Ten Days - The End Game



Rep. Michael Dembrow 
NE Portland, Maywood Park & Parkrose

Phone: 503-986-1445

 Email: rep.michaeldembrow@state.or.us 
Website: http://www.repmichaeldembrow.com  

E-Newsletter                              2/20/2012

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

We’re now ten days away from the scheduled end of the 2012 legislative session.   It’s a stressful time.  As a result of the Feb. 14 deadline, most bills have either died or been sent to other committees where they will not be scheduled for hearings.  I’m happy to report that at this point all the Higher Ed bills and my own two personal bills are alive and potentially moving, though one of them (HB 4131, regarding reduction in agency middle management) is in serious trouble.  You’ll find details below.

With only ten days left, we’re close to additional deadlines.  This Wednesday is the last day for bills coming over from the opposite chamber to be voted out to the floor.  This Thursday marks the end of all the Ways and Means subcommittees other than Capital Construction, which becomes the catchall place for all remaining Ways and Means bills to be kept alive until the very end.

As I mentioned last week, among the casualties in the House are all the House mortgage foreclosure bills.  However, there are two good Senate bills that are headed our way.  I’m not sure that their future in the House will be any better, but I hope so.  You can find out more about them in this editorial in Sunday's Oregonian.

Tomorrow is Presidents Day, which is not a day off for legislators.  On the contrary, it’s a day when advocates for education and other public services will be swarming to the Capitol to learn more and to remind us of the vital importance of education, healthcare, and supports for vulnerable Oregonians.  It will be a little crazy, but I look forward to it.  There’s nothing like meeting with constituents who can tell their stories in their own words face to face.

Check out the items below, which include a number of links to information that I hope will prove useful to you.  As always, please don’t hesitate to write or call if you need more information or have an opinion to share. 

Achievement Compacts, Higher Education Coordinating Commission, and More

Two of the big education bills, SB 1538 (Higher Education Coordinating Commission) and SB 1581 (Achievement Compacts) went straight from the Senate Education Committee to Ways and Means, which means they don’t get a mandatory public hearing in the House Education or Higher Education policy committees.  That struck me as a real problem, as I know that many people—including many legislators--still have questions about the new “achievement compacts” and other elements of the plan to restructure all of education.  I support the bills, but I know that people want and need to learn more about their details.

So, we’ve scheduled a special informational hearing of the Higher Ed Committee this Tuesday, Feb. 21, from 3 to 5, for a thorough airing of the issues involved in these bills.  You are certainly welcome to attend, but if you can’t come down to Salem, you can always watch it live on the legislative website or listen to an audio archive after the hearing.

You can find a summary of the major provisions of SB 1538 here and the major provisions of SB 1581 here.  In addition, here is a handout on the achievement compact process that was given to the Oregon Education Investment Board at their last meeting.  To read the summaries of the public hearings that have been held around the state regarding the OEIB and the achievement compacts, go to the OEIB website and scroll down. 

If there are any questions that you’d like to make sure are asked at the hearing, please send me an email.

Workforce Bill Heads to the Senate

HB 4141, one of my two personal bills, came to the House floor on Friday.  It’s the bill that seeks to break down silos and set new accountability measures for our workforce development programs.  I’m happy to report that it passed unanimously.  You can check out my floor speech.

HB 4141 will be heard in Senate Education on Wednesday.

Has the Supervisor-to-Employee Bill Stalled?

HB 4131 is my other personal bill for this session.  As I mentioned last week, we were able to get it out of the House General Government Committee on a unanimous vote and down to Ways and Means to help balance the budget.  The bill creates a clear process by which every state agency can move to the target of an 11:1 supervisor-to-frontline-worker ratio over the next couple of years.  Until they get to that point, agencies will be barred from filling vacant supervisor positions, except in exceptional circumstances, and if that’s not effective enough, they’ll eventually have to do layoffs.  The bill is estimated to save state government somewhere between 15 and 20 million dollars over the next year.

This week, however, we started getting some pushback from the Governor and the agencies, who would prefer to make cuts in their own way.  My fear is that frontline workers and vital services to clients will be cut in order to protect middle managers—a process that in my experience is all too frequent in large companies and bureaucracies.  We need to find a way to set priorities and be disciplined enough to stay on track with those priorities.

I’ll be meeting with agency heads this week in an effort to get this back on track and will let you know how it goes.

Higher Ed Bills Up in Ways and Means-Education This Week

After having moved out of House Higher Ed with do-pass recommendations over the last two weeks, all of the Higher Ed bills have been scheduled for public hearings and in some cases “work sessions” (i.e., votes) in the Education Subcommittee of Ways and Means.  Keep an eye out for the hearings on Monday and Wednesday.  I’ll be there, as I sit on that subcommittee.  Here are the complete agendas for the subcommittee as of right now:

Monday, Feb. 20, 1-2:30

HB 4056 STEM Task Force – Public Hearing

HB 4058 Textbook Affordability Act – Public Hearing

HB 4077 Teen Dating Violence – Public Hearing

SB 1539 Task Force on Virtual School Governance – Public Hearing

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 1-2:30

HB 4002 Creating a Public/Private Forestry Education Center at OSU – Work Session

HB 4059 Prior Learning Assessments and Western Governor’s University – Work Session

HB 4061 Special Committee on University Governance – Public Hearing

HB 4038 Clarifies Duties of Higher Education Coordinating Commission – Public Hearing

Following the public hearings on the task force bills on Monday, the subcommittee will decide on whether or not to recommend work sessions for them.  If, as I hope, the answer is yes, then they’ll most likely be added to the Work Session list on Wednesday.

Are the Healthcare Bills Being Held Hostage?

Well, at the moment it looks that way.  In the last newsletter, I reported that the big Health Care Transformation bill, SB 1580, was stalled in the Senate as a result of a potential amendment putting caps on medical malpractice awards.  Well, that problem was eliminated on Tuesday when all Democrats voted for the bill, and two Republicans switched their votes to aye.  The bill thus passed to the House on an 18-12 vote.

But it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing on the House side.  To do so requires the consent of both Co-Speakers, and that has not yet been possible.   The holdup does not seem to be related to the issue of caps on jury awards this time, but more likely is due to its very importance.  We need this bill to pass.  Because of its potential cost savings, the federal government has promised Oregon hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, some of which is necessary to balance the budget.  In fact, it’s so important that it becomes part of “the end game,” the final trades that are all too common in the political world.

That also seems to be the case with HB 4164, the bill implementing Oregon’s Health Insurance Exchange, a new program that will allow small businesses and individuals without access to affordable employer-based insurance to have a place to purchase decent coverage.  It is an extremely important bill, supported by an array of consumer and business interests.  It passed out of the House Health Care Committee on a 7-0 vote.  Unfortunately, on Monday, House Republicans (joined by one Democrat) passed a procedural vote to refer HB 4164 to Ways and Means, citing the need for a mysterious technical fix, which has yet to be addressed in committee.  We did hear reference in a floor speech about not allowing it to be passed until we had passed legislation dramatically increasing timber cuts in our state forests and drawing water out of the Columbia River. 

Let’s hope we can get beyond this gamesmanship sometime soon.  We’re running out of time.

Why I Voted No

Most bills are pretty routine and come to the floor with unanimous or near-unanimous approval from the committee that heard them.  Compromises have been made and problems worked out, so they are easy to support once they get to the floor.  Sometimes, though, I have no choice but to vote no.  That happened to me three times this week, and I’d like to explain those votes.

HB 4045: This bill, which came up for a vote on Wednesday, will shield the identity of those who hold concealed handgun permits, including from public information requests.  I voted no because I haven’t seen any problems with the current system. Advocates were unable to demonstrate that the current system is being abused, and I can imagine some situations in which individuals might have a need to know.  In any case, this bill will likely die in the Senate or be seriously modified there.

HB 4158: This bill allows the killing of wolves who are deemed to be threats to livestock. Again, this is a bill that doesn’t seem necessary to me.  We have a fund that reimburses ranchers for the loss of any livestock killed by wolves, and we currently are bound by a Wolf Conservation Plan that allows for the killing of wolves deemed threats to livestock.  It balances the needs of ranchers with the effort to maintain these animals as part of the larger natural ecosystem.  However, proponents of this bill fear that the courts might strike down this part of the Plan (allowing the killing of wolves when necessary) at some point, so we were asked to make sure it is specifically part of state statute.  I just don’t see a need for that.

HB 4063:  This is a great bill which I almost fully support.  It allows Oregon’s various licensing boards to consider the experience that a veteran has acquired in her/his time in the military and apply it to the requirements for a license if it is deemed to be equivalent.  Unfortunately, at the last minute an amendment was added that would have obliged the Teachers and Standards Practices Commission to grant a license to any veteran that was a Certified Military Instructor irrespective of whether or not their experience was relevant and comparable to teaching in a K-12 setting.  We were assured on the floor that the bill would be fixed in the Senate, so I put on the record that I was a No for that day but look forward to voting yes on HB 4063 when it comes back from the Senate.

The Initial Career/Technical Education Revitalization Grant Proposals Are In!!!

One of my proudest accomplishments in the 2011 session was crafting and helping pass HB 3362, which starts the process of bringing CTE (aka Voc/Tech) back into our schools.  This is so important for increased student success and access to good jobs after graduation.  One part of the bill created an initial $2 million grant fund for programs that were partnerships between one or more school districts and community colleges, industry, labor, or other private partners. 

Feb. 10 was the date for districts to provide the overviews of their proposals (the final proposals are due sometime in April).  47 proposals came in, affecting a total of 171 schools and totaling $11.5 million.  Obviously, the selection committee (which includes representatives from business and industry, as well as education) will have a tough choice, particularly given the fact that the $2 million fund has been cut by $70,000 as a result of the general 3.5% “holdback” from all budgets.  But this will be a good and important first step.

For the statistics on the proposals that have come in, click here.  I can’t go into any detail on the districts and the plans yet because everything must be kept confidential until the final applications are submitted in April.  I look forward to sharing them with you then.

A Proud Moment

Last week I met with the executive board of the Oregon Alliance of Children’s Programs, which represents organizations working with at-risk kids throughout the state, including a range of programs from HealthyStart to mentors to psychiatric residential treatment.  I was there to hear their concerns about how their programs will fit into the Governor’s new Early Learning Council and to talk to them about the implementation of the Oregon Foster Youth Promise (HB 3471 from last session).

But there was another purpose to my visit: I got to pick up an award from the Alliance, naming me a “2011 Children’s Champion” as a result of my ongoing support of their programs and my efforts to remove unnecessary, duplicative (and in many cases triplicative) oversight requirements.  It was a proud and happy moment.

For information about the Alliance and its work, go to http://www.oregonalliance.org.

Until next week, 


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