Coffee, Committees and the Cost of College



Rep. Michael Dembrow 
NE Portland, Maywood Park & Parkrose

Phone: 503-986-1445



Friends and Neighbors,

My best wishes to you and your loved ones for a very happy and restful holiday season and a very healthy and productive 2013!  I spent the holiday season with my son and his family, along with my wife, mother, and daughter.   It was the first time that we’ve all been together for the holidays in many years, and it was a treasure. 

And now it’s back to work in earnest.  In this newsletter, I’ll do a little looking back to events that occurred in December, and a look ahead to my committee assignments for the next session.

Upcoming Events

Our January Constituent Coffee will be on Saturday, January 12th.  Time and place TBA.  I'll get details out to you next week, so stay tuned.

Please join me on the evening of Thursday, January 17th for a joint town hall with my colleagues (and neighboring legislators) Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer and Sen. Jackie Dingfelder.  We'll be hosting a pre-session town hall at PCC Southeast Center (SE 82nd & Division St.) to discuss our personal legislative priorities, answer your questions, and get your feedback on the upcoming session.  I hope to see you there, starting at 7pm.

My 2013 Committee Assignments 

Just before Christmas we received our committee assignments for the next session.  Rep. Tina Kotek, who is slated to be the new Speaker of the House, was responsible for making the assignments, and it was not easy.  She needed to take into account the preferences, skills, and backgrounds of each of the 60 House members along with their seniority and their availability—i.e., making sure that the time slots for their committee choices don’t overlap.  She also needed to select the chairs and the vice-chairs (each committee has two vice-chairs, one from each part).   Here are my assignments:

Chair, Higher Education and Workforce Development:   I’m very excited about this assignment.  This committee will have a very full agenda this session, from tuition equity to college affordability, to proposals to restructure post-secondary governance, to efforts to better coordinate career-technical education at the high school and college level, to promoting the creation of skilled apprenticeships, and lots more.  (See the Oregonian’s take on the committee’s mission)  Fortunately, it’s a great committee, and I’ve already worked closely with both vice-chairs--Chris Harker, (D-Washington County) and John Huffman (R-The Dalles) on a number of education and workforce issues.

Rules:  The Rules Committee is a very interesting assignment.  During much of the session, the committee works on legislation related to campaign law, the initiative process, and campaign finance, as well as ethics and related issues.  But as we approach the end of the session, this is the committee to which all of the difficult and unresolved bills are sent.  It becomes very important during the “end game” period. 

Energy  and Environment:  I’ve always been very interested in environmental and natural resources issues, but have not yet had the opportunity to sit on one of the committees focusing on this area.  I’m looking forward to learning a lot from my time on this committee, though I know that there will be a number of tough decisions to be made in this area during 2013. 

You’ll be hearing a lot about the work of these committees in my future newsletters.  For a full list of the committee assignments in the House, click here.  For the committee assignments in the Senate, click here.

The December Special Session 

You probably followed the news about the one-day special session called by Governor Kitzhaber mid-December during the week that legislators were in Salem for our final round of interim committee hearings.  The purpose of the session was to approve legislation that would allow a company prepared to make a substantial workforce investment in Oregon to have the certainty that our current way of calculating their corporate tax rate (known as the “single sales factor”) would not be changed for a number of years.

The impetus for this request by the Governor was a promise by Nike, which has been planning a major expansion, that it would expand in Oregon--but it wanted to be certain that the "single sales factor" would not be changed anytime soon.  This method of calculating corporate taxes, which puts a premium on a company’s in-state sales in calculating the tax rate--is becoming more common around the country.

"Single sales factor" advantages a company like Nike, which is based in Oregon and has a significant payroll in Oregon, but does not derive much of its income from its sales in Oregon.  It’s not surprising that Nike would like to have this kind of certainty, and the Governor felt that it made sense to give this guarantee to Nike and potentially to other companies prepared to commit to creating a large number of jobs in our state.

Even so, the Governor’s proposed legislation put us legislators in a difficult position.  Many of us (including me) were uncomfortable with the timing of the request, coming during the waning days of the outgoing Legislature with little time for consideration and constituent input.  Also, in its initial form, the proposed legislation was too loose in terms of the requirements that it set on the company seeking to enter into negotiations with the Governor for this program. 

Over the several days that we had at our disposal to work on the concept, we were able to make a number of improvements to the bill, most notably compelling it to sunset in a year. (In its original form it sunsetted in ten years.)  The bill also became clearer in its expectations regarding the compensation levels of the promised workforce.  I’m happy to say that as a member of our leadership team, I had a hand in pushing for many of these improvements.

In the end, though, I was unable to vote either for or against the measure, since I had to be out of state on that day.  I had committed to represent Oregon at a conference of legislators and other policy makers seeking to improve college completion rates.  It was clear that the vote on the bill would not be close and my vote was not likely to make a difference one way or the other.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I would have voted in the end if I had been there to be part of the final floor debate.  I don’t believe that the bill will do any direct harm—it really is not creating any kind of new, special tax break but simply locks into place for a period of time a system that has very, very little likelihood of being changed anytime in the near future anyway. 

If in fact the legislation helps to create a number of good jobs here in Oregon, thereby leading to enhanced income tax revenue which we sorely need for our schools and other vital services—well, that’s a good thing, a real plus.  On the other hand, I might have voted against the bill to signal my displeasure with the process that was used and the potential precedent that was set by the special session.  It will be interesting to see what happens with this issue when it is addressed again during the 2013 regular session.

Searching for Ways to Address Gun Violence

The horrendous recent killings in Newtown, Connecticut, were terrible and tragic, and the hearts of people everywhere go out to the families and friends of those children and teachers who were killed so brutally and senselessly.  Coming within days of the shooting at Clackamas Town Center, it has many of us thinking about taking steps to curtail the sale of rapid-fire, high-capacity magazine firearms.

It's my hope that President Obama can find a way to restore (and improve) the ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, which Congress allowed to lapse nearly a decade ago.  If Congress does not act, then I believe that Oregon should join those other states that have taken it upon themselves to do what Congress has not. 

Needless to say, making these proactive changes will not be easy.  Change is hard under the best of circumstances.  As I’m sure you know, the NRA and other opponents of gun legislation are already mobilizing support to keep any such bills from being considered.  Legislators’ email in-boxes are already being filled by mass-produced messages calling for the arming of school employees as the best defense against future gun violence.  These email messages are also opposed to any curtailment of weapons sales in any form. 

Some are making the very good point that we need to be investing more in mental health treatment programs, but present it as an alternative to trying to cut down on the number of high-capacity assault weapons out there, as if it were an either/or choice.  I believe that we need BOTH to be increasing access to real mental health treatment AND to be coming up with rational ways of regulating access to dangerous weapons.

Even before these latest tragic events, I had been working on legislation that would restore to Oregon’s public colleges and universities the ability to decide whether or not to ban all weapons from their campuses, including those possessed by Concealed Weapons Permit holders.  The State Court of Appeals ruled in 2011 that public institutions could not prohibit CWP holders from bringing their weapons onto campus because state law does not explicitly give them that ability.  I believe that it’s time to give them that explicit authority: institutions, whether public or private, should be able to make the decision that they feel is right for their campus and their students.

One thing is clear: There are no easy solutions to the gun violence that plagues our country.  It will take more than just gun control, and more than just increased access to mental health services.  This is a complex issue that deserves significant consideration, public input, legislative debate, and a real commitment by legislators to make some tough decisions.

I’ll keep you updated on this issue in future newsletters and look forward to your input.

Investing in Oregon’s College Students:  Pay It Forward!

Back in October I met with students in a PSU Capstone course on “Student Debt: Economics, Policy, and Advocacy,” co-taught by Professors Mary King (Economics) and Barbara Dudley (Public Administration).  Capstone courses are designed to allow juniors and seniors to pull together and put to practical use the skills that they’ve developed in earlier courses.  In this one they researched the growing problem of college student debt, analyzed its various causes, and tried to settle on some potential solutions to the problem.  I was there to help them understand the role that the Legislature could play in the effort to find solutions.

I was impressed with them, with the course, and with the solutions they were proposing, particularly one called “Pay It Forward,” modeled after a system common in Australia and currently being considered in several other states.  Under this model, students do not pay their tuition costs upfront; rather, payments are made after the student has graduated and is gainfully employed.  A percentage of their annual salary—generally around 3%--goes to repay the State for having fronted the money for their tuition costs, and thereby replenishing the funds that would be used to pay for the education costs of subsequent students.  It was an intriguing concept, and one that dovetails in many ways with a plan currently being explored by Treasurer Ted Wheeler called The Opportunity Initiative. 

At the end of the session they told me that they would be ending the course with group presentations on their findings and proposals, and I offered to try to round up a few of my legislative colleagues to hear and respond to their recommendations.  The logistics turned out to be a bit tricky, but I’m happy to report that we did in fact pull it off.  I was joined at the  December 3 presentations by PSU President Wim Wiewel, Senator Chip Shields, Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer, Representative-Elect Joe Gallegos, along with several legislative staffers and former Secretary of State Phil Keisling (who directs the Center for Public Service at the School of Urban & Public Affairs).  The event was co-sponsored by PSU, the Working Families Party, and Oregon Jubilee, and the room was packed with spectators.  The students did a great job; they were poised, professional, and very practical in their recommendations.  If you’re interested, you can read their report here.

Following the event, a few of us (Professor King, one of the students, and I) rushed over to the Oregon Public Broadcasting studio to talk about Pay It Forward and legislative approaches to student debt on the talk show Think Out Loud.  You can read about it and listen to the show here.

I’m happy to report that the Pay It Forward concept is being introduced as legislation in the 2013 session and should come to the Higher Education Committee fairly sometime in February or early March.  I’ll keep you posted.

In Pursuit of Universal Access to Health Care

During the 2011 session I sponsored legislation that would eventually create a universal, single-payer (Improved Medicare for All) system here in Oregon—HB 3510This was one step in a long-term effort to build a movement that will get us to a publicly-funded, universally-accessible, reasonably priced, high quality healthcare system in this state.  The bill has been revised to make it consistent with other state and federal reforms in healthcare funding and delivery.  It is currently Legislative Concept #1914, the Health Care for All Oregon Act, and will be reintroduced in February.  I have a new Co-Chief Sponsor, Representative-elect Jennifer Williamson.  We are hoping to double the number of sponsors that the bill had last time. 

To help move this effort forward, there will be a rally at the Capitol on opening day, February 4th.  People will be coming from all over the state to let their legislators know that health care must be considered a human right of all Oregonians and that the Legislature needs to create a public plan to ensure that right.  You can find out more about the rally at the Health Care for All Oregon website.  I encourage you to attend and to get involved, and if you do come down on that day, be sure to drop by my office on the 4th floor and say hello!

Until next time,


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