seek and find support.

Encouraging people with mental illness to take responsibility for their own recovery and help with the recovery of others makes a lot of sense on many levels. We were cautioned at the breakfast to avoid “tokenization,” e.g., having people affected by mental illness on a non-profit board so that you can say that they are represented, but not giving them any real responsibility or authority.  If you’re not prepared to train people and help them grow into positions of real responsibility, then you’re not really walking the talk.  This is true in so many contexts.

FolkTime is located within SD23, and I plan to drop by sometime soon to meet the people working there.  I encourage you to check out their website.    

See you in the district,

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