April 24th Update from SD 23

Michael Dembrow

April 24, 2022

Dear Neighbors and Friends,

I hope that you and your loved ones are doing well, staying healthy, and looking out for your neighbors and friends during this past week. 

Tonight’s newsletter concludes my survey of legislation passed and not passed during the session that ran from February to early March.  Tonight’s newsletter gives details on the major legislation proposed in the area of public safety—justice reform, policing reform, and prison reform. I spent a lot of time on these important issues as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and as a sponsor and advocate for most.

Next week I’ll fill you in on some of the interim work that I’m involved with, particularly those related to higher education, the educator workforce shortages, summer learning programs, and maybe some others.  Various task forces are meeting right now, working on legislation that will come before us in 2023. 

On the COVID front, you’ll see that we remain on an upward trajectory for now in terms of new cases, test positivity rates, and hospitalizations.  Once again, the more densely-populated Portland Metro area is leading the increase for now; if experience here and elsewhere holds true, we’ll see the increases move steadily to the more rural areas soon.

These increases were always to be expected with the relaxation of masking and indoor “social-distance” requirements, along with the increased presence of the new, more contagious variant of Omicron. As you’ll see in the newly-released OHSU forecast, these increases will continue for the next six weeks but will remain within manageable levels for us here in Oregon.

Having said that, it means that many Oregonians will be infected, in some cases seriously, particularly among those who have not been vaccinated or who are immunocompromised and whose vaccine response is weak.  They will still need to remain as careful as they can.  You’ll see more about this in the various news articles linked further down in the newsletter.

Along with the latest OHSU forecast and the links to a number of recent COVID-related articles, you'll find graphs showing the daily numbers for the last two weeks, along with the biweekly data/outbreak reports, and a look at what's happening in Oregon's counties.

You’ll also see a lot of coverage of the court ruling that brought an end (for now at least) to the federal requirement that masks be worn at airports, during flights, and on public transit.  It’s interesting that the ruling from a federal judge in Florida came down at this moment—just as the federal requirement was about to expire and a careful exit plan was being developed.  Since the judge’s rationale was her belief that the CDC does not have the authority to impose these kinds of requirements during a federal emergency, it was inevitable that the Biden Administration would appeal that decision. The key issue at this point isn’t whether or not these current restrictions should end, it’s whether or not they should ever be there in the first place.  It will be interesting to see how higher courts rule on this one.

We probably won’t get answers to that question for quite a while.  Until then—or at least until the next newsletter--please stay healthy and safe.  And let me know if you have any questions or thoughts about anything in tonight’s newsletter.



The first Saturday of May is coming, and that means another constituent coffee.  But this time--Saturday, May 7--after 2+ years of virtual coffees, it's time for us to come together in person and for me to provide the coffee and biscuits.  It will be at the Hollywood Senior Center (NE 41st and Sandy) from 9 to 10:30.

Please bring a mask in case any of the attendees don't feel safe and comfortable in places where others are unmasked.

As I mentioned in the last newsletter, my plan is to alternate for now between in-person and virtual, so the following constituent coffee, on June 4th, will be virtual.



As I've indicated in other newsletters, the recently-concluded legislative session saw some big accomplishments in terms of programs funded and important new policy put into law in a number of key areas.

However, the Legislature’s work on bills involving justice reform, policing reform, and prison reform was definitely a mixed bag this session.  It included some big successes and some big frustrations.  I’ve been asked how that could be.  Where is the logic, the patterns, the lessons to be learned?

First of all, each bill has its own story to tell, its own history, which can often be just a function of perseverance, timing, personal relationships, and luck (good or bad).  Having said that, before reviewing the individual bills, let me point to some patterns that I do see. (A word of caution: obviously, I’m coming at this as a Democrat, and you’ll see that my perspective is colored by that—but hopefully not too much.)

First, short sessions are tough.  With only four or five weeks to get a bill introduced, heard in committee, supported in both chambers, through the Ways and Means process (when needed), building and holding a majority support, it doesn’t take much to knock a bill off its trajectory. Whether a short session or a long one, one of the truisms of the legislative process is this: It’s always easier to kill a bill than to pass a bill.

That was certainly the case this year, given that we were operating under the shadow of what occurred during the last short session: the Republican decision to walk out and end the session rather than risk potential passage of the Climate Action legislation. Until that constitutional loophole is closed, this is an ever-present risk.

Second, equally to the point, short sessions always occur in election years, just a few months ahead of the primary. As a result, the normal partisan divide becomes even more glaring.  This is particularly the case around issues related to justice/prison/policing reform, especially when polling suggests that maligning the other party over these issues could help in May and November.

(We’re already seeing this in the various Governor’s races, where erroneous information around crime in Oregon is being tossed about with irresponsible abandon. For more on that,check out this news article from OPB.

Even when they are in and of themselves logical and practical reforms, such reforms will therefore likely wind up on the other party's “kill list”—the subjects of a pitched political battle.  That doesn’t mean that every bill in this issue area will fail, but over the few weeks of the short session, there will likely only be time to get a few over the finish line in time.

And finally, if you look at those public safety bills that did pass, nearly all of them were bills that had been tried before, in 2021 or earlier.  Sometimes it just takes time for people to get used to a new idea.  

 It takes patience and perseverance to do this work.


Bills That Passed

SB 1510: “Transforming Justice”

This was a bill that failed in 2021 despite broad coalition support. It became a Senate Judiciary Committee Bill and was the subject of an extensive workgroup process, which narrowed and clarified it. The most controversial element in it was the attempt to reduce the number of unnecessary traffic stops that have all-too-often led to tragic escalations. Traffic stops are to be reserved for situations in which the driver is putting others in danger (i.e., speeding, reckless driving, no lights), but not for minor offenses (e,g,, a burned-out tail light) that do not put the public at risk.  It also clarifies that the police officer cannot search a car without probable cause or the owner’s permission.  It also seeks to improve interactions between parolees and parole officers and provides funding support for community-based organizations working on crime prevention, harm reduction, and reentry services.

It passed the Senate 16-11 and the House 34-24.

SB 1543 Universal Representation

This bill was another that was brought forth in 2021 but failed to make it through Ways and Means but was able to make it this time. (I was very involved in it both times.) It creates a comprehensive statewide program for legal defense for immigrants facing deportation charges. Evidence shows that those who have legal representation are 6-7 times more likely to win their cases and continue to live and work legally in this country.

This program (expanding and making permanent a pilot program that was first funded in 2019 and was extended in 2021) appropriates $15 million to the Oregon State Bar and various community-based organizations to do this important work, which will include both outreach and defense.  (I will add that I recently had a conversation about the new program with a top official at the federal Refugee Resettlement office, and he sees it as a model for other states to follow, particularly with the new influx of refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine.)

SB 1543 passed the Senate 17-8 and the House 38-21.

SB 1584:  Compensation for Victims of Wrongful Conviction

This one too was a bill that was attempted in 2021 and failed, but made it through this time.  Unlike the previous two, though, this one was very much bipartisan in its support. Its lead sponsor was Senator Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer), and I again partnered with her on it as a Chief Sponsor, along with strong support from national organizations working to overturn wrongful convictions. It creates a compensation fund to compensate those who were proven to have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned ($65,000 for each year of imprisonment) to help make up for lost time and get them on a path to a successful new life. Most other states already have such a process in place, and now Oregon joins them. Here's the legislative analysis of the bill.

It passed both the Senate and the House on unanimous votes. 

HB 4105 HB 4105: Photo Radar

Although this was one that passed on its first attempt, it’s a modification of a program that has been before the Legislature several times. Over time, the Legislature has given cities who want it the ability to use photo radar in what are deemed “high-crash corridors” to issue citations for speeding and running a red light. In Portland rashes in those areas with photo radar have been reduced by 40% and incidence of speeding has gone down by 71%.  Lives have been saved.

However, under current law, only police officers may review the radar photos, locate the driver,  issue the subsequent citations, and appear in court to present their findings if the citation is contested.  Nearly all of this work requires overtime work and overtime pay for the officers.  Most would agree that this is not the best use of police time, especially with our police force being understaffed. We should be using trained staff to do this work, just as we use parking compliance staff to deal with parking violations.HB 4105 makes that possible.

Here's my floor carry for the bill.

HB 4105 passed the House on a 32-23 vote, then 17-6 in the Senate, after it was amended slight, then back to the House for a 36-23 Concurrence vote.


SB 1511: Reconsideration for Those Convicted by Non-Unanimous Juries (Ramos Retroactivity”):

In its recent Ramos v Louisiana decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could no longer allow felony convictions to be made using non-unanimous juries. By then, Oregon was the only state where this was possible. (The other remaining state, Louisiana, barred the practice via initiative as the case was being litigated.) However, the Court also ruled that this prohibition only applied to new cases, not completed cases. If Louisiana and Oregon wanted to apply Ramos retroactively, the Court said, they would have to do it by legislation or initiative.  SB 1511 would have allowed retroactivity under certain circumstances and created the structure for retrying cases that would qualify.

This was the subject of a work group and much discussion, and one of the top priorities for those working on justice reform here in Oregon.  Nevertheless, in the end it was stymied by the political realities that I mentioned in my opening, as well as concerns raised by the District Attorneys about expense, the logistical difficulties of retrying old cases, and the traumatic impact it could have on survivors if it led to an early release, particularly when the victim was a child or youth. In an effort to satisfy those concerns, an amendment was offered up that would exclude crimes from reconsideration if the victim was a person under the age of 18. I didn’t like the amendment but ultimately supported it as a way to keep the bill alive.  Nevertheless, the “soft-on-crime” attacks against it proved impossible to overcome this time.

Another factor was that the Oregon Supreme Court is considering a case that could lead to a ruling requiring retroactivity.  We did hear arguments that the Legislature should wait to act until the Supreme Court had ruled. That gave more weight to the notion that we should not move the bill this session.  I understand that argument but don’t agree with it, as it seems highly unlikely that the Oregon court will rule differently on this than the U.S. Supreme Court.  I personally hope so, but it seems like a long shot.

If the Court doesn’t rule for retroactivity, I’m confident that the issue will be back before us in the 2023 session.

SB 1512: Removing Unnecessary Barriers to Licensure

In past newsletters I’ve mentioned that one of the interim work groups that I was part of had been focusing on creating smoother pathways for reentry into the workforce, particularly for young offenders.  SB 1512 was developed in partnership with the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments, a non-partisan resource for legislatures that provides us with the latest research and best practices on a number of issues. They identified Oregon as a state with significant barriers to licensure for people with records.  SB 1512 is an effort to limit blanket prohibitions from licensure and allow individuals to make their individual case to the licensing board as to why they are a safe risk.

Sadly, this one also hit a barrier at the end, a combination of Republican pushback and concerns raised by some of the licensing boards questioning these changes.  It too will be back.

SB 1568:  Compassionate Medical Release

This was my second personal priority bill for the 2022 session.  It was designed to better prepare us for the next health emergency that hits our prisons. (So far, the pandemic has resulted in 46 deaths among adults in custody, 3 among prison staff, and more than five thousand cases.)  It also will allow for compassionate release for adults in custody who are at the end of life or who can no longer perform basic functions such as feeding, dressing, toileting, and mobility.  Most states have compassionate medical release programs, as do we—on paper.  In practice, ours doesn’t work. Exacerbating the problem for us is the fact that our prison population is older than that of most states—the result of our system of long, mandatory minimum sentences (the result of Measure 11 from 1994). 

SB 1568 would create a small standing panel of outside medical professionals who could initially assess up to five cases per month for potential release (more in the case of a declared medical emergency) if the Parole Board determined that they would not constitute a threat to public safety.  The subject of an extensive workgroup process after the failure of a similar bill to pass in 2021. (Frankly, the 2021 bill wasn’t yet ready then; by the time the February session began, it was very much ready.) 

Although its primary purpose is not cost-saving, SB 1568 was projected to save the state $10 million over the next decade. Hospice and other medical expenses for those in state custody are paid for by the state; once they are in (more appropriate) facilities on the outside, the cost is covered through federal Medicare and Medicaid.

Here's a one-pager with more information about the bill.

The bill unfortunately got caught up in the anti-reform rhetoric, as opponents painted it as opening the prison doors and letting out dangerous criminals who would then reoffend once they were outside.  From my perspective it was a disgusting example of demagoguery and misinformation. 

My partner in this effort, Rep. Lisa Reynolds (herself a physician) and I will definitely be bringing it back and working hard to build support for it between now and February.

HB 4147: Voting Rights for Adults in Custody

Oregon has long been a state that allows those who have served time for felony convictions to regain their voting rights upon release.  Two other states and the District of Columbia allow them to retain their right to vote during incarceration.  HB 4147 would make Oregon jurisdiction #4.

I was a chief sponsor of this bill as a result of many conversations I’ve had with adults in custody and those who have studied this issue.  I believe that it could play a vital part in preparing individuals for their ultimate reentry and keeping them in touch with issues that affect their families and communities on the outside.  I do recognize, however, that for many people this is a new concept, and it will take some getting used to.  I’m confident that with time they will see the benefits.  It will come back, but we have more work to do to get more constituents and legislators comfortable with this change


                                            ON THE COVID FRONT



Briefing from OHA

The Oregon Health Authority will be scheduling monthly media availability providing updates on COVID-19 in Oregon.

Tom Jeanne, M.D., M.P.H., deputy state health officer and deputy state epidemiologist, OHA Public Health Division, and Paul Cieslak, M.D., medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations, answered reporters’ questions and gave an update on the state’s ongoing management of COVID-19.

Here are the talking points from Tuesday's media availability. You can also watch it here.

And here's an article about the briefing from the Oregonian’s Fedor Zarkhin.


OHA Biweekly Report: Continuing Big Increases in New Cases in Oregon

OHA is no longer producing weekly data reports.  They are now coming every other week and give us the trends for the last two weeks.  This is the week that the report comes out. 

The COVID-19 Biweekly Data Report was released on Wednesday.  It again shows an increase in cases, percentage of positive test results, and deaths, and a slight decrease in disease-related hospitalizations over the previous biweekly period.  As you’ll see from the graphs at the end of the newsletter, however, the numbers for Week #2 of the two-week period are substantially worse than for Week #1.

  • OHA reported 5,980 new cases of COVID-19 during the weeks of April 4 to April 17, a 76% increase over the previous biweekly total.
  • There were 202 COVID-19-related hospitalizations during the biweekly period, a drop from the 245 reported over the previous two weeks
  • There were 241 COVID-19-related deaths, up slightly from the 239 reported during the prior two weeks. (Again, many of these actually occurred in earlier weeks.)
  • There were 145,100 tests administered during the weeks of April 3 to April 16, with a test positivity rate of 3.6%.

Today’s COVID-19 Biweekly Outbreak Report shows 31 total active outbreaks in care facilities, senior living communities and congregate living settings. This is a significant drop from the 50 from two weeks ago (and that was just for one week). There were 49 deaths in congregate care settings over the last two weeks, a slight reduction from the one-week total of 26 deaths two weeks ago.



Weekly County Report: Continuing Increases in Test Positivity Rates

OHA is no longer providing a weekly county report each Monday.  However, you can track the test positivity rates for each county and the state as a whole at this dashboard.

The test positivity rates reported this week show continued increases.

The statewide infection rate has gone from 4.8% last week to 7.3% this week.  It is starting to reach a worrisome level. 

Multnomah County is now well above the state average, 11.5%, up from last week’s 6.8%, Though we don’t yet see this jump reflected in new hospitalizations, this high level is a problem, suggesting that not enough tests are being reported.


New OHSU Forecast Now Shows Increases and Predicts More to Come

The current OHSU forecast report, published on Friday (updated every other week), uses data provided by OHA and others that project how fast the virus may spread in the population and provides projections on possible outcomes, including infection rates and impacts on hospital capacity.  The lead author is Dr. Peter Graven, Director of OHSU’s Office of Advanced Analytics.  It appears every two weeks.

This forecast shows that the current increase in cases and hospitalizations will increase.  The current forecast predicts a gradual increase to nearly 3 times the current number of hospitalizations (currently 133) in the next few months, including those who were not admitted for COVID but tested positive upon admission (making their in-hospital treatment more complicated). These increases would be due both to  the BA.2 subvariant and the relaxation of masking and distancing requirements.  However, even at this level, COVID hospitalizations should still remain well below danger levels for our hospitals.

Here are key observations in this week’s report:

  • As of April 22, 131 patients were in Oregon hospitals. This is an increase by 47 patients since April 7.
  • Case count is rising in the Northeast and is now at 40 cases per 100,000 people each day. Hospitalizations are also slowly rising.
  • Cases and the number of people in hospitals are rising across Oregon. The fastest growth is in the Portland metro region.
  • Virus levels in wastewater are no longer decreasing. In some regions, they are staying the same and in others they are rising. 
  • As of April 22, 3% of occupied ICU beds had COVID patients in them statewide. This has not changed over the past two weeks.
  • Two children were in Oregon hospitals, which is the lowest level since the pandemic started.
  • Test positivity has risen for four straight weeks, but reported testing levels have not picked up.
  • The steady decline in masking here in Oregon appears to have paused.
  • Flu cases are declining in Oregon.
  • Infections are expected to increase and could reach 1,500 per day. We expect that testing will detect fewer of these infections than in previous surges.
  • The current increase in hospitalizations is projected to peak on June 8 at 314.  This is higher than the previous forecast, and it is nearly triple the current number but much lower than during the Delta and Omicron surges.

Additional COVID Updates and Links







The following graph from OHA will show you the number of COVID deaths as they actually occurred (rather than when they were reported).  It is of course always subject to change as additional deaths are reported.

true deaths


Here again are some COVID 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.


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.


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