Sine Die is Almost Nigh



Senator Michael Dembrow 
SE & NE Portland, Maywood Park

District Phone: 503-281-0608


Twitter: @michaeldembrow

E-Newsletter                              2/25/2014 

Friends and Neighbors,

People are starting to ask me when the Legislative session will end (adjourn sine die).  No one can say for sure at this point, other than that we are required by law to be finished by March 9.  Given the current pace that we’re following, most likely we’ll be finished a few days before then.  In any case, one thing seems certain--this week will be the penultimate week of the 2014 session. 

Things are starting to wrap up.  Today is the deadline for bills from the other chamber to move out of committee (either to the floor or to Rules for further consideration or to Ways and Means if it has funding requirements).  From then on, committees other than Rules, Revenue, and Ways and Means will only meet for informational updates. 

So, this week the action really shifts to the Rules and Ways and Means committees.  Rules (both House and Senate) is where you’ll find some of the very controversial bills that do not yet have a clear path to passage.  The bills in Ways and Means will start to be scheduled for hearings and potential votes this week, now that the Co-Chairs have a clear sense of the overall funding requirements and the overall available resources.  Once they clear Ways and Means, they’ll come directly to the floor for a vote. (House measures go first to the House and then the Senate, while Senate measures do the reverse.)  This will take us into next week.

In this newsletter, I’ll be giving you a status report on the bills that I’ve been tracking for you over the last few weeks, and will be sharing with you a number of bills that have already made it successfully through both chambers.  You’ll see that a number of good bills have passed already, bills that are solving real problems.  So far, I haven’t seen any bills pass that I would consider harmful.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to say the same thing a week from now!

As always, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about anything in this newsletter.  My goal is to make this process more understandable and accessible to you.  If you have suggestions for further resources we could make available to you, please let me know.

Coffee This Saturday

The first Saturday of the new month is approaching, and that means it’s time for a constituent coffee!  Please join me this Saturday, March 1st at the Hollywood Senior Center (1820 NE 40th Ave.) for coffee and conversation.  Note that we’ll be starting at 9am this time, instead of the usual 10am.  We’ll try to wrap up by 10:30.  I’ll provide the coffee, you bring your comments and questions.

Funding Legal Aid with Unclaimed Judgments

A bill that has become the object of much public attention and advocacy in the last week fixes a flaw in the way that Oregon handles class-action lawsuits.  Unlike the way that settlement distributions are handled in almost every other state, in Oregon any unclaimed awards go back to the offending corporation.  In all states other than Oregon and New Hampshire, the court can send any unclaimed awards to a charity or in many cases to the state’s Legal Aid office.

HB 4143 would end the current practice and direct any unclaimed awards to Legal Aid here in Oregon.  Legal Aid, as you may know, provides invaluable legal services for Oregonians who cannot afford to hire a lawyer, and it is severely and chronically underfunded.  It’s a very logical place to send these unclaimed awards.

During the hearing in Senate Judiciary, I pointed out that many of us receive these award notices for $2.30 or some such amount, and we tend to ignore them, assuming that not responding will simply shift the money to others who have been harmed or to a charity.  If I knew that the money was going back to the company that had been found negligent or misleading, I would probably act differently.  I would much rather see the money going to Legal Aid, and I think most people would agree.

The bill passed the House in a bipartisan 36-21 vote and is scheduled for a vote in Senate Judiciary tomorrow morning.  This is a bill that I agreed to co-sponsor before the session began because it made a lot of sense to me.  The more I know about it, the better I like it.  I’ve heard from a few dozen constituents asking me to support the bill.  This morning, I voted in favor of it in the Judiciary Committee, and I’m hopeful that it will pass the full Senate later this week.

Guardianship Bill Moves Forward

SB 1553, the bill that would allow us at last to provide coordinated guardianship and conservatorship services for indigent Oregonians who need those protections, is moving along the Ways and Means track.  It’s scheduled for a hearing in the Human Services subcommittee tomorrow, and will hopefully be voted out of the committee soon after.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

SB 1553 is turning out to be one of several good bills that will (I hope) emerge from this session addressing the needs of vulnerable Oregonians.  Yesterday morning it was my privilege to carry HB 4114 on the Senate floor.  HB 4114, led by Rep Joe Gallegos from Hillsboro, will allow courts to appoint special advocates for "protected persons."  Special advocates will be volunteer community members, judicially appointed to monitor existing court guardianships to ensure that protected persons are receiving adequate services from their guardians, that they are not being subjected abuse or neglect, and that the guardianship is still appropriate.  If you’re familiar with Oregon’s CASA program, which provides similar support for young people, you’ll know that this has the potential to do much good. 

Update On Bills

Below is an update on the bills that I reported on last week.  As you’ll see, some have passed, others are very much alive, but in many cases their future still remains uncertain.  You can click on the bill number to find out more about its trajectory so far and read submitted testimony.

HB 4094         Would allow an underage drinker or the companion of an underage drinker to seek medical help and not be at risk of arrest.  This is a bipartisan bill, for which I’m one of the sponsors.  Passed unanimously in the House.  Passed unanimously in the Senate.  Headed to the Governor for his signature.

HB 4136         This would allow high schools to continue to have Indian-themed mascots with the permission of a neighboring tribe.  This is one that failed in 2013, in part due to the threat of a veto by Governor Kitzhaber.  I opposed it then and continue to oppose it until the bill was amended in a manner I could support.  The State Board of Education will create a system modeled after the NCAA rules, which will only allow the use of names that are very specific to the individual neighboring tribes.  The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and will be voted on in the House Education Committee today.

SB 1551          Criminal Background Checks on Private Transfer of Firearms.  We’ve had a background check requirement on gun purchases for many years.  This would close an existing loophole around private sales, including internet sales.  Under the current program approximately 800 requests are denied each month due to criminal records, restraining orders, and parole violations, but we know that there are many still getting through.  I strongly support this legislation and have already voted for its introduction as a member of the Judiciary Committee.  In fact, this is one area of the controversy around guns that elicits overwhelming agreement. (See the results of this recently-completed statewide poll of Oregonians, with more conservative elements of the electorate over-represented in the poll—the results are quite striking.)  Nevertheless, this remains a tough issue.  I wish I could tell you that the criminal background checks bill was headed to the floor, but I cannot.  The bill was sent (on a party-line vote) two weeks ago to Senate Rules.  Still looking for that 16th vote that would ensure passage. 

SB 1556          This measure would refer to the voters (in the November 2014 election) the question of whether or not marijuana should be legalized, and if they say yes, the Legislature will be responsible for designing the best possible program.  The rationale for this bill is the high likelihood that a flawed initiative measure will make it to the ballot and will pass without having had the benefit of a real public process in its design.  I’ve signed on as a sponsor of this bill, which was dealt with initially in Senate Judiciary.  As a member of that committee, I voted to send it forward.  Since this is a referral to the voters, it needed to be sent to the Rules Committee.  It did pass to Rules on a party-line vote.  It’s still waiting for a hearing, which presumes that the votes are not yet lined up to pass it.

SB1569           Labeling and eliminating children’s products that contain known toxic chemicals.  This one failed in 2013.  Advocates are working hard to get it passed this time.  Amended to make it similar to Washington’s labeling-only program. Passed from Senate Health Care on a party-line vote to Ways and Means.  Not sure yet if it has the votes to pass there.  It’s still waiting for a hearing.

HB4113           The I-5 Bridge Replacement Project (Columbia River Crossing) is still out there as a potential bill for February.  Its prospects have become very uncertain now that Washington has pulled out of direct involvement in the project.  Many of us, including I, are still hoping for more certainty from Washington regarding the collection of toll money from Washington residents.  I don’t believe that there is a bill yet.  If a bill does emerge, expect an extensive public hearing on it.  If a bill does not progress, the Governor has said that the project will officially come to an end in March.  The bill is HB 4113.  After a four-hour hearing last week, it was sent to Ways and Means on a 6-4 party-line vote, with all Democrats voting yes and all Republicans voting no.  We probably won’t know its fate definitively until the very end of the session, but unless we get some strong signals from Washington Governor Jay Inslee that his state will support the Oregon-led project via strong inter-governmental agreements, I don’t think the votes are there in Oregon’s Senate.

·         SB 1531: This bill was brought to us by representatives of cities and counties, who wanted the ability to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, to the point of banning them.  It came to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  While I support giving local governments the authority to impose reasonable regulations regarding time, location, and manner of operation, I believe that it would be wrong to allow them to ban dispensaries entirely.  When Oregonians voted for medical marijuana, they sent a clear message that people with medical needs should have easy access to medical marijuana.  In the end, a majority of the committee agreed with that position, and the bill was amended to remove the ability to ban.  The amended bill passed the Senate unanimously.  It was heard and voted on yesterday morning in the House Judiciary Committee, where it was re-amended to add back the ability of counties to ban dispensaries.  It should have a House floor vote this week, and will then likely require the appointment of a conference committee with members from both the House and Senate to try and find an acceptable compromise.
·         Bonds for OHSU:  Oregon Health Sciences University is seeking $200 million in state-backed bonds to build the new cancer-research facilities on the South Waterfront made possible if they are able to raise $500 million to match the $500 million offered by Phil and Penny Knight.  The university believes that having guaranteed funding for the construction will help them to secure the additional philanthropy.  If this all works out, it could be a great thing for cancer research and for Oregon.  We probably won’t know the fate of this bond request until the very end of the session.  Still awaiting action, but prospects are looking good.

Bills That Have Passed Both Chambers

Here are some additional bills that have made it successfully through both chambers as of today. 

1584    Exotic Animal Ownership  This bill came to us several years after the legislature banned individuals from owning exotic pets.  It allows for a very small exception to that law, so that disabled individuals who have an exotic pet that is serving as a therapy animal may keep that animal if they owned it prior to the effective date of ban, and they can document their disability and their ability to keep the pet in proper conditions.

4085    Colon Cancer Screenings  This bill makes colon cancer screenings more accessible and affordable for Oregonians.

4090    Summer Meal Grants  This bill increases the availability of nutritious meals for kids during summer breaks by making startup grants available to more sites that want to provide summer meals.

4120    Scholarships for children of fallen reserve police and firefighters  Oregon has an established scholarship program for dependents of deceased and disabled public safety officers.  This bill expands the definition of public safety officer for the purposes of the scholarship to included reserve police officers and volunteer firefighters.

1518    Supervisory Employees This bill deals with an issue created by legislation in the 1990s that excluded many frontline fire fighters from the ability to belong to their union by mischaracterizing them as supervisors.  This bill clarifies the law so that only fire fighters with true supervisory duties will remain outside the bargaining unit.

1567    Managerial Bumping Rights  This bill codifies an agreement reached between state workers and management to restore rights to workers who have been promoted into management but who have not completed their trial service – allowing them to return to their previous position if their promotion doesn’t work out.

1577    Silver Alert  This bill creates a Silver Alert program to help locate vulnerable missing adults (who may have dementia, Alzheimer’s or other conditions), similar to the Amber Alert system currently in place to locate missing children.

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