Town Hall Tonight & Legislative Update

Michael Dembrow

Friends and Neighbors,

It’s the end of March, and that means that this legislative session is about 40% completed.  Things have slowed down a little after the frenetic opening weeks that saw our change of governors and the passage of a number of high-profile bills that were passed mainly on party-line votes.  These were bills that have been in the queue since 2013 or 2014, such as those related to Clean Fuels, automatic voter registration, and class-action lawsuit proceeds.  I had voted for all of them previously, and I was pleased to see them go through. 

We’ve already seen dozens of bills come to the floors of the House and the Senate, and nearly all of them have passed in a bipartisan manner (most of them strongly bipartisan).  Many of these are technical and routine (e.g., fixing problems that have surfaced in previously-passed bills, updating standards and modernizing language in statutes), but many others are substantive and reflect real compromises on both sides.  Examples of this kind of bill would be the hospital assessment fee (HB 2395), which brings 2-1 federal matching Medicaid funds to Oregon and the “central assessment” bill (SB 611), which makes it easier for data centers to locate in Oregon. (I voted against this bill when it first hit the Senate floor, then voted for it when it came back with amendments from the House that improved it.)

But there are still many good, important, and yes, controversial bills out there.  I’ll talk about a few of them in this newsletter.  I’ll have good news to tell on some, frustrating news on others, and difficult choices to be made on at least one.

In any case, this is all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what’s really going on in Salem these days.  Hope I can see you at our town hall this evening and/or at the constituent coffee this weekend, so I can tell you more and answer your questions.

Town Hall Tonight & Coffee on Saturday

I hope to see you tonight at 7pm at the Hollywood Senior Center (1820 NE 40th Ave.) for a legislative update Town Hall.  I'm co-hosting with Reps. Alissa Keny-Guyer and Barbara Smith Warner, so it's a chance to hear from each of us and to give your feedback.

Saturday morning, I'll be holding my monthly constituent coffee at 9am, also at the Senior Center.  Stop by for a cup of coffee and some conversation!

An Early Vote on the K-12 Budget

It looks as if the first of the state’s big budgets will come to the floors of the House and the Senate this week.  HB 5017, the $7.255 billion K-12 school fund, is coming to the House floor this morning, and if it passes there, it should come to the Senate floor on Thursday. 

I’ve received many emails from constituents asking me to vote against the proposed budget to signal my desire to see a higher amount.  However, I’ve decided that if it makes it to the Senate, I’ll vote yes in order to lock in this amount, while continuing to work to make it higher before the session adjourns.    

According to our legislative revenue and fiscal offices, this amount will allow nearly all districts to maintain their current services for the next biennium.  That should mean no cuts for most districts next year, which is great, but it doesn’t make much progress on reducing class size, adding school days, and restoring electives.  For that, we’ll need more revenue.  Section 8 of HB 5017 dedicates 40% of any new revenues that are projected to come to the State as a result of the May 2015 revenue forecast to education. 

However, we may still find ourselves unable to keep any of those new revenues because the kicker will have kicked.  If that happens, then the only way we’ll be able to get additional money to K-12 is by voting to hold back or modify the kicker.  To do so requires a 2/3 vote of both chambers—ie., some Republicans will have to join Democrats to do this.  Right now, this seems unlikely, but remains a crucial goal.

On the positive side, this budget does do a lot.  It builds upon the historic $1 billion increase in K-12 funding that we were able to do in 2013-15 with a further $600 million.  It fully funds full-day kindergarten all over Oregon, fulfilling a promise made back in 2011.  It is a sizeable increase over the Governor’s recommended budget and $5 million more than the Ways and Means Co-Chairs’ original budget.  On top of the $7.255 billion allocation, the Legislature is also investing $12.5 million in improvements to English as a Second Language Learning, $2.5 million to ensure that every student who qualifies for reduced price lunches qualifies for free lunches, and adds $17 million to the High-Cost Disabilities Account.  We’ll also be seeing greater investments later in the session in Career/Technical Education and in Pre-K. 


This level of K-12 funding will also allow us to put a little more money into community colleges, universities, and college student aid, all of which are still below pre-recessionary levels. 

In sum, I wish I could be voting for a higher amount at this point.  Given our revenues at this point, I just don’t see a way to do that without causing further damage to higher education and to badly-needed services for low-income children and families and people with disabilities.

I’m sure we’ll be discussing these challenges further at the Town Hall and at the Constituent Coffee.  I look forward to your thoughts.



A New Form of Access for Tuition-Equity Students

One of my proudest moments of the 2013 session was the passage of HB 2787, which allowed undocumented children who’d grown up in Oregon and graduated from an Oregon high school to attend public universities at an in-state tuition rate.  This was a real step forward, coinciding with initiatives at the federal level that provided them with a temporary legal status and the ability to work legally. 

Still, barriers remain for these students.  Some artificial and unnecessary timelines in HB 2787 made it difficult for some students to achieve tuition-equity status.  Moreover, while paying in-state tuition definitely helped, their inability to access federal or state financial aid continued to hold them back.  Other states—Texas, California, Washington, Minnesota, and Massachusetts—have allowed their tuition-equity students to access their state need-based aid programs.  I’ve been hearing from students, from high school and college counselors, teachers, and advisors from all over the state, that we need to take this next step.

The result is SB 932, the Access to Opportunity Act, which fixes the timeline problems and extends access to the Oregon Opportunity Grant.  It had a great public hearing in the Senate Education Committee last week, with more than a hundred students and their teachers in attendance.  I was honored to lead off the hearing with my House colleague Jessica Vega Pederson.  The testimony was again heartfelt, inspiring, emotional, and consistently in support of these changes.  No one spoke against the bill.  

SB 932 is scheduled for a committee vote on this week.  I expect that it will be voted out with committee approval and sent to the Ways and Means Committee for action on its budget impact.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Paid Sick Leave Voted Out of Committee

One of my primary responsibilities as Chair of the new Senate Workforce Committee has been to find a path to extend sick-leave time off—which is the norm for some Oregonians but an unattainable dream for many others—to all Oregonians.  Right now, four out of five low-wage Oregonians don’t have access to a single day of sick leave to care for themselves or their children.  This needs to change.

I’m happy to report that after many, many, many hours of meetings and negotiations with a number of people, SB 454 is ready to meet this need and move Oregon to a standard that is the norm in most other countries.  After 22 amendments (!), I think we’ve gotten it right.  You can find a summary of the bill here.

SB 454 was voted out of committee last Wednesday and is now in Ways and Means.  I’m hoping to see it hit the Senate floor sometime soon and will let you know when it does.  This is very, very exciting.

Aerial Pesticide Struggle Continues

I’ve written before about SB 613the bill that would improve the way we handle aerial pesticide spraying of our forest lands.  It would provide neighbors with real-time notification when spraying is about to happen, would create science-based, reasonable buffers between sprayed areas and homes, schools, and streams that provide drinking water and fish-bearing habitat.  I started work on this issue while I was chairing the Senate Environment/Natural Resources Committee and was presented with the after-effects of a terrible instance of pesticide misapplication down in Curry County.

I partnered with Representative Ann Lininger in producing this bill, which has gained support from a number of environmental and public health groups and has been featured in various newspapers.  This past weekend’s Eugene Register-Guard included a fine op-ed in support of SB 613 from a former deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service. 

Despite this support, the bill is facing a real uphill battle.  Not surprisingly, it’s facing strong opposition from the timber industry, pesticides industry, and farm bureau.  Now that I’m no longer chairing the Environment Committee, I’m not in a position to determine the bill’s trajectory.  There are a number of alternative bills out there, some supported by industry, others proposed by other legislators.  At this point, a group of legislators, advocates, and industry people are meeting in a work group to see if there’s a path forward for any legislation on aerial spraying this session.  Right now, it’s very frustrating, a real challenge.  We’ll see where it goes.

See you in the district,

dembrow signature

Senator Michael Dembrow
District 23

phone: 503-281-0608
mail: 900 Court St NE, S-407, Salem, OR, 97301