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Volume 12, Issue 4
April 2014

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Mitch GreenlickThe MitchMessage March 16, 2014 --- 2014 session report

I have scheduled two town hall meetings, to be held jointly with Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward. Both meetings will be on Saturday, April 19. The first will be at 11 am at Friendly House, 1737 NW 26th at NW Thurman. The second will be at 2 pm at the Cedar Mill Community Library at 12505 NW Cornell Rd. at NW Saltzman Rd.

The 2014 session adjourned Sine Die quietly at 5 pm on March 7, two days before the constitutionally required adjournment. Much of the last hour of the session was occupied with good-bye messages from most of the 15 or so (the number changed daily) House members who had decided not to stand for reelection for the 2015 session. I believe that is the largest number of voluntary retirements of any session since I joined the House in 2003. The majority of that group comprises Republicans, several of whom are candidates for other elected offices. The retirees include two of the longest serving members of the House, Rep. Bob Jenson, a Republican from Eastern Oregon and Rep. Carolyn Tomei, a Democrat from Milwaukie.

As I said in my message before the beginning of session this was designed to be a quiet and uncomplicated session. It did not exactly turn out that way. I was the chief sponsor or a co-chief sponsor of six bills during this session, four of which passed both chambers and will be signed by the Governor. HB 4013 improved the ability of physicians to use electronic prescribing, which reduces the probability of forging prescriptions. That bill was totally unopposed in both chambers. I teamed up with Rep. Jenson on HB 4074, which was the final bill he sponsored in his long career. That measure improved access to services in rural Oregon hospitals by easing access to imaging services for these small and isolated institutions.

Rep. Tomei and I sponsored a bill to improve insurance coverage for colorectal cancer screening services by ensuring full insurance coverage for colonoscopies, even when the procedure discovers polyps that are removed as a part of the procedure. Some insurance companies recode the procedure from preventive to therapeutic, triggering co-pays that do not apply to preventive services. 

And finally, perhaps my most important bill was HB 4122, proposed with Eugene representatives Nancy Nathanson and Paul Holvey. That bill was developed partly in response to Cover Oregon’s information technology disaster. It requires that all state agencies and public corporations obtain quality management services from a qualified contractor when undertaking a large IT project. It also requires that information about problems emerging in the design and implementation of the project be reported to responsible state officials, such as Oregon’s Chief Information Officer. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the House and the Senate. 

Because the economy is improving significantly in Oregon we did not have to make dramatic changes to the budget. While there were a couple of significant unexpected expenses (a $40 million bill for fighting forest fires last year and a major increase in state prison expenses) we were able to rebalance the budget and even put more resources into education and especially into higher education.

After passing the largest K-12 budget in Oregon history and holding down tuition increases at Oregon universities last year, we continued to prioritize education. New summer learning grants will provide over 5,000 students at high-poverty public schools with additional learning time, and a $2.2 million investment in Employment Related Day Care will help expand support for parents who are returning to school.

Sitting on the House Committee on Higher Education and Workforce Development gave me new insights on the need to make higher education more accessible and affordable. I was delighted when we passed the “Aspiration to College” bill, which will support low-income, and first-generation community college students and the “Oregon Promise” bill, which will study the extent to which it’s realistic to allow high performing high school graduates to attend Oregon community colleges without paying tuition. And we boosted funding in Career and Technical Education programs that will make young Oregonians more ready to enter the job market with useful skills.

In addition, the re-balance of the budget protected critical social services, by boosting investments in SNAP meal programs, emergency housing and homelessness assistance, and providing additional bonding for affordable housing. 

The bonding appropriation process provided authorization for several university building projects around the state, including authorization for $200 million in bonds for OHSU to build two cancer research and treatment buildings on the South Waterfront. That money is in aid of a challenge grant put forward by NIKE founder Phil Knight. Knight has offered $500 million to build a world-class cancer research program at OHSU if the University can match that with an additional $500 million in funds for the Knight Cancer Institute within two years. The bonding authority will count in the match, although OHSU has pledged to raise another $200 million in the following five years to help fund their very ambitious cancer treatment and prevention research program. This proposal met with overwhelming bipartisan and bicameral support.

Not everything this session was characterized with bicameral and bipartisan support. Several important bills died in the Senate because the 14 Republican members of the Senate locked up against several proposals and were joined by one Democrat, Senator Betsy Johnson, to produce a 15-15 deadlock. The bill in this category that most distressed me was a bill to reform the way class action judgment proceeds are distributed. Currently Oregon is one of two states that allow unclaimed proceeds from a class action suit judgment to be retained by the guilty defendant in the suit. In some cases as much as 50% of the judgment will be retained by a guilty defendant. The bill, which passed overwhelmingly in the House, would have put the unclaimed proceeds into a fund to support Oregon’s legal aid programs. BP and Phillip Morris fought the proposal ferociously because each is in the midst of a class action suit. Millions are at stake.

Other bills that died in the Senate, for one reason or another, included a bill to clarify the ballot title on the referral of the alternative driver card bill, a bill to increase requirements that people put into diversion for a DUII charge use ignition interlock devices, a bill to revive the Columbia River Crossing project, and a bill to increase background checks in the private sale of firearms. These died without explicit votes in the Senate, because it was clear that there were not 16 votes to pass them,

There were, on the other hand, some notable compromises that produced successful outcomes. One such was a bill to give local authorities the ability to regulate the marijuana dispensaries with regard to time, place, and manner of operation. As it made its way though the House, local government representatives requested the authority to ban the dispensaries altogether. This led to a battle in the House over an amended bill that provided that authority, which passed the House. The Senate amended to bill to allow local governments a one-year moratorium on siting dispensaries, while we address the issue during the 2015 session. I felt very strongly that dispensaries are medical care facilities and that local governments should not have the power to ban them completely.

Another bill that passed after significant compromise was a land-use bill that was designed to deal with troublesome issues raised by the process for creating urban and rural reserves and defining the Urban Growth Boundary in the Metro area. There are many groups that were unhappy with how the plan affected Washington County land use. While a bill was being crafted in the House, the Oregon Court of Appeals threw out Metro’s plan, returning it to a lower court for further action. This created significant interest in developing legislative action that would save the overall reserve plan, but would modify the Washington County aspects of the plan, A huge weekend meeting of most of the concerned parties produced a compromise plan that had almost universal support and easily passed both chambers.

One thing that became clear during the short session was that because the elections were around the corner, politics played an even larger role than was apparent in the odd-year session that closely followed an election. It seemed particularly true because two members of the House were running for statewide office --- Rep. Dennis Richardson for Governor and Rep. Jason Conger for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Jeff Merkley. One battleground for this political action was the Oregon health insurance exchange, Cover Oregon. Unfortunately, the failure of the enrollment process for Cover Oregon gave all of us plenty of ammunition to fire off at the program. But Richardson and Conger especially took every opportunity to carry on about the program. 

Rep. Conger took several opportunities to propose amendments to bills attacking Cover Oregon. Since most of these attacks were taking place in the House Health Care Committee, which I chair, I convinced Rep. Conger that I was willing to work with him to produce a reasonable set of amendments that we could add to a Senate bill I had in committee. We worked together, including consultation with the Governor’s office and Cover Oregon, and produced a modest set of amendments requiring Cover Oregon to produce an updated business plan for our May committee meeting and requiring any reports of investigations of Cover Oregon to be made public as quickly as possible. Rep. Conger was delighted to be taken seriously and I was delighted to have the committee process be taken seriously and to improve the situation.

It feels like we did a great deal of work during the short session and produced some useful outcomes. But we also left a great deal to be addressed in the 2015 session. Most of us will now take a deep breath and begin to prepare for 2015. If you have not heard I have filed for reelection and I am looking forward to serving House District 33 for another term.




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