Do What You Can Do 5/20/2021

View Online
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

Main newsletter photo, wildfire photo

USDA Forest Service photo by Roger Ottmar

The big wildfire bill is on deck

I’ve written about SB 762 a few times. It’s my core project this session, and negotiation over its key components with various stakeholders has been nonstop in recent weeks. Conversations with legislators have me feeling good about getting it to the Governor’s desk. It will be the most aggressive and comprehensive program Oregon’s ever attempted to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, fight fires effectively when they break out, and help communities prepare for and survive them. 

Wildfire graph

Wildfire is steadily burning up more and more of our state.

I want to be real about this: it’s almost certain that terrible wildfires lie ahead; a record drought this spring is one of a several signs. For all its strengths, SB 762 won’t change that. What it will do is launch us on the only viable path I know to survive the next decade in ways that maintain a state we can still recognize. It offers our cities and towns a fighting chance to keep their communities safe and intact.

I’m continuing efforts to build support for the bill and address concerns of those wary of changes to come, particularly in the case of “defensible space” standards. These are the measures needed to reduce vegetation around buildings in extreme risk zones. In a growing number of towns—Paradise, Weed, Redding, Santa Rosa and in some ways Phoenix/Talent—clustered vegetation was the wick that transmitted fire so fast and ferociously. And yet...we like the vegetation up against our homes. If we didn’t it wouldn’t be there.

While there’s exaggeration and unwarranted fear around this element of the bill (no, troopers in state hardhats are NOT going to show up with chainsaws to clear-cut your yard), and while the bill will fund experts to work with landowners to find good solutions for their property, we need to be clear-eyed about this. To have a prayer of surviving the next decade intact in Southern Oregon, some aspects of the way we’ve been living have to change.  Lao Tzu was right.

Lao Tzu quote

The phrase “existential threat” is overused these days. But it’s fairly applied to the specter of wildfire in Southern Oregon. My bill aims for the sweet spot of bold, pattern-changing action that people can assimilate and eventually adopt. We can’t afford to miss that spot.

Here, for hearty policy folks, is a 7-page summary of SB 762 as it stands now.  I’ll post the whole finished bill soon


$$$ in politics; the debate continues

The campaign finance reform bill in the limelight right now is HB 2680-1. I think it’s far too complex and riddled with big money loopholes to be the reform Oregonians are asking for. I had the chance to formally make that case this week in the House Rules Committee, and hope that it landed. A short video of my testimony is here.

Notice that I didn’t let the opportunity to plug my bill, SB 336, slip by. I believe it does check the three boxes I listed in testimony.  More about that soon.

Crater Lake

Photo from the National Parks Service

Crater Lake National Park Day

You may not know it, but Saturday will probably be Crater Lake National Park Day...the very first one ever. I say probably because it depends on the Governor finding time tomorrow to sign HB 3162, which passed through the House 56-0 and, just yesterday, 27-1 in the Senate (one Senator is a ‘NO’ on literally every vote this session, whether in committee or on the Floor).

There are plenty of thorny stressful bills this session. This wasn’t one of them. It was an enjoyable break to carry the bill to the Senate Floor.

Oregon’s oddly flush for now

You may have heard or read it: we’re in really weird economic times. That extends to this week’s news on the state budget. For a cluster of unusual reasons, some clearer than others, we’ll have more dollars in Oregon coffers this budget season than any time in memory—details here.

You’ll notice a projected $1.4 Billion “kicker” back to Oregon income taxpayers. I won’t mind getting a tax refund check at all, and I understand the feeling of many that they’re entitled to theirs. But I honestly don’t believe it’s the best way to go. Oregon’s unique (as in, no other state does it) kicker law, which returns all revenue over what was predicted two years earlier if revenues turn out to be more than 2% over that prediction, keeps us on a constant roller coaster ride that destabilizes services and thwarts lasting improvement.

Some people say they want government to be run more like business. My business background is limited, but as I understand it, successful companies tend to reinvest unexpected income rather than letting it slip away. The big revenue years offer a rare chance to strengthen Oregon’s infrastructure, physical and human, to modernize our systems, to staff human service agencies in ways that get to the causes rather than just the effects of our social apply solutions rather than band-aids, with a likely outcome of spending less money in the long run. But that doesn’t seem to be the majority view in Salem. Or, more likely, few here believe that Oregonians would vote to remove the kicker provision from the state constitution, and don’t want to seriously annoy their voters by proposing it.

With this rosy forecast, the debate will begin (centrally in the Ways & Means Committee I sit on) over how much of the bounty to spend in the 2021-23 biennium and how much to save for later. There are good arguments for ramping up a variety of investments in the budget we’re currently crafting. At this point I’m not excited about doing that. COVID and wildfires leave me with a deep sense of Oregon’s vulnerability, amplified by a tax system that doesn’t work well (the kicker’s just one reason) and the likelihood that living-wage employment will elude massive numbers of Oregonians in years to come. And chances seem slim to none that this year’s infusion of federal dollars will happen again anytime soon.

I lean strongly towards saving a very healthy portion of today’s surplus for leaner times that seem likely to lie ahead.  We’ll see if I stick with that guideline as a succession of worthy proposals come before us in Ways & Means. Your thoughts?

Senator Golden on the Senate floor

Pounding away to meet the newsletter deadline as the computer drones on.

Wrestling down the price of insulin

I’m trying to wrap up this edition of Do What You Can Do on the floor of the Senate while the now-familiar computer voice reads every bill word-for-word, first sentence to last (yes, that minority-party tactic to “run down the clock” until this session adjourns is still in place). The droning cyber-voice just finished reading HB 2623A, and the floor debate is beginning. This is about insulin. One Senator after another rises around me with stories of the jaw-dropping prices people pay for this essential drug relative to the minimal cost of producing it, and how it’s distributed free, or close to it, in other countries.

It’s shocking. That in itself says a lot, given how hard it is by now to be shocked by the reality of pharmaceutical prices and profits.

Senator Patterson

Health Care Committee Chair Senator Deb Patterson, ably arguing for HB 2623 to bring don the sky-high price of insulin.

Our names are being called for the final vote and it’s... 24 yes, one—the 100% consistent no-guy—no. You know we’ve reached dire circumstances when passionate opponents of government regulation support legislation like this. The winds of change are noticeably blowing when it comes to Big Pharma.

The COVID dilemma

Let me close this week by acknowledging the steep increase of incoming mail in recent weeks that registers frustration, confusion and more than slight anger over state government’s management of the pandemic. I hear you completely. To be at a place this uncertain after 15-some months of uncertainty, with the burden that has been laid on our businesses, jobs, children and social fabric is nearly unbearable for many. For now I’ll just say that serious conversations about rule revisions are going on quietly. They’re quiet because we’ve seen how consistently honest public criticism is weaponized into the scorched-earth political warfare that surrounds us, with no gain that I can see for anyone involved.

Time to get this newsletter out. Workload permitting I hope to write this coming week on how I see our situation in Oregon now and moving forward, even if my thoughts don’t add up to The Solution. I’ll add that, along with almost everyone close to me, I’m fully vaccinated, and see that as the responsible choice to make in these perplexing times.

Take care for now. Extend a little support to someone who needs it...

Jeff (Signature)

Senator Jeff Golden, Oregon Senate District 3

Find Track Testify

COVID resources

  • The Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program is now open for applications. This program can help with rent or utilities payments for low income households. Unlike the Landlord Compensation Fund, the Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance program can cover current/future rent, in addition to past rent.
    If you would like more information, visit this page.
COVID vaccination by county

COVID-19 Vaccine:

Bills of Interest

For the remainder of the legislative session, this section will highlight a few bills of interest that have either passed both the Senate and House, or are close to being voted on.

HB 2009

  • HB 2009 passed in the Senate and passed in the House on May 19th. Senator Golden Co-sponsored this bill.
  • HB 2009 reinstates the residential foreclosure moratorium through June 30th with the ability for Governor Brown to extend it to December 31st.

HB 2966A

  • HB 2966A passed the House and has a scheduled Work Session in the Senate Committee on Labor and Business on May 25th. 
  • HB 2966A would extend the grace period for repayment of nonresidential rent between April 1, 2020, and September 30, 2020, until September 30, 2021, for certain tenants.

SJR 12

  • SJR 12 passed the Senate and House on May 19th. Senator Golden
    Co-Sponsored this bill.
  • SJR 12 proposes an amendment to the Oregon Constitution establishing an obligation of the state to ensure that every resident of the state have access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate, and affordable health care.

SB 513A

  • SB 513A passed the Senate and will be voted on in the House May 20th.
  • SB 513A would require students to complete at least one-half credit of civics in order to receive a high school diploma.

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