Kim Thatcher

 
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Newsletter March 2016
IN THIS ISSUE
Session by the Numbers
Transparency
PERS
Forestry
Jobs / Apprenticeships / Housing
Veterans
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Sen Thatcher's webpage is at:

 www.oregonlegislature.gov/thatcher

 

Reflecting on the Legislative Session

I am sure some of you have familiarized yourselves with the recent legislative session. The news media, of course, focused on the more contentious disputes legislators had over minimum wage, coal, and taxes, to name a few. Highlighting those specific issues is important because of the serious negative effects they will have on business and the working class.

However, the headlines sometimes overshadow the small victories that were won. For example, all of the gun bills were stopped; cap and trade was killed; a bill that would have allowed Tri-Met to raise property taxes in order to resurrect the Columbia River Crossing was defeated; and a bill that would take away legislative oversight of advance directives and put it in the hands of unelected bureaucrats, was stalled. Bills that were absolutely terrible were negotiated and amended into "less-bad" bills.

No doubt, many battles were lost this session; however, I think it is useful to take a step back and analytically break down some of the numbers in order to get beyond the rhetoric.

 

Session by the Numbers

During this session's 32 days, the Senate voted and passed 150 bills; 82 of those bills originated in the House and 68 originated in the Senate. As of today, the governor has signed 63 into law. It's indisputable that legislation was expedited through the Senate this session and the numbers testify to this. For instance, 63 of the 150 bills passed on the Senate floor were voted on during the last four days of session.In other words, 42% of the bills that passed the Senate were voted on within a 96-hour period.

In spite of the fact that Republicans slowed down the legislative process in an effort to stop egregious legislation, more bills were passed this session in the Senate than during any of the previous short sessions that have been held. It is hard to imagine how many bills would have passed if Republicans had not slowed down the legislative session.

What may surprise some people is that according to the numbers above, only six percent of the votes (nine bills) resulted in total Republican opposition. All other bills garnered at least one Republican supporter. The quantitative data show a very loose bipartisanship but the nine bills Republicans united against represent a qualitative difference between Republican and Democrat policy choices.

The six percent of bills Senate Republicans unanimously rejected, were on issues that often dominated the headlines: minimum wage, granting legislators authority to solemnize marriages, rent control, tax increases, utility rate increases, and a bicycle bill that could potentially criminalize accidents.

Despite real and perceived partisan tensions this session, I was able to find common ground with my Democrat colleagues. The two bills I introduced, SB 1566 (criminal impersonation) and SB 1567 (open enrollment for K-12 schools) were signed by the governor and are now law.

Extending the sunset on open enrollment passed almost unanimously this session, which is surprising since the original bill barely passed five years ago. It continues to allow parents to enroll their child in another district without having to get permission from their home district or pay tuition to the new one. If it hadn't passed, this option would no longer be available after a few months.

The other bill I was fortunate enough to Chief Sponsor this session, SB 1571, directs the State Police to test the backlog of untested sexual assault forensic evidence kits. Undoubtedly, this bill will provide investigators with new DNA evidence to prosecute violent sexual offenders that have so far escaped justice. This bill passed in both chambers and is awaiting the governor's signature.

Considering the long odds against a Republican passing any bills (when analyzing all bills passing the Senate according to their Chief sponsors) I consider it a victory getting these three bills passed.

Aside from the three Chief-Sponsored bills, I also co-sponsored fourteen other bills. They covered a variety of issues from transparency, forestry, PERS reform, job creation, affordable housing, and veterans. Unfortunately, most did not pass. In fact, some were not even given consideration in committees. However, I was able to help get six of those fourteen bills passed through both legislative chambers. Considering the slim chances of Republican chief-sponsored and co-sponsored bills getting passed, I think getting these six through the process is a success. Below are some of the bills I co-sponsored.

 

Transparency

The ability for citizens to transparently examine what is taking place in their government is essential to a healthy and functioning Constitutional Republic. I have done a lot of work on budget and public meetings transparency. Since the inception of the state's transparency website, a bill I chief-sponsored in 2009, Oregon has made leaps ahead as far as providing transparent information about the state's checkbook. The United States Public Interest Research Group has given Oregon high marks for these efforts.

However, there is more to transparency than following the money in government. Recently, Oregon received an "F" rating from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit that follows multiple aspects of government transparency and accountability. Given this sad rating, and a pending FBI investigation into our former governor, I continued my efforts to improve transparency this session. Of the fourteen bills I co-sponsored, half were aimed at addressing transparency issues in our government. Here is a quick summary of them:

HB 4106 A is in response to some executive agencies' apparent over-reliance on temporary rulemaking procedures, which has the effect of short-circuiting the more publically-inclusive process for adopting administrative rules. This bill requires state agencies to report to the legislature every year the purpose for adopting temporary rules. This bill passed both chambers and was signed by the Governor.

SB 1560 would have required all amendments that are introduced to include the name of the legislator introducing it. As many of you already know, an amendment can change the entire nature of a bill. A perfect example of why this bill is necessary is SB 1547 — which became the coal abolitionist bill. Originally this bill passed in the Senate as an innocuous bill that was only thirty-one WORDS. By the time it went through the House, it was amended to become nineteen PAGES and is now what is ostensibly considered the "coal to clean" bill. There are no legislators' names on the -18 amendment that opaquely transformed a simple public utility bill into the complex anti-coal bill. Unfortunately, the amendment-transparency bill, SB 1560, never received a public hearing and as such, legislators are still not required to put their names on amendments.

SB 1577 would have created a Committee on accountability. It would have been a joint committee composed of an equal number of majority and minority members. This bill received a public hearing but no work session and subsequently died in committee.

SB 1579 would require state agencies to provide a summary of the legal advice they received regarding validity or effect of proposed rule or written order. This bill attempted to bring transparency to bureaucratic agencies shielding themselves from public scrutiny by claiming "attorney-client privilege." For example, it was reported in The Oregonian [ed. The Oregonian published an opinion piece by Sen. Dough Whitsett (R - Klamath Falls)],

"The Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) purportedly obtained advice from an attorney regarding the sale of the controversial Business Energy Tax Credits (BETC). That advice allegedly authorized third-party sales of BETCs at discounts that appear to be greater than allowed by law. ODOE allowed private third parties to broker BETC sales at up to at least 25 percent discounts."

ODOE refused to make their legal advice known after taking these actions.
This bill received a public hearing, a work session was opened, but the bill was never voted upon.

SJR 202 proposed an amendment to the Oregon Constitution. It would have required the Legislative Assembly to approve each administrative rule or amendment to an administrative rule adopted by an executive branch agency before taking effect. This bill never received a public hearing so it died in committee.

SJR 205 would have prohibited public officials from accepting campaign contributions from organizations that have negotiated, supervised, or approved a contract, with an elected official in the past two years from the negotiation. This would have amended Oregon's Constitution upon the consent of Oregon citizens through referendum. This bill would have taken many steps in addressing real and perceived improprieties by elected officials. Unfortunately, this bill never received a public hearing so it died in committee. The irony is that had this bill been adopted years ago, our former governor and his fiancé might not be facing criminal charges today.

 

PERS

SB 1519 aimed at reforms to the public employees retirement system (PERS). Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler recently issued a statement that the state pension fund's investment returns were 2.1 percent in 2015. As The Oregonian reported, even with that gain,

"Investment returns for the year still fell 5.6 percentage points below the system's 7.75 percent assumed rate of return for 2015. *** [That] means the pension system's unfunded liability just increased by another 20 percent — growing from $18 billion at the end of 2014 to between $21 and $22 billion a year later."

Considering the short session was intended to fix budget issues, it is a shame this bill never even received a public hearing and died in committee.

 

Forestry

SB 1520 would have required the Governor, with the assistance of the State Forestry Department, to attempt state entry into a federal Good Neighbor Authority agreement with United States Forest Service. Much has transpired in the last three months regarding federal and state land issues in Oregon. Oregon's timber industry has been decimated over the last few decades. This bill would have made a step forward in addressing some of the grievances that these communities have over federal management of forest lands. This bill never received a public hearing and died in committee.

 

Job Creation / Apprentice Program / Housing

SB 1544 increases the maximum number of weeks for which individuals participating in apprenticeship programs may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits when they are unemployed because of their participation in these programs. This bill was signed by the Governor.

SB 1565 B authorizes cities or counties to adopt property tax exemptions for newly constructed or installed industrial improvements at locations in rural areas where the initial cost of investment is at least $1 million and not more than $25 million. This bill passed both houses and is awaiting the Governor's signature.

SB 1548 authorizes local governments to expedite inclusion of land within an urban growth boundary that is dedicated to needed land for housing. This bill received no public hearing and died in committee.

 

Veterans

SCR 206 I was extremely honored to co-sponsor this bill. George Wright was a World War II veteran who had two sons. Both of his sons served in Vietnam and were mortally wounded. In the entire United States, the Wright family was one of forty-one families that lost two family members in that war. SCR 206 recognized the Wright family by giving them the highest honor the Oregon legislative assembly can bestow. This bill was passed unanimously and is awaiting the Governor's signature.

 

I will continue to fight for good legislation, make bad legislation better, and defend our Constitutional rights. I want to hear your concerns and talk about how we can fix them together. Soon, I will be hosting town halls to talk about this last session and what you would like to see for the future. Please keep an eye out for notices on social media and your local paper. Hope to see you all there.

Sincerely,
Signature

Senator Kim Thatcher
Senate District 13
sen.kimthatcher@state.or.us
503-986-1713

If you want to contact Sen. Thatcher's office you can send an email to: sen.kimthatcher@state.or.us or call 503.986.1713

Write to Sen. Thatcher at:

900 Court Street NE
Salem, OR 97301

www.oregonlegislature.gov/thatcher

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