New Year's Legislative Update for District 5

Representative Pam Marsh

January 2020

Dear Friends,

With a new decade now underway, I’m looking forward to the 2020 legislative session, which will begin on Monday, Feb. 3. Legislation is still in the drafting stage, though I expect the session to address issues of importance to our region, including climate change and wildfire strategy and funding.

This will be the fifth such “short” session since voters approved a constitutional change to create alternative year legislative sessions. Short sessions are limited to 35 days and were originally intended to be an opportunity for minor course corrections or budget fixes. However, as life gets more complicated and our policy choices more complex, significant issues cannot be adequately addressed just every other year. Instead, our short sessions are increasingly focused on broad concerns that affect the day-to-day lives of Oregonians, as well as the future of the state.

This newsletter contains a summary of some of the substantive issues we will address next month. A host of other proposals will emerge in the next few weeks. 

In preparation for the upcoming session, I’m hosting a community Town Hall on Saturday, Feb. 1, from 10:30 a.m. to Noon at the Unitarian Fellowship Hall in Ashland. Please join us for a lively discussion about the issues that will be front and center in the 2020 session. I am always grateful for the good ideas and thoughtful feedback that I receive from my neighbors and friends in House District 5. 

A thousand thanks for your support and friendship. 



Representative Pam Marsh

State Representative
Oregon House District 5 - Southern Jackson County

District 5 Updates - Quick Links

Photo: NO LNG Rally at the Capitol, Nov 19

I joined with hundreds of Oregonians at the Capitol in November to maintain strong oppostion to the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal and fracked gas pipeline. Photo courtesy Doug Smith.

Upcoming Town Hall in Ashland

Saturday, Feb. 1, 10:30 a.m. - Noon
Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship 
87 4th St, Ashland - Map
Bring a friend!

Taking Action on Climate Disruption

As I write this, deadly wildfires are ravaging Australia’s landscape, wildlife and communities. The United States alone has incurred $764 billion dollars in damages from extreme weather events in the past decade, not counting 2019. Here in Oregon, precipitation was just fifty percent of normal until this week, bringing more uncertainty about snow pack, stream flows and water supply for the coming year. Ocean waters off the West Coast are acidifying at twice the rate of the global average, devastating our fisheries. Farmers, ranchers and foresters are also struggling with the damages inflicted by a changing climate.

Climate disruption is real, present, and already limiting our options. The natural resources that have sustained us are in trouble and political business-as-usual is no longer sufficient. We need bold public leadership to address the profound impacts that are already visible at our front door. 

In Southern Oregon, we need money for forest restoration projects that will sequester carbon as we prevent and suppress wildfires. Droughts will become more frequent and temperatures will continue to rise so we must upgrade and protect our drinking water and irrigation systems. We also need support from the state to buttress and diversify an economy that is exceedingly vulnerable to the impacts of smoke and fire. 

Climate disruption is the existential crisis of our time. Passage of an emissions cap will set the state’s policy direction but that is just the first step. A series of additional actions will be required to drive our transition to renewable energy systems.

If you agree that the time has come for Oregon to address the climate emergency, join me in Salem on February 11 to demand that your elected leaders take action immediately.

Oregon Climate Emergency Day of Action
Tuesday, Feb. 11, Noon
Oregon State Capitol - Map
Sign-up link

Addressing Smoke & Wildfire

After ten months of frenzied work, the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response issued a final report in November 2019. I served as an ex officio member of the council, which was tasked with “reviewing Oregon's current model for wildfire prevention, preparedness and response, and analyzing the sustainability of the current model to provide recommendations to strengthen, improve, or replace existing systems.”

Recommendations address a broad range of prevention and suppression strategies and funding needs. In summary, the report recommends adoption of best practices established by the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, which has three goals:

  • Create fire-adapted communities: Adopt strategies to recognize and minimize fire risk and build local resiliency. This may include evaluation of land use policies; consideration of building standards; establishment of defensible space programs around homes and within neighborhoods; and implementation of robust emergency preparedness and response programs.

  • Develop resilient landscapes: Protecting communities from the ravages of wildfire will require us to adopt ecological restoration strategies that stabilize nearby high-risk forests. This work, which may include thinning and prescribed burning, should aim for multiple benefits, including risk reduction, landscape resiliency, improved wildlife habitat, watershed protection, climate adaptation, and social and economic resilience.

  • Wildfire response: Ensure firefighting agencies have the funding and workforce needed to address prolonged fire seasons; our wildfire seasons are 60 days longer than they used to be.

The legislature will begin to address implementation of the Wildfire Council recommendations in the coming months.  Specifically, the short session will see legislation that funds pilot projects on high risk forest landscapes. We will also look at strategies to develop a skilled workforce available for year-round mitigation and suppression work in Oregon’s forests. 

But the short session is just the start. Over the course of the next year we need to dive into issues that the report does not fully address including governance of our wildfire program, strategies for engaging private forest land owners, and identification of revenue sources. 

And, of course, we can’t talk about forest issues without also talking about climate change. I made that point in this column in the Mail Tribune in August

Banning Internet Sales of Vaping Products

In 2017, the Oregon Legislature raised the tobacco and vaping purchase age to 21. Despite that law, youth can easily bypass the age restriction by purchasing vaping products online or over the phone without any verification process. The recent health crisis associated with vaping-related illness, as well as rampant underage use, clearly demonstrates that it is time for the State of Oregon to close the internet loophole.

OHA Youth Vaping Crisis: 2019 Data Brief

Recent reports from the Oregon Health Authority, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and others highlight the health risks and dramatic increase in youth vaping. The long-term impacts are sobering: roughly half of all youth who currently use conventional tobacco products started with vape products.

In response, I am drafting legislation that will prohibit internet and telephonic sales of nicotine-based inhalant delivery systems, as defined by Oregon statute, by adding these products to the existing ban on remote sales of tobacco products. The proposal will exempt marijuana items from the definition of “inhalant delivery systems” for purposes of the law.

A ban on internet and telephone vaping products sales will:

  • Provide maximum enforcement of age purchase restrictions
  • Allow us to more easily track product adulteration when it occurs
  • Ensure that we are collecting applicable taxes on the purchase of these products
  • Protect local vaping vendors from diversion of purchases to out of state sellers

Internet sales of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are already illegal under state law. Adding inhalant delivery systems to that prohibition is consistent with current practice and an important community wellness strategy. Broad support will be critical, especially in a short session when we have very little time to move legislation.

Supporting Rural Internet Technology

Those of us who live near the I-5 corridor take high-speed internet for granted, but many rural Oregonians live and work in internet deserts. At least 400,000 Oregonians lack any or adequate internet. Two dozen school districts across the state have no or insufficient broadband, and 37% of Oregon’s public libraries fail to meet the FCC’s standards for residential services. 

Inadequate service is an economic issue. Broadband applications are ubiquitous across business sectors and the internet is our state’s most powerful economic development tool. Schools rely on the internet for research, digital content, and testing. Our agricultural sector has increasingly turned to broadband-based strategies to increase yields and spur efficiency. Telehealth holds great promise to address rural healthcare outcomes and costs. 

Climate volatility threatens rural economies that depend on natural resources. Technology provides a means to respond to changing conditions in communities that already face the challenges of physical isolation, limited economic diversity, and aging populations.

In the 2019 session, the legislature established the state’s Broadband Office to serve as a policy and planning hub. The Office is responsible for coordinating a statewide strategy and securing funding to ensure everyone in the state has access to services. In 2020, I will sponsor legislation to establish funding for this critical work.

The Rural Telecom Investment Act will modernize the Oregon Universal Service Fund (OUSF), which is currently supported solely by landline users, to include cell phones and VOIP providers in the fund’s surcharge. This expansion will stabilize the underlying fund, which supports rural telephone companies that provide basic service in high cost rural areas. It will also provide additional funding specific to broadband expansion. 

OUSF expansion will enable us to establish a new Broadband Fund, capped at a maximum of $5 million per year. Revenue will support the Broadband Office and will also be distributed via grants or loans to unserved or underserved areas of the state. The fund will support planning, technical assistance and infrastructure that best fit the needs of individual communities, using the most suitable technologies and vendors. 

We need to make sure that the race to ‘faster & better’ technology does not exacerbate the rural-urban divide, grow our income gaps, or leave anyone behind. The Rural Telecom Investment Act will provide critical infrastructure to ensure that all Oregonians have access to the technologies that we know are necessary for employment, lifelong learning, and essential services.

Photo: Touring Ruch Outdoor Community School, Nov 2019

In November I had an opportunity to visit Ruch Outdoor Community School with Principal Julie Barry. Oregon's rural and frontier communities like the Applegate would benefit from investments in rural internet technology.

Proposing Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Safety

Oregonians, and our waterways and landscapes, should be protected from dangerous oil spills and failures in fossil fuel infrastructure. 

Here in Oregon, transport and rail facilities exist in highly populated areas, and they often run along rivers and near sensitive habitats. In recent years, there have been at least fourteen events involving derailments of Bakken crude oil the U.S. and Canada that have required evacuations, including a derailment in Mosier, OR. We need stronger community protections and prior notice laws that will bring Oregon's regulations in line with neighboring states. 

Along with Rep. Karin Power and Sen. Jeff Golden, I am a chief sponsor of HB 4105. If passed, this legislation would take two important steps: 

1) Require facilities offloading or loading crude oil from a rail tank car to meet safer, lower vapor pressure standards and new advanced notice requirements.

2) Prohibit any state agency, department or commission from authorizing new construction of oil and gas fossil fuel infrastructure on public lands.

If you have questions or comments about HB 4105, please contact me.

Protecting Against License Suspension

Every year, thousands of Oregon drivers get tickets for non-criminal traffic offenses. Drivers who cannot pay those fines can currently have their licenses suspended, plunging them into a cycle of debt and sometimes prolonged involvement with the justice system. 

A policy that imposes suspensions purely to collect debt has disastrous and disproportional consequences for low-income individuals. Losing a license can be catastrophic to an individual’s ability to work or care for a family. Other debt collection strategies, including wage or bank account garnishment, hold drivers accountable while preserving their ability to make a living. 

License suspensions are not needed for driver safety. Under the Driver Improvement Program, Oregon already has a mechanism to suspend driver licenses when people have too many moving violations in a short period of time. This means that, regardless of their ability to pay, there are appropriate consequences for unsafe drivers.

In 2017, our Oregon DMV issued about 90,000 warnings to people who didn’t pay their fines in a 35-day window, eventually resulting in 20,000 license suspensions. In the 2020 session, I will join with others sponsoring legislation to end this practice. This is consistent with growing recognition across the country that driver license suspensions should only be used in connection to public safety, not as a tool of debt collection.

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1405

District Phone: 541-282-4516

Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE, H-375, Salem, Oregon 97301