We're Done!



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                              3/5/2012

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

As I write this, we are truly, finally in the waning hours of the 2012 session.  The House, Senate, and Governor have come to a final agreement on the remaining issues that kept us here beyond our February 29 target date:  the Governor’s final education and healthcare bills, foreclosure reform, a path to allocating badly-needed funds that will allow the Vernonia school district to rebuild its flood-ravaged schools to higher ground, construction dollars for community colleges, and a few other issues.  Many of us had been hoping to get these resolved on Friday, even if it meant staying late, but such was not to be. 

Because of the Republican Party’s annual Dorchester retreat in Seaside (which for some reason had been scheduled for the last weekend of our 35-day legislative session), we were obliged to recess and come back to finish up today.  Tempers were strained, one member made an inexcusable, insulting remark to another (a remark for which he has not yet apologized), and it looked as if we would be lucky to finish before the constitutional deadline of Tuesday night.  Fortunately, over the weekend, tempers subsided, cooler heads prevailed, and a path to conclusion was found.

So, that’s what today is all about: giving Legislative Counsel the time to write up amendments, allowing the Senate time to approve the bills that the House approved on Friday (including the Healthcare Exchange and Early Learning Council bills), and setting up a final meeting of Ways and Means to give final approval to the budget and capital construction bills.  We likely won’t finish until late in the evening, given all the necessary paperwork and votes that need to happen before the final gavel drops.

We’ll come back into session later this afternoon to bid farewell to six of our colleagues in the House who are retiring or leaving to run for other offices:  Terry Beyer of Springfield (retiring), Jean Cowan of Newport (retiring), Dave Hunt of Gladstone (running for Clackamas County Commission Chair), Mary Nolan of Portland (running for Portland City Council), Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay (running for the State Senate), and Jefferson Smith (running for Mayor of the City of Portland).  This is an outstanding group of legislators, who have really put their mark on the future of this state.  It’s hard to imagine the House without them.

I plan to review the accomplishments of the session (and missed opportunities) over the next few newsletters.  For now, I would have to say that under the circumstances our first constitutionally-mandated short, even-year session has been very much a success. We managed to balance the budget in a way that restored some badly-needed services and we moved forward on a number of important issues.  Speaking personally, both of my personal bills (improving our workforce development systems and shifting dollars from middle management to front-line service) passed with large margins, and all five of our Higher Education bills passed handily as well.  Needless to say, this all took a lot of hard work and important coalition-building.

What made it all even more significant is that this all occurred as we are gearing up for legislative elections this year. (The deadline to file is in fact just 24 hours away.)  Many people assumed that this short session would be about nothing more than political posturing and getting the opposition to take votes that would make them look bad.  But we successfully resisted that impulse.  Many good bills wound up as casualties of the 30-30 split House (where it took agreement from both co-chairs to move any bill), but through stubborn effort we were able to find a way to get many others to the floor for a vote.  In the case of the aid to Vernonia’s schools, and foreclosure reform, for example, we could have just given up, blamed the other party for blocking them, and used that fact for political gain.  But to leave Vernonia in the lurch, to block Oregonians struggling to stay in their homes from getting the kind of relief that 21 other states have come up with, would have been unconscionable.  I’m so proud of us for resisting that impulse.

And grateful that we were able to finish on time—particularly since I’m scheduled to be on a plane on Wednesday morning, headed to Austin with Kiki to visit our son and daughter-in-law and our two beautiful grandchildren.  I can’t wait!  It’s a welcome respite and a chance to recharge before I go back to teaching in the spring term. 

Next week’s newsletter will feature a rundown of key bills that passed this session, as well as some that didn’t make it.  I’ll give a full debrief at my next regular constituent coffee meeting on Saturday, April 7th.  We’ll also be updating the website with this info.

Foreclosure Reform Passes

After several weeks of negotiations, we reached a deal on two foreclosure reforms.  An amendment to SB 1552 combined that bill with another foreclosure bill, SB 1564.  The amended bill passed the House and the Senate.  Under the amendment, the bill contains several important provisions.  Lenders will now be required to meet face to face with homeowners being foreclosed on with a third-party mediator to explore possible alternatives to foreclosing. 

The bill also requires lenders to send a representative into the mediation process who has the authority to accept or reject proposals for foreclosure avoidance measures.  It directs the Attorney General to draft rules and oversee the foreclosure mediation program, and allows the mediator to waive the cost of mediation to the homeowner.

Another key piece of the legislation puts an end to “dual track” foreclosure, where banks pursue foreclosure while at the same time negotiating with the homeowner to find alternatives. 

As I reported in the last newsletter, there was an attempt by a couple of legislators to attach amendments to the bill that would have watered it down, making mediation voluntary on the part of the banks, and giving approval to the finance industry’s “MERS” system of handling foreclosures (waiving Oregon’s mortgage recording laws).  I’m happy to report that these unacceptable amendments were resisted and rejected. 

SB 1552 will provide a measure of relief to the thousands of Oregonians who are facing foreclosure.  To my mind, it doesn’t go far enough to protect homeowners but it’s a good start.  I’m proud to be a cosponsor of this bill.

Governor’s Education Bills Move

Earlier today the Senate passed HB 4165, the Early Learning Council bill, creating a new, consolidated approach to pre-K education and human service programs.  It recognizes that a child’s ability to be successful in school requires more than just good teaching and effective schools—though these are certainly important.  We need to have “wraparound” services that make sure the child has nutrition, family support, and social support that he or she needs.  This bill is a step towards seeing that all of the child’s needs are simultaneously and effectively addressed.  The House passed the bill on Friday, so it now heads to the Governor for his signature.

The second of the Governor’s education bills, SB 1581, was held up until today over a disagreement between House Democrats and Republicans over a clause in the bill regarding the new achievement compacts between the State and individual school districts, colleges, and universities.  SB 1581 required the annual achievement compacts to include information about the amount of funding a given school district would need to meet the quality goals specified by the Quality Education Commission created as part of Ballot Measure 1 in 2000 and contained in ORS 327.506.  That clause was unacceptable to some Republicans, who hope to eliminate the Quality Education Commission and its biennial report on the budget level needed to adequately fund K-12 education at a quality level (currently $3 billion per biennium short).  After a temporary stalemate, the bill was amended to take out the words “Quality Education Commission” and merely reference ORS 327.506 (which describes the Commission and its work).  This was acceptable to the Republicans and an agreement was reached.

I’m pleased that we were able to keep the reference to quality goals in the bill.  The achievement compacts need to be a two-way partnership: schools need to do their best to meet their goals and provide a quality education for all the children of Oregon; the state needs to give them the resources that they need to achieve that.

For a better sense of the Quality Education Commission and its work, you can read this year’s report from the Commission here.

I’ll be supporting SB 1581 when it comes to the floor today.  I still wish that school districts, community colleges, and universities were given another year to collaborate with their teachers, parents, and community on the initial round of achievement compacts.  However, the Governor and his advisors fear that doing so would hurt our chances to get a waiver from the Federal No Child Left Behind law.  I’m still not convinced of that but am willing to go along with the bill as long as the funding piece is left in.  We have been asked to consider the achievement compacts as a work in progress, and I will.  I’ll continue to look for ways to make them better markers of what our students really need, and look forward to your help with that.

Higher Education Governance—What’s Next?

This session saw the introduction of several bills aimed to changing the way we govern our institutions of higher education in Oregon.  Some bills sought to give local governing boards to the University of Oregon and PSU, while others would have abolished the State Board of Higher Education altogether.  These represent major changes in the higher education system in the state, and they’re reforms that deserve a more robust discussion than we could have had during this one-month session.

I helped to draft and pass House Bill 4061, which came out of the Higher Education Committee.  HB 4061 creates a ten-person Special Committee on Higher Education Governance—4 from the House, four from the Senate, and 2 from the Oregon Education Investment Board—which will start meeting in April and will have its first set of recommendations in place by mid-August.  You can find the specifics of the bill here.

I expect to sit on the Special Committee as one of its co-chairs, and will keep you abreast of its deliberations and findings.

PPS Listening Sessions – This Week

Portland Public Schools is convening two listening sessions this week on the district budget, which is facing a $27 million shortfall.  Superintendent Carole Smith will be on hand to hear from parents, students, teachers and community members.  If you can attend one of these sessions, please do.  The first is this Tuesday evening at Franklin HS in SE Portland, and the second is Thursday evening at Wilson HS in SW Portland.  Click here for more details.

Town Hall Report

This past Saturday, many of you joined me at the Hollywood Senior Center for a joint town hall with Rep. Keny-Guyer and Sen. Dingfelder.  Initially, we had planned this as a recap of the session.  Instead, it turned into a great opportunity to get your feedback on the outstanding legislation and your priorities for bills in 2013.  We had a turnout of about 70 people, and a lot of great dialogue around education reform, health care issues, foreclosure, and various aspects of the state budget.  Thanks to those of you who were able to attend.

Until next week,


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