The Final Week Begins



Rep. Michael Dembrow 
NE Portland, Maywood Park & Parkrose

Phone: 503-986-1445


E-Newsletter                              2/26/2012

Friends and Neighbors,

The final few days of the 2012 legislative session are upon us.  By all accounts, we will be out by Friday at the very latest.  Our target had been Feb. 29, but that’s looking unlikely at this point, for no other reason than the time it takes to process paperwork and get bills from one chamber to the other.  So, Thursday is looking more likely, or perhaps early Friday.

That’s not to say that there aren’t still some big question marks out there.  Of the Governor’s four big healthcare and education initiatives, two (Health Care “Transformation” and the Early Learning Education bills) have passed or are moving.  However, the Health Care Exchange bill and the Oregon Education Investment Board bills are still bottled up.  Again, they are not being held up for reasons having anything to do with their contents.  Rather, it’s all about what can be attached to them or traded for them.  That’s a shame. 

The foreclosure relief bills are also still in limbo.  They passed with bipartisan support in the Senate, but have hit a roadblock in the House.  In an effort led by Rep. Whisnant from the Bend area and Rep. Wand from Gresham/Troutdale, amendments are being proffered that would water them down, make mediation voluntary on the part of the banks, give approval to the finance industry’s “MERS” system of handling foreclosures (waiving Oregon’s mortgage recording laws), and barring the Attorney-General from pursuing Unfair Trade Practices Act cases against the mortgage industry.  For me, these Republican amendments are simply unacceptable and will probably result in the final death of these much-needed bills for this session. 

On the positive side, I am happy to report that we have reached a final budget deal (see more below), and also that all of the Higher Education bills and my own two personal bills have either passed or are still alive and moving.  The STEM, Affordable Textbooks, Prior Learning Assessments, and University Governance bills should all hit the House floor on Tuesday or Wednesday.  The Workforce Development bill, which passed the House unanimously last week, has passed out of the Senate Education Committee unanimously and is headed to the Senate floor for final passage on Monday.  HB 4131, which sets out the process for reducing the number of middle managers in state agencies and had stalled last week, has come back to life and is being used as part of the final budget deal; the bill itself comes up in Ways and Means on Monday.  So, things are looking good on these fronts—though, as we say continually in the Capitol: “You never know . . .”

But we should know by next Saturday, when Jackie Dingfelder, Alissa Keny-Guyer, and I will be holding our post-session town hall at the Hollywood Senior Center.  You can expect answers to all questions there.  See details below.  Now, onto some of the happenings of the last week.

Budget Deal Reached

The House, Senate, and Governor reached an agreement earlier this week that allows us to balance the state budget for 2012.  As I’ve mentioned in previous emails, the challenge that we faced was three-fold:  (1) a $340 million revenue shortfall from what we were anticipating when the budget was finalized last May; (2) additional money needing to be found to shore up programs that were facing bigger challenges than anticipated; and (3) philosophical differences between the political parties that needed to be overcome given the 30-30 split in the House.  And in the end there were some differences with the Governor that had to be resolved.  But with a great deal of effort, an agreement was finally reached. 

Although compromises needed to be made, overall I’m very pleased with the settlement.  It restored nearly all the potential cuts to much-needed services for seniors, people with disabilities, children, and the poor.  It maintains a good amount of reserve in case revenues continue to decline.  I’m not happy with cuts of $480,000 (3.3%) to the $13.8 million (nearly all of it federal dollars) Refugee Services Program, but at least the state share was not completely eliminated as some were seeking.  I’m not happy with the inability to restore any of the 3.5% “holdback” to community colleges and universities, but at least there will be money set aside to prevent any further cuts if revenues continue to decline.  And funding to local school districts has been completely protected.

Saturday’s Oregonian does a good job of giving an overview of the plan.  You can see the plan in detail here.  Please let me know if you need any further information or explanation.

Health Care Transformation Bill Heads to the Governor

If there was one bill that needed to pass this session, it was SB 1580, the bill allowing for the creation of “coordinated care organizations” that have the potential to transform the delivery of healthcare in this state.  It was particularly important because we had been promised hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government to serve as a pilot program if the bill passed and the programs began.  After being hung up on the Senate side due to attempts to attach caps on medical liability to it, and then sitting in the House waiting for permission to move it forward, it did finally move, and I’m happy to report that it moved on its own merit.  After being co-presented to the House by a Republican and a Democrat, with overall positive debate, it passed overwhelmingly, 53-7.  This result was a piece of true bipartisanship that we can feel good about.

Attempt to Get Community College and Transportation Construction Bill to the Floor Fails

One of the highlights of the week was an attempt by House Democrats to get the contents of HB 4028 to the floor.  HB4028, sponsored with great passion by Rep. Dave Hunt (D-Gladstone) would use the small amount of excess lottery bond capacity to fund $30 million in infrastructure projects that would immediately lead to a number of jobs throughout the state.  There has been a backlog of these "shovel-ready" projects waiting to break ground this summer if funding can be made available.  Particularly dear to my heart was the $10 million in community college projects, all of which would go to career/technical education buildings, labs, and equipment.

Unfortunately, the bill has been locked up in Ways and Means for reasons that are unclear.  There is clear support for it in both parties, but it has become a philosophical and political football, caught between the Democratic desire to create jobs by investing in public infrastructure (schools, roads, transportation) and Republican belief in creating jobs by cutting corporate taxes. 

Representatives Hunt and Jefferson Smith led an attempt to bring it to a vote by attaching it to a Senate bill, SB 1544, which had been approved for a vote.  This is a strategy known as a “minority report.”  Unfortunately, on Thursday the attempt failed when the motion resulted in a 30-30 tie along party lines.  Since we need a majority to pass any bill or motion, a party-line vote in the House means failure. 

I’m still hoping that a way can be found for HB 4028 to come out of Ways and Means, and I gave a speech on the House floor on Friday calling for that to happen.  I know that too many community college students all over the state are being shut out of professional/technical programs because of inadequate space.  That must change as soon as possible, and this bill is a step in that direction.

Tuition Equity Briefing Draws Dozens of Students

This past Tuesday, we had a great informational briefing on Tuition Equity in the Capitol.  Several of my House colleagues joined me to hear from students, educators, immigration attorneys, business and community leaders, and members of the faith community on why this legislation is so critical.  What we heard was moving, and at times heart-wrenching. 

This is clearly an issue that still means a great deal to many Oregonians, as it does to me.  I didn’t submit any tuition equity legislation during this short session because we are up against the same political dynamics as we faced in 2011.  I look forward to resubmitting it in 2013, and I know that I’ll be joined again by a huge coalition of people from all over the state and all walks of life.

We’ll be putting some clips from the briefing on the website, and I’ll link to them in the next newsletter.  You’ll be inspired.

Next Saturday: Post-Session Town Hall on March 3rd

Next weekend, just days after we expect to drop the gavel and close the 2012 session, I’ll be co-hosting a town hall with Senator Dingfelder and Representative Keny-Guyer at the Hollywood Senior Center.  We’ll provide a wrap-up of the session and look ahead to possible legislation for 2013.  Please 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 Saturday,


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