The Massacre Approaches



Rep. Michael Dembrow 
NE Portland, Maywood Park & Parkrose

Phone: 503-986-1445


E-Newsletter                              February 11th, 2012

Friends and Neighbors,

The first full week of the session has come to an end.  It’s been long, intense, and full of ups and downs.  As you’ll see from this newsletter, we have a mix of good news and not so good news, and the jury is still out on some of the session’s biggest pieces of legislation. 

As I write this, it’s not clear what will be the outcome of the bill health care “transformation” bill (SB 1580).  There is a strong effort in the Senate to attach a requirement to the bill that would limit the dollar amount of penalties in medical malpractice cases.  I’m opposed to this effort, and I’ll explain my reasoning in a future newsletter if the problem is still there when the bill comes to the House.

My own bills are doing pretty well.  Four of our five Higher Education Committee bills (STEM Education, Textbook Affordability, and University Governance) have passed out of committee on unanimous or near-unanimous votes.  The other (reporting on higher education staffing ratios) is still in process and has a vote scheduled for next Tuesday.  You can read about these bills here.

My two personal bills include a bill on improving Oregon’s Workforce Development training programs.  It had a good public hearing yesterday and will be up for a vote on Tuesday.  My second personal bill is the very important HB 4131, which lays out the process for eliminating middle managers in state agencies to move them to an 11-to-1 staff-to-supervisor ratio and thereby save us $20 million in badly needed savings.  I’m happy to report that I was able to make the case for the correctness of that process to the General Government Committee on Wednesday, and it moved out of committee on a unanimous 8-0 vote.  See the Statesman-Journal’s coverage.

Unfortunately, this session nearly every bill is being sent to the Ways and Means (budget) Committee before moving to the floor.  It used to be said that “Ways and Means is where good bills go to die.”  That’s no longer true, but it does definitely slow down the process. Not much to do, though, except to be patient and keep talking about them.  Fortunately, I do serve on the Ways and Means Education Subcommittee, so I’ll definitely be pressing to keep them moving.

Next Tuesday (Feb. 14) is the deadline for bills to be voted out of committee or to die.  Most of the 200+ bills that have been introduced will not survive our own St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, I’m afraid, but at least some of them will have received good hearings and will be back next year.  We’ll update the list of bills on the website to let you know which ones remain alive and which ones are gone.

Now, on to some of the specific bills and other news from the Legislature.

Latest Revenue Forecast Is Flat

On Wednesday, Oregon’s state economist and his team presented the latest revenue projections and economic forecast to the revenue committees.  The forecast, as we expected, showed little difference from the revenue projections in the previous forecast in November.  Our revenue is projected to drop by another $35 million during the biennium, which is essentially flat.  The state economist also reported that economic indicators are promising across the board, with a better overall outlook than in November.  However, gains remain sluggish and while corporate profits are up, hiring has not picked up enough to change our revenue picture for the positive.

Read the forecast here.

This is one instance where being slightly down is good news, because it means that the budget framework outlined by the Ways & Means Co-Chairs will remain intact, and we will not need to pursue deeper cuts or dip further into state savings.  K-12 education, which was protected from the last round of cuts at the end of last year, remains with no further cuts in state funding.

While the economy remains fragile, and national and international factors continue to weigh on our success here in Oregon, Oregon’s recovery appears to be continuing, though at a very slow rate.  Businesses are starting to hire and invest in infrastructure.  The number of millionaires in Oregon continues to grow (despite the dire predictions made at the time of the Measures 66/67 campaign, where opponents predicted that millionaires would flee the state). 

One message is clear: if we’re going to continue with this recovery, we’ve got to continue to support our working families in Oregon, create real jobs, and get even more people back to work. 

Common Ground on Higher Ed Governance

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the struggles that I’ve been involved in has to do with the question of whether or not to allow universities to have their own boards.  The issue, which was always on the House Higher Education Committee agenda, took a quantum leap of urgency following the nonrenewal of University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere.  It has been very important to me to make sure that we not respond to the nonrenewal by making sudden changes that we will come to regret.  The plan had always been to create a Special Committee on University Governance that would look carefully at the elements to be included in a local governing board and recommend local board legislation that took the needs of all Oregonians into account.  The process would need to be transparent, fact-driven, and principled, not just another instance of lobbying by special interest.

It was a very tough struggle, but ultimately we were able to get to a good resolution, and the bill passed out of committee on Tuesday on an 8-0 vote.  It’s now in Ways and Means awaiting action there.  For a summary of the bill, click here.  You can find the bill itself here.

Senior Property Tax Deferral Program – Proposed Legislation Moves

As most of you know, the legislature has been considering possible alterations to changes made during 2011 to Oregon’s Senior Property Tax Deferral Program.  This week, a bill emerged from the House Revenue Committee that addresses some of the concerns raised by senior advocates.  The bill is HB 4039, and you can read a summary of it here.  We passed HB 4039 off the House floor on Thursday, and it now heads to the Senate.

I’m glad that the committee has decided to provide many former participants in the program with a two-year “glide path” to have their taxes paid, including 2011, while they figure out their situation.  This is an idea that had its birth in the senior town hall that I held with Senators Dingfelder and Burdick and Representative Keny-Guyer back in October.  The bill also requires mortgage lenders to inform people up-front that if they get a reverse mortgage they will not be eligible for the program. 

HB 4039 represents an important step to address immediate concerns, but I don’t think it’s the end of the conversation on this issue.  I would like to see some consideration in the interim of a more comprehensive look at the program’s requirements with an eye on more means-testing and possibly letting those with reverse mortgages participate in the program as long as enough equity remains free in the house to repay the deferred taxes to the state.  Stay tuned.

Education Investment Board Legislation

On Wednesday the Senate Education Committee passed SB 1581, the Governor’s legislation around the new Pre-Kindergarten through Graduate School (“P-20”) Board, the Governor-appointed Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB).  The bill is now in Ways and Means awaiting a hearing and action there. 

SB 1581 creates the new “Chief Education Officer,” who will have oversight of all elements of public education in this state, in a further attempt to break down the various “silos” of Pre-K, K-12, CC, and universities.  Another part of the bill speaks to “achievement compacts” between the school districts, the CCs, the universities, and the OEIB to assess their work in helping students to be successful.  These compacts have generated a number of questions and concerns from the public, many of which were raised in the various public forums held around the state (and many of which I share).  Some of them (regarding teacher and parent participation in the compacts, and making sure that the compacts somehow reflect the amount of state funding) were addressed through amendments to the bill; others remain.

In order to get a better sense of how well the achievement compacts and OEIB address the needs of the community colleges and universities, we’ll be scheduling a special information session on this topic for the Higher Ed Committee this Thursday or the following week.  I’ll let you know more. 

Thanks to all of you who have been writing me on this very important issue.  The work of the OEIB is very much a work in progress and subject to change over the next couple of years.  Your input will help to make sure it is moving in the right direction.

Equal Pay for Nurse Practitioners Stalls

House Bill 4010 requires insurers to reimburse Nurse Practitioners and doctors at the same rate when they are performing the same services and billing under the same codes.  This “pay parity” legislation is important because of a recent practice by some insurers to reimburse NPs at a lower rate than physicians, particularly impacting the mental health and primary care fields.  I support the bill.  The insurers are arguing that this is a way to control healthcare costs, but I believe that it’s wrong to control costs on the backs of nurse practitioners.  Nurse practitioners are highly trained professionals with independent prescribing authority in this state.  When they are doing the same work as physicians, they deserve to be paid at the same rate. 

However, the bill is controversial, has been the subject of intense lobbying, and many members have felt torn between what are seen as the needs of the nurses and the needs of the physicians. 

After clearing the House Health Care Committee on a bipartisan 6-2 vote, the bill came to the House floor Thursday morning.  Rather than voting on the bill, a motion was made to refer to the bill to the House Rules Committee.  The motion passed 33-26, effectively postponing consideration by the full House indefinitely and most likely ending the life of the bill for 2012.  It’s unfortunate that we did not have the chance to debate the merits of the bill on the floor and take an up-or-down vote.  I’m hopeful that the bill will still come back to the floor, but it’s difficult to see that happening right now.

 Talking About Wage Theft

Wage theft is an issue that affects thousands of Oregon workers each year.  Yesterday morning, I got to sit on a panel put together by the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft, which includes two dozen community, faith and labor organizations that have a focus on worker justice.

Wage theft is the practice of not paying a worker for some or all of their time, and it can take many forms.  Examples include forcing workers to skip paid breaks or work through unpaid lunch periods; not paying time-and-a-half for overtime hours; forcing employees to work “under the table”; keeping workers’ tips; and issuing paychecks that bounce.  It also becomes an issue when a business shuts down with little or no notice and doesn’t give workers their final paycheck.

Fortunately, in Oregon we have the Wage Security Fund, which assists workers when their employer shuts down without paying final wages.  It’s not a solution to the problem, but it’s a great stopgap that has helped many workers in this situation.  You can read more about the Wage Security Fund here.  I’m looking forward to supporting legislation in 2013 to further address wage theft in Oregon.

Are You Eligible for Compensation from the Housing Settlement?

I was at a meeting Thursday night in which Attorney-General John Kroger and his Chief-of-Staff Keith Dubanevich explained the terms of the recent multi-billion-dollar multistate mortgage settlement.  This was a settlement with the nation’s biggest mortgage loan servicers—Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Ally Financial—as a result of alleged improprieties by those companies.  The Attorney-General’s website has been updated with information about the settlement.  Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the settlement can be found here.

Meanwhile, I’m sad to report that ALL of the mortgage relief bills in the House have died, unable to get the agreement of both committee co-chairs to move them on.  This is a shame.  They would have mandated mediation between lender and borrower and suspended foreclosure while that process was going on.  Rep. Lew Frederick’s “Good Neighbor Bill” would have required the banks and lending companies in possession of foreclosed properties to keep them in good condition while waiting to put them on the market.  These bills would have really helped struggling homeowners and communities, who need relief right now.

Welcoming February Interns

I’m pleased to once again have interns in my office from Portland State University.  I’ve had at least one PSU intern in every session since I took office, and it’s always great to have them around.  This session, Marissa Johnson and Thomas Worth have joined Team Dembrow.  Marissa is working on health care and human services issues for me, and Tom is focused on higher education policy.  Not only are Tom and Marissa PSU students, they are also former PCC students, so they have a special place in my heart.  We worked closely together at PCC when they were active in student government, and Tom was a student in one of my classes.  If you’re ever able to come by the Capitol on a Tuesday or Thursday, come on up to Room 487 and say hi to them.

Post-Session Town Hall on March 3rd

Instead of my usual first-Saturday-of-the-month constituent coffee,  on March 3 I’ll be co-hosting a town hall with Senator Dingfelder and Representative Keny-Guyer at the Hollywood Senior Center.  This will be the weekend after we expect to drop the gavel and close the 2012 session. We’ll provide a wrap-up of the session and look ahead to possible legislation for 2013.  It should be VERY interesting.  And don’t worry—we’ll have some good coffee there for you!   Please plan to join us on March 3rd.

WHAT: Post-Session Town Hall

WHO: Senator Dingfelder, Reps. Dembrow and Keny-Guyer and You

WHEN: Saturday, March 3rd at 1pm

WHERE: Hollywood Senior Center, 1820 NE 40th Ave.


Until next week,


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