Do What You Can Do 1/29/2021

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Senator Jeff Golden

 *  “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” 
—Helen Keller

Town Hall Announcement 2/4 5-6:30

The Town Hall will be through Zoom at this link:

The legislative session’s underway

...and I believe those who say it’s like none before. Instead of pretty much moving to Salem for six months, I’ve begun shuttling up and down I-5 once a week to sit at my desk on the Senate Floor to listen to first readings for a few minutes. Then I catch up on mail and new legislation in my office for a couple of hours before driving home.

This lines up with our formal constitutional duties. The Senate and the House have to be physically in session to hear bills “read” three times before we can vote on them.  This is a remnant from pre-broadcast, pre-electronic times, intended to make sure that legislators and citizens (or at least those hanging around the Capitol) had plenty of opportunity to know just what these proposed laws would do.

I use quotation marks around read because, mercifully, the bills aren’t read in their often-long entirety. For the first and second readings, the clerk reads a single sentence describing each bill, usually as fast as a seasoned auctioneer. It goes by in a blur, dozens of bills in a half-hour or so. The readings have to occur on separate days—meaning I’ll soon start driving up to Salem to listen to batches of second readings for a few minutes before driving home. Third readings are different; for them, according to our rules, the clerk does have to read the bill word for word just before we debate and vote on it. But in almost all cases, at the beginning of the day’s floor session, both parties agree to suspend the rules so that, for a third time, only a summary sentence is read. On rare occasions, the minority party will protest a particular bill or the flow of the session by refusing to suspend the rules for the third reading, and members actually do sit at their desks for most of a day listening to clerks tag-team to read pages and pages and pages of arcane legal language. That’s happened in the House several times in my two years of service (we sometimes showed moral support for our friends there by walking across the building to bring them snacks and chit-chat) but not in the Senate.

The formal reading and subsequent votes on the floors of the House and Senate are the only activities that require our physical presence. Everything else—our caucus meetings, conversations with citizens, advocates and lobbyists, and the committee hearings that make up 90% of our deliberative work—happen on line this session. As I wrote last newsletter, that, and the closure of the Capitol to the public, is not good for the legislative process. We need to keep monitoring COVID infection trends to get back to normal, fully-open practices as soon as we can. In the meantime, the system for remote citizen observation and testimony has been developed far beyond past sessions. Here is a good guide for citizen engagement in the time of COVID. And here is a decent preview of major legislation likely to get attention this year.

COVID Vaccinations

Jackson County COVID-19 vaccination data

This is the #1 topic in my inbox these days. (Before I lay out the context, if you want to cut to the chase to just find out how and when to get vaccinated, here’s the link for you).

For those of you interested in more...I’ve received a pile of mail wanting to know why the vaccination rollout has been so confusing and chaotic (those are the more polite adjectives in my email). The shortest answer is that we don’t exactly know; we have an obligation to find out more to make sure similar crises are managed better in the future. But some factors are clear.

The first centers on our expectations. Months ago we were told that quickly vaccinating the nation for COVID was far beyond any public health project we’ve ever tried; the previous record for bringing a vaccination to public usage was something like four years. This one, it turns out, was ready in ten months, with an astonishing reported effectiveness rate of 90-95%. That probably left us with the general idea that this thing isn’t nearly as complex and challenging as it was cracked up to be, and raised expectations for the rest of the project. Now, though, we appear to be bumbling along in ways that are more normal for a first-ever endeavor of this size.

On a nuts-and-bolts level, two big factors are the failure of the federal government to deliver the dosage quantities they’d promised to the states and, more controversially, a change of priorities at the state level.  After health care providers, some essential frontline workers, and people living in congregate care, the next doses were supposed to go to seniors who live in their own homes. The Governor changed that. Like many of us, she feels an intense urgency to re-open school classrooms as soon as possible in a way that minimizes risk for spreading the virus. Recent data is showing that risk to be less than predicted, but the gathering of many people of different ages in and around schools will still infect more people than would a continuation of online schooling.

With that in mind, the governor decided to vaccinate school personnel ahead of seniors living in their own homes.  More than half of those contacting me about this decision don’t like it; one email included a delightful picture of a woman in her 80s and this question: “Why are you willing to kill my mother to give shots first to healthier people who aren’t going to die if they get sick?” Another called it a violation of basic medical ethics. But more than a few think it’s the right decision; they described themselves as elderly but willing to wait a little longer for the sake of relieving the brutal burden they see our children bearing.

On balance I support the Governor’s tough call. The claim I read in one email that hundreds of seniors will die needlessly In order to get kids in the classroom two or three weeks sooner just doesn’t line up with the numbers. In Oregon we have roughly 100,000 school-connected personnel and 800,000 people 65 and over who don’t live in congregate care; vaccinating all 800,000 of them would take months and end all chance of offering most kids significant classroom time for even part of the 2020-21 school year. Those connected to children and schools know how grim that would be. My strong hope is that seniors, myself included, will maintain the practices and routines that have kept us healthy through 2020 for the extra two or three weeks needed to get school staff vaccinated, and that any resulting fatalities will number few to none. As has happened so often this past year, we’re looking for the least bad option.

One more time: the best and most current information on vaccination availability is here.

Launching SNRWR

Senate Committee On Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery 01/27/2021

The most recent meeting of the SNRWR

That acronym is Salem-speak for the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery. I’m its Chair this session—Sen. Dallas Heard of Roseburg is Vice-Chair—and we have a full plate in coming months. You can keep track of the big issues as they come up and watch our Monday and Wednesday meetings here. I already know that recovery from the 2020 Labor Day fires and crafting wildfire policy going forward will dominate our agenda. Add to that proposed bills on water quality and quantity issues, agricultural and timber policies and always-contentious fish and wildlife issues and I don’t expect to get bored in the next few months.

One topic we’re taking up this week is prescribed (which is to say intentional) burning. We know that a significant piece of our wildfire crisis is the huge buildup of woody debris since we began interrupting the cycle of periodic fires by putting them out as fast and completely as we could. And we know we don’t have the resources to fund the intensive labor of clearing all this brush, slash and small weedy trees by hand.  That leaves us with the basic tool that native peoples used for centuries before Smokey the Bear showed up: planned, mostly controlled burns to keep the debris down so that periodic fires wouldn’t have the abundance of dry woody fuel that have driven megafires of recent years. The New York Times recently  ran this feature on prescribed burning and our very own Lomakatsi Project

In modern times this gets trickier because of

  • Fears that these fires, with increasing wind intensities and the more arid conditions driven by climate change, will blaze out of control
  • The steadily narrowing time window—outside of the extreme-condition fire season, yet dry enough to keep fires going—suitable for planned burns, and
  • How tired Oregonians in fire-prone communities have become of smoke. For some people the idea of setting forest fires of any kind on purpose seems crazier every year.

I’m asking my committee to take a deep dive into these complexities. I don’t believe we’ll get a handle on these mega-fires without significantly reducing the fuel load in previously-logged sections of our forests, and prescribed burns might be the only affordable and ecologically sound way to do it.

Best until next week—

Senator Golden's signature

Senator Jeff Golden, Oregon Senate District 3

COVID-19 resources

COVID-19 Vaccine graphic
Jackson County Public Health Logo
Governor's COVID website
  • Click here for the latest COVID-19 information from the Governor's office
Oregon Health Authority Logo
  • The Oregon Health Authority has announced an increased partnership with 211info, which will increase information support about the COVID-19 vaccine.

    To get COVID-19 vaccine eligibility information and updates:
    • Text ORCOVID to 898211 (English and Spanish only);
    • E-mail (All languages);
    • Call 211.

Wildfire resources

  • My Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery Committee will be joining Rep. Marsh’s House Wildfire Committee Meeting to hear directly from people harmed by September’s Almeda Fire on February 17th. Click here to see Representative Marsh's detailed explanation of how to testify. 
Wildfire testimony
  • The Governor's wildfire website has county specific and statewide information.

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1703
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, S-421, Salem, OR, 97301 
Podcast: Capitolizing