Leg Days (and Redistricting) Recap #2

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Michael Dembrow

November 23, 2021

Dear Neighbors and Friends,

I hope that you and your loved ones are doing well, staying healthy, and looking forward to the upcoming holiday.

Today’s newsletter is a continuation of some of the highlights (for me at least) of last week’s “Leg Days”—the quarterly committee hearings that we hold during the interim period between sessions.  It includes reports on the committee meetings that I attended myself last week: Education, Energy and Environment, and Judiciary. (I chair the first and am a member of the other two).  It also includes information on some of the bills that I’m working on that will be processed through those committees in February.

You’ll also find information about yesterday’s redistricting decision from the Oregon Supreme Court, along with links to some of the latest articles related to COVID—including today’s announcement that Oregon is dispensing with its masking requirement for outdoor spaces.

Until the next newsletter (Wednesday evening, actually, for the next COVID Update), please stay healthy and safe, and let me know if you have any questions about information in tonight’s newsletter.


Oregon Supreme Court Ruling Upholds the Legislative Redistricting Maps; Ruling on Congressional Maps Coming Soon

As expected, we received word yesterday from the Oregon Supreme Court that the Legislature’s redistricting plan for Oregon’s ninety legislative districts (60 House districts, 30 Senate districts) were legal and should go into effect for the next election.

The Court's opinion was written by Justice Chris Garrett, who had served as Co-Chair of the last House Redistricting Committee back in 2011 when he was my colleague in the House.  That was during the two-year period when House Democrats and Republicans had an equal number of representatives and leadership of all committees was shared by two co-chairs. In an interesting turn of events, one of the attorneys challenging the redistricting plan was his then-Co-Chair,  Shawn Lindsay (who lost his seat in the next election after the last redistricting).

In the decision the Court finds that the process leading up to SB 882 was in line with constitutional requirements and state law.  That’s what the Court must consider in this process.  It looks at whether or not the constitutional and statutory requirements were considered and whether or not its choices were reasonable.  Beyond that, according to the opinion, it’s not the role of the Court to second-guess the majority’s individual choices and substitute their own preferences.

The Court also had to consider allegations from a Democratic member of the House that a district in Eugene was drawn in order to keep him from running against an incumbent senator.  It found no evidence to support those allegations. (And I can say in all honesty that I never heard that this was being taken into consideration during the redistricting process.)

The Supreme Court’s decision is final, so legislators and other potential candidates for the Legislature can now firm up their plans about running.  The 2022 election is already promising to be an interesting one, with a number of incumbents having already decided to retire or to run for other offices.  We can expect that more will do so in the coming weeks.

As a result of these changes, beginning in January 2023 I’ll find myself in the interesting position of being represented by another senator (Senator Frederick, whose district will extend 10 blocks to the east), while continuing to represent the wonderful residents of SD 23. (My 4-year term extends to the end of 2024.) 

You’re probably wondering what’s going on with the Congressional redistricting maps. We actually expect that as early as tomorrow or early next week the special panel of judges will rule on the complaints filed to the Congressional maps, so those too should be resolved soon.

For more information about the decisions, here's reporting  from the Oregon Capital Insider.


Senate Education Committee Hears About Workforce Shortages and Other Challenges

At last week’s Senate Education Committee meeting, we spent most of our time hearing about the many serious problems that students, teachers, and other school personnel are experiencing this year.  After nearly all of last year was spent in distant learning for most of the children in the state, there was so much excitement and optimism about “returning to normal” this year.  But it has turned out to be surprisingly difficult.

We heard from representatives of teachers, administrators, classified staff, school boards, and students that the biggest problem has been the result of not having enough staff.  This is due in part to COVID, in part to shortages that have been building over the years, and in part to educators (especially special ed teachers and support personnel, substitute teachers, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers) who have decided not to return. We heard about school districts that have had to cancel in-person days, and programs for students with disabilities that have shut down entirely, with no alternatives in place for the students who need them. We heard how the lack of substitute teachers is forcing even larger classes than ever and administrators needing to teach classes rather than give teachers needed support.  We heard requests for a slowdown or suspension of new programs and requirements while schools are coping with these difficulties. 

In response to all that we heard during the hearing (and frankly have been hearing for weeks), I announced that we’ll be convening a work group to focus on strategies to address these workforce shortages—short-term, medium-term, and long-term.  That work group will have its first meeting next week.

Here's reporting on the hearing from the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

If those workforce shortages weren’t enough of a challenge, the relationship between schools and their communities have become infected by politics and ideology. As I’m sure you’ve heard, several of our most highly-regarded superintendents have recently been fired by their school boards—essentially for following the law and state regulation around equity and protecting students of all backgrounds.  This has been hugely disruptive for the schools in those districts, for students, and for their communities.  I announced that one of our committee bills in the next session will focus on protecting superintendents from this kind of intimidation and illegal coercion. Here's reporting from the Oregon School Boards Association.

We also heard an update on the various initiatives that we’re working on to improve education and training programs for adults in custody and create better pathways to successful reentry and employment for them once they’re released.

We also heard about some of the very successful summer enrichment programs that the Legislature funded this past summer to help kids transition back into in-person learning. 

And finally, we heard complaints about a report done by the OHA that looked at the risk for young children of wireless networks in schools.  In 2019 the Health Care Committee directed OHA to do a survey of the research on this potential concern.  OHA did not find enough evidence to suggest that ODE should limit or restrict the use of wireless networks in schools. That finding was confirmed by the Oregon Health Policy Board.

However, that conclusion has elicited substantial criticism from those who have been advocating for more caution until we’re certain that there is no risk of harm.  You’ll find extensive analysis and documentation in the meeting materials for this meeting.


Energy and Environment Committee Hears About the “Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub”

One of my two personal bills for the upcoming session will be addressing a long-standing catastrophe-waiting-to-happen here in this state.  Ninety percent of Oregon’s fossil fuels come into the state by barge, pipeline, rail, or truck, and are stored in tanks on the banks of the Willamette in Northwest Portland before being distributed around the state.  Unfortunately, the soil on which they’re located is river fill that is extremely unstable.  When a serious earthquake hits Oregon, as we know it will, the results will be catastrophic.  The soil will liquefy, and the fuel will explode or flow into the river.  It will be a disaster both environmental and in its human impact.  In addition, we will find ourselves without the fuel that .we’re going to need (until we transition completely away from fossil fuels) in order to recover from the earthquake.

At present, there are few if any requirements or regulations in place to prevent such a disaster from happening.  Newer tanks are constructed to standards that could withstand a serious earthquake, but nearly all the current tanks are much older, incapable of handling a disaster.  We need to make sure that the owners of the tanks have done the necessary risk assessments, and initiated plans to address them under direction from the Department of Environmental Quality.  We may be able to get some assistance with that from the recently-passed federal infrastructure bill.  It would be irresponsible to put this off any longer.  

I introduced a bill back in 2019, SB 95, but it didn’t advance.  The new piece of legislation builds on that bill and will begin the process of really facing up to this problem.

The meeting materials for the hearing include a PowerPoint and various pieces of testimony on the problem and potential solutions.

Tuesday’s hearing also included a great presentation on the Global Warming Commission’s recently completed Natural and Working Lands Report  It explores the potential for Oregon's forests, croplands, rangelands, and coastal marshes to  help reduce the dangers of climate change by sequestering carbon through natural processes. I suggest that you check it out.  Elements of the report will be included in a committee bill from the Committee on Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery.

We also heard updates on Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program, which encourages the use of lower-carbon and has already reduced our emissions significantly.  And our even more ambitious vehicles program--the Zero Emissions Vehicle program.

Here’s a link to all the meeting materials, the agenda, and the video feed for the Senate Energy and Environment Committee.


Senate Judiciary Hears About Non-Unanimous Juries, Measure 110, and Compassionate Medical Release

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Ramos decision, felony convictions in Oregon are required to be decided with all jurors in agreement over the guilty verdict. Oregon was a real outlier in not requiring unanimous verdicts. (We only required them for murder cases.) The Supreme Court went on to say that the ruling only applied to cases going forward, but that Oregon was free to apply it retroactively.  In most cases it would require the cases to be retried in court.  A work group led by Judiciary Chair Floyd Prozanski is considering what that process should look like. 

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony from several panels about the need for this legislation and the practical challenges of bringing cases back years after the offense occurred.  A representative of the Judicial Department speculated that thousands of cases may fall into this category.  However, members of a law clinic at Lewis & Clark College of Law, which has done extensive outreach to adults in custody on this issue, believe that the total number will be under 300.

It was an interesting and important hearing.  Here's reporting on the hearing from OPB.

This link to the agenda, meeting materials and video feed for the Senate Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation Committee includes many pieces of written testimony if you’re interested.  I’ll keep you informed as the potential bill progresses.

The committee also received an update on implementation of Measure 110, the initiative that was passed by the voters almost exactly one year ago, which decriminalizes drug possession and will put hundreds of millions of dollars into drug treatment programs.  We heard from members of the new Oversight and Accountability Council, who focused on the benefits that we’re already seeing, along with the challenges for the new programs that are just now getting started. Recent reporting from OPB focused on those challenges. However, most of what we heard in the hearing was more in line with this op-ed from the East Oregonian.

Finally, the committee heard testimony from me (!!!) on what will be one of my two personal bills in the next legislative session.  It would fix our broken system of compassionate medical release for adults in custody who are near death or seriously incapacitated.  Here’s a  link to my testimony to the committee. explaining the proposal and its background. 

And here's reporting on the Compassionate Medical Release proposal from the Oregon Capital Chronicle.



Links to Additional News On COVID-19

  • OHA announced today that the requirement that masks be worn outdoors when people are in close company with strangers (e.g., at athletic competitions) will no longer be required, thanks to improvements in vaccination and COVID rates. They will still be required indoors.  At the same press conference, Department of Education Director Colt Gill announced a new “Test to Stay” program in the schools.  You can read more and link to the press conference here.
  • And here are writeups on the new policy from the Register-Guard and the Oregonian.
  • Oregon hit another sad landmark yesterday, with deaths from COVID crossing the 5,000 threshold. At the same time we learned that U.S. COVID deaths in 2021 have already surpassed those in 2020, despite the availability of vaccines, at least for the elderly, for most of this year.
  • As winter approaches, we’re seeing COVID cases rising again in some areas. In combination with the upcoming holidays and the parties, dinners, and other indoor gatherings that come with them, many professionals are worried.  Here's reporting from The Hill.
  • I’m dismayed to see that my home state of Connecticut is currently experiencing the biggest percentage increase in COVID cases. However, this is a case where the percentages are high because the base was low.  As you’ll see, their new COVID case numbers and deaths would be the envy of most states (including Oregon, sadly).


Want to See Past Newsletters?

If there was COVID-related information in a past newsletter that you want to go back to, but find you’ve deleted it, you can always go to my legislative website (senatordembrow.com), click on “News and Information,” and you’ll find them all there.  Also, if someone forwarded you this newsletter and you’d like to get it directly, you can sign up for it there.



Here again are some resources that you will find useful

If the above links are not providing you with answers to your questions or directing you to the help that you need, please consider me and my office to be a resource.  We’ll do our best to assist you or steer you in the right direction.


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dembrow signature

Senator Michael Dembrow
District 23

email: Sen.MichaelDembrow@oregonlegislature.gov
web: www.senatordembrow.com
phone: 503-281-0608
mail: 900 Court St NE, S-407, Salem, OR, 97301