Let us look to each other.



Senator Michael Dembrow 
SE & NE Portland, Maywood Park

District Phone: 503-281-0608

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

Twitter: @michaeldembrow

E-Newsletter                              Today's Date 

Friends and Neighbors,

With the Election in the rearview mirror, and legislative committee meetings this week in Salem, it's a good time for us to check-in. 

In this newsletter, I’m going to tell you about two legislative trips that I’ve taken over the last couple of weeks, along with information about this week’s legislative committee meetings, my next constituent coffee, and an upcoming hearing on air quality in the Portland Metro area.

First a quick note -- congratulations to us all for the historic decision by Judge Michael McShane last Monday that made marriage equity a reality at last in Oregon.  I was able to attend the celebrations at the Melody Ballroom and even pulled out my old “No On 9” button for the occasion.  What a tremendous day!  The final words of Judge McShane’s opinion  “I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other ... and rise”—are still ringing in my ears.

Now, on to rest of the news.

This Week: Legislative Days

Coming up at the end of the month will be three days of committee and taskforce hearings in the Capitol.  “Lege Days” come once a quarter. All of the committees will be meeting to get status reports on legislation that was enacted in the 2013 and 2014 sessions, and to hear about issues that may produce legislation next year.  It’s a process that we’ve been using for several years now, and it has been very effective. 

Previously, legislative committees met randomly at the call of the Chair, and there was little coordination of them.  As a result, it was difficult for legislators (most of whom also have other jobs) to plan for them, and attendance was spotty.  It allows us to coordinate with the quarterly revenue forecast and the meetings of the Ways and Means “Emergency Board,” charged with making ongoing adjustments to the budget to align with changing conditions.  Finally, it allows the Senate to meet and confirm (or not) appointments to boards, commissions, and executive positions by the Governor.

The May revenue forecast will be presented first thing in the morning on Wednesday, May 28, in a joint meeting of House Revenue and Senate Finance.

You can find the schedule for this week’s meetings, along with committee agendas here.  If you have any questions about any particular committees, just send them our way.

Next Constituent Coffee:  Saturday, June 7

My next constituent coffee is coming up soon -- Saturday, June 7th.  I hope you'll take some time to join me in a conversation about some of the topics in this newsletter, and anything else that's on your mind.  I'm continuing to look to you for topics of concern as I prepare legislative proposals for the 2015 session.  I'll also break-down the latest revenue forecast and what it means for the state budget, and recap the air quality workshop from the day before.  As usual, we'll be meeting up at the Hollywood Senior Center from 10am to 11:30am.

Spicy Topics for Senate Environment and Natural Resources

This week’s meeting of the Senate Environment/Natural Resources Committee (Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.) should be a particularly interesting one.  We’ll be covering four issues that are complex and controversial, and which will likely need attention in the next legislative session:

Regulation of Pesticides:  We will be looking into the faulty aerial spraying last October in Curry County that led to a number of illnesses among residents.  During this meeting we’ll be hearing from some of those residents and from the agencies charged with regulation of pesticide and herbicide application in our forests and with the public health impacts of errors in spraying.

Upper Klamath Water Agreement:  After lengthy negotiations, a settlement on use of water in the drought-stricken Klamath basin has been reached.  The Governor’s natural resources advisor will be on hand to let us know the details of the settlement and any legislation that will be required to implement it.

Proposed Spill Study on Columbia River Dams:  The Fish and Wildlife department is proposing to require the Bonneville Power Administration to increase the amount of water it spills over the big dams and study the effects (ideally positive) on the ability of juvenile salmon to make their way downstream.  This could, however, have an adverse effect on power rates (since less water would be available to turn the turbines).  Not surprisingly, there is considerable concern among the electrical cooperatives and their ratepayers.  We’ll be hearing from both sides.

What’s Up with Clean Fuels?:  The Clean Fuels program, which is designed to reduce our reliance on carbon-based fuel for motor vehicles (or moving from “high-carbon,” i.e., petroleum, to “lower-carbon,” i.e., natural gas and propane) is set to “sunset” (i.e., go away if not renewed) in 2015.  The question of whether or not to continue it is controversial within the Legislature and will likely be a hot topic in the 2015 session.  This will be our chance to begin to prepare for that decision.  The Governor has ordered DEQ to move forward with implementing the program despite its potential demise, so that we can have the facts we’ll need to make our decision next year. We’ll be hearing about the plans to create and adopt the new rules for the program.  We’ll also be hearing the latest on California’s clean fuels program, along with the perspective of private companies and the petroleum industry. 

Three Days in Eastern Oregon

Back in February Senator Bill Hansell (R-Athena), who represents much of Eastern Oregon and who serves with me on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, invited me to come out to his district and see for myself what’s happening there in terms of agriculture, water use, and new industry.  I jumped at the chance. 

First of all, Bill Hansell is a great guy, and the opportunity to spend a few days with him, stay at his home, and see where he grew up and served as Umatilla County Commissioner for 32 years was very appealing.  Second, Bill had done something similar last year with my predecessor, Jackie Dingfelder, and she had been very positive about the experience. (In fact, their time with the ranchers of Wallowa County most likely led to the subsequent compromise wolf management law that was passed in 2013.)  Finally, I knew that the area of Oregon along the Columbia River had managed to escape the worst of the recession virtually unscathed (in fact, its economy had grown), and I wanted to have a leisurely few days to see firsthand why that might be so.

Well, I quickly gave up on any thoughts of leisure.  My three days were to have no leisure in them.  Check out this itinerary, and this is just for the first two days, in Boardman, Hermiston, and Pendleton! (Friday was spent on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and at Eastern Oregon University.)  It was a continual series of things to see, things to learn, people to meet, remarks to make.  Actually, it was fascinating, much more so than I had envisioned, a very positive exercise in Urban-Rural dialogue.  It provided much food for thought.

There’s too much for me to tell in detail, but here are some of the takeaways:

  • Agriculture in this area is much more than just wheat and potatoes.  Because of the growing number of agricultural processing (e.g., making frozen or dried food, dairy products, ethanol, seed) and transportation facilities at the Port of Morrow in Boardman (and to a lesser extent elsewhere), many thousands of good jobs are being created in connection with agriculture.
  • The soil in this region is capable of growing high-value crops if there is access to water.  An acre of non-irrigated land is worth around $1200 an acre.  With irrigation, the acre’s value rises to around $16,000 an acre.
  • With the Columbia River rolling close by, you would think that it would be a simple matter of pumping out water from the big river to allow the region to reach its potential.  However, this would require us to solve an extremely complicated set of legal and environmental challenges.  We need to find an affordable and acceptable way to capture water during the plentiful winter months to use during the growing season, and at the same time help restore the fish runs in the tributary streams.  So far, we’ve not been able to find agreement over the right way to proceed.
  • Portland’s economy is closely tied to what is occurring in Eastern Oregon.
  • More people should know about and visit the SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture and Energy) Center off the freeway in Boardman and the Tamáskslit Center on the Umatilla Reservation just east of Pendleton.  These are excellent museums and interpretive centers where one can learn a lot.
  • The region is a growing center for low-carbon energy, with its proliferation of wind farms, ethanol, waste-to-gas, electricity/steam co-generation, and of course hydroelectric power.

I admire the leadership of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla.  These women and men are doing some amazing, forward-thinking things (e.g., the Cayuse Technology Center), while holding on to traditional values and modes of decision-making.  They are committed to improving salmon and Pacific lamprey runs on the Columbia and Umatilla Rivers and to restoring other “first foods,” such as traditional roots and berries.

It’s not clear to me why more young people from other parts of the state (and country) are not attending Eastern Oregon University in LaGrande.  It combines the cost benefits of a public university with the benefits of a small college with lots of faculty attention and support.  It’s in a really beautiful part of the state.  It plays an important role in the cultural, economic, and intellectual vitality of Eastern Oregon.  We need to figure out a way to beef up Eastern’s enrollment for the long haul.

For all that I was able to learn during this tour, I owe a great deal to Sen. Hansell (and his wonderful wife Margaret), of course, but also to a small group of civic-minded women, who call themselves the Eastern Oregon Women’s Coalition.  Many thanks to Bobby, Fran, Cynda, Cam, Debbie, and the others, who organized and supported much of the tour.  And to J.R. and the other young East Oregonians from the Northwest Oregon Water Association, who are so committed to building a region where they and their families can remain in their homes and retain their rural lifestyles. 

The East Oregonian had a nice snapshot of my visit, which you can read here.

I’ve invited members of the Eastern Oregon Women’s Coalition and the NW Oregon Water Association to come to one or more of my constituent coffees and town halls to enter into dialogue with local people here. 

The Life of an Early Learning Fellow

I’m currently one of twenty legislators from around the country who’ve been chosen by the National Conference of State Legislators to participate in a fellowship program focused on the value of smart investments in quality pre-K.  We’re a mixed group in terms of party affiliation, race, and gender, but we all share a strong interest in education and the power of education to help young people overcome adversity.  Unusually, there are three of us legislators from Oregon--Representatives Jessica Vega Pederson and Sherry Sprenger, and I--as well as one staffer, Speaker Tina Kotek’s policy advisor for early learning, David Mandell.

We had our first gathering in Denver a couple of weeks ago.  We were presented with some of the most recent research on the young brain, notably the way that stress (particularly the “toxic” stress produced by extreme poverty and abuse) inhibits learning. We were also shown the importance of quality early learning programs.  Quality programs give children the chance to develop their imaginative selves (which is so important to their emotional development), build their self-esteem, build the patience to apply themselves to the work that needs to be done, help them overcome the burden of poverty, help to close the achievement gap.  A poor program, on the other hand, does more damage to the child than no program at all. 

We also looked at the various ways that states are structuring and overseeing their early learning programs, looked at new and creative ways to fund them, and also the importance of what are known as “Two-Generation” strategies for fighting poverty, which simultaneously provide learning for the child while providing high school completion, college, or workforce development for the parent(s), along with parent peer support.

Our homework for the program is to begin working on legislative action plans to improve early learning in our states.  We’ll be meeting again in person later in the summer, with webinars in between.  Meanwhile, my colleagues from Oregon and I will be meeting among ourselves and with education leaders to refine our strategy for success here in Oregon.

Please, if you have suggestions for policy changes and for funding strategies, please let me know.

Youth Summit on Transit Justice

In between those two trips, I did get to participate in an event closer to home.  It was a “Youth Summit on Transit Justice,” sponsored by the Multnomah County Youth Commission (which, if you don’t know it, is a tremendous organization, youth from very diverse backgrounds, researching and advocating on issues that touch youth first-hand), and held at David Douglas High School. 

More information about the Youth Commission and the Summit.  Here is an article from the Skanner, which provides the larger context for the Summit.

The focus of the event was to draw more attention to the gaps in service to transit users east of 82nd Avenue.  The first part of the event was just for young people, and then the later part was to allow them to share their priorities with public officials and other adults.  I think I was the only elected official there, but there were many representatives of local agencies and advocacy groups.

The students’ primary hope was to see the current Youth Pass program—which gives students in Portland Public Schools a bus pass that allows them to travel free of charge on Tri-Met during the school year—expanded to include other school districts in the region, particularly in the eastside districts that are home to so many low-income students.  The current program is a partnership between Tri-Met, the City of Portland, and PPS (which has no school transportation for high school students).  It used to be supported in part by the state’s Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) program, which no longer exists.  For it to be extended to other districts, those districts and other cities (and perhaps the county and the state) will need to become partners as well.

The students also focused on the need for more frequent service (particularly on those East County routes that go north and south) and for better lighting, security, and use of communications technology.  I was part of a small group where the students showed us their daily bus usage, which was extensive.  It was very interesting to be brought into the daily lives of these kids, who rely so heavily on public transit.

When asked to give feedback, I let them know how impressed I was by their energy, involvement, and sense of commitment to the greater good.  As Chair of the Senate Environment Committee now, I let them know that I appreciated their efforts to make it easier for young people to value and make a habit of using alternative transportation, a practice that ideally will continue in their adult years.  I also let them know that I would do what I could to make sure that our next state transportation package includes mechanisms to support both youth transit and senior transportation.

I’m happy to report that Mayor Hales is now pushing for expansion of the Youth Pass program.  Last week’s Oregonian article on his recommended budget allocation for the program includes a series of Questions and Answers on the latest plans.

Air Quality in Portland: Workshop, June 6th

Representative Mitch Greenlick and I are hosting a workshop on the current state of the Portland Metro area’s airshed on Friday, June 6, at PCC-Cascade (in the Moriarty Auditorium).  Mitch chairs the House Health Care Committee, and I chair the Senate Environment/Natural Resources Committee.  Air quality is of course a concern that overlaps public health and environmental health, and we wanted to spend a day taking the pulse of the region on this issue.  We'll be joined by several other Portland-area legislators.

We’ll be building off of a recent update by the City Club to its report, “Invisible Enemies: Reducing Air Toxics in the Portland Airshed,”  We’ll cover the following topics:

  • Recap of the City Club Report
  • Responses from the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon DEQ
  • Good-Neighbor Agreements and other Industry-Neighborhood Agreements and Processes
  • North Portland Air Quality Monitoring
  • Lead Exposure in the Hillsboro Airport Airshed
  • Clean Diesel
  • Public Comment and Future Issues to Be Addressed
  • Next Steps and Legislative Follow-Up

Here’s the detailed draft agenda for the day.  It should be very interesting and useful.  It is, of course, open to the public so if you're free, please attend.

Until next time,

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