May 17, 2019 Newsletter
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As expected, the legislative session is proceeding at a rapid pace. By now, bills that originated in the House have begun moving through the Senate and vice versa. By May 10th, any bills assigned to policy committees that had not been scheduled to receive a work session in their second chamber cannot move forward this session. Of those bills, any that do not actually receive a work session by May 24th will also likely die, except for those assigned to the Committees on Ways and Means, Revenue, Rules, and other joint committees that are exempt from these deadlines. Many of the bills being considered by these exempted committees concern taxation and budget issues. As these deadlines pass and the number of bills in committee becomes smaller, floor sessions will become longer as we try to work through all those bills before the session is constitutionally required to end on June 30th.
On May 15th, the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis released its quarterly Economic and Revenue Forecast. To state economists' surprise, Oregon is expected to take in over $900 million more this biennium than was predicted last quarter, which is partially due to recent tax cuts at the Federal level as well as a growing corporate tax base within the state. This is a unique opportunity for lawmakers to invest in our future by putting these unexpected resources in a rainy-day fund or using them to pay down Oregon's public pension debt.
Under Oregon's Constitution, any state revenue that is more than 2% greater than initial forecasts for the two-year budget period must be returned to Oregonians in the form of a "kicker" refund. Because Oregon is expected to take in over $2.1 billion, or 7.6%, more than state economists initially predicted in 2017, this year's kicker refund is expected to be over $1.4 billion — the largest in state history. While the Constitution allows lawmakers to divert kicker funds with a two-thirds vote in each chamber, I believe Oregon families need and deserve their kicker refund and would not support such an effort.
On April 23rd, the House voted to approve HB 2883. This bill prohibits restaurants and other food preparers from using polystyrene containers to serve food or drinks and authorizes hefty fines for businesses that do not comply. I voted "no" on this bill. Many small businesses and food carts in House District 18 regularly use these kinds of containers and, while I recognize that polystyrene is currently a significant litter issue, there is a company in Tigard that has become very successful at recycling this material. Given that this recycling technology is available, and that likely replacement products require more energy to produce and transport, I don't believe it is fair for legislators to risk putting some food preparers out of business for comparatively little in return. Let's encourage recycling instead.
On April 25th, the House also voted to approve HB 2509. This bill prohibits grocery stores and other businesses from offering single-use plastic carryout bags. Many cities and counties in the state, including the City of Silverton, already ban these bags given their significant environmental impacts and their ability to contaminate recycling and composting facilities. I voted "yes" on this bill.
HB 2883 and HB 2509 have since moved to the Senate for further consideration.
On April 25th, the Senate voted to approve HB 2428, which closes a gap in our state's public indecency law and of which I am the Chief Sponsor. Under current law, a person commits the crime of public indecency if, among other things, one exposes oneself in public. Unfortunately, the law currently provides no relief if a person engages in public masturbation without actually removing one's clothing. This problem was first brought to my attention by public safety officials in Marion County, and I am hopeful that HB 2428 will assist law enforcement officers in addressing it.
That same day, the House voted to approve SB 423 and 424. These bills will help to provide law enforcement officers with appropriate pre-employment psychological and adequate mental health services while on the job. Although most law enforcement agencies in the state already screen prospective employees for psychological suitability, some have no policy in place to address mental health wellness. These bills make it mandatory for agencies to do both, which is recognized nationwide as a best practice for law enforcement. As a retired law enforcement officer of 40 years, 28 of which as a police chief in three Oregon cities, and as a former President of the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, I was honored to serve as a Chief Sponsor of these bills, and to advocate for their passage. You can watch a video of my floor speech here.
Also on April 25th, the House passed SB 509, which repeals the crime of unlawfully transporting hay. Under current law, if a farmer is hauling 20 bails of hay or more, one must carry a purchasing slip. This law was enacted in the 1970s, when hay bales were significantly lighter than they are today, and hay theft was more common. Today, hay bales can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, which makes this law largely irrelevant. This is an interesting example of how the Legislature, in addition to passing new laws, sometimes cleans up old ones.
I am pleased to report that these last four bills were signed into law by the Governor on May 6th.
On May 1st, after nearly seven hours on the floor, the House passed the largest single tax hike on Oregon families in history. It was passed by the Senate nearly two weeks later and, today, it was signed into law by the Governor. I voted no on the bill, not because the policy is inherently bad, but because of the mechanism by which it is funded. HB 3427 calls for new taxes totaling $2.8 billion. Those taxes will fall directly on 40,000 Oregon businesses — with special carve-outs for some of the largest businesses in the State who won’t be paying. In addition, most of the businesses who aren't taxed directly will be taxed indirectly as their suppliers, who are taxed, raise prices to make up the difference. At the end of the day, all those businesses, whether taxed directly or indirectly, will pass their costs onto consumers — hitting low-income families the hardest.
I was also dismayed by how this bill was handled procedurally. The 82-page bill was crafted with no input from the minority party and was distributed only an hour before being voted on in committee. It was then sent immediately to the House floor for a vote, before any economic impact data was available for consideration. I want to make it clear that I — and all my colleagues — support funding for education that will make a difference in the classroom. That's why I would have greatly appreciated being a part of the discussion on this bill. Because it was assigned to a joint committee, it was not subject to any of the above-mentioned deadlines, and there were two months left in the session in which we could have made it better. Unfortunately, because many of us were not given the chance to weigh in, there is nothing in the bill that addresses the largest cost driver for education: PERS. As a result, the State's unfunded public pension liability will continue to increase costs for schools — which have already gone up by $335 million this biennium — and prevent those dollars from reaching the classroom.
Oregon's voters have rejected a sales tax many times. Now we have one. The sad thing is that nothing guarantees that, two years from now, your tax dollars for education won't be siphoned off for other things. Had this been done transparently — the right way — we could have installed siderails to stop that from happening.
HB 2013 passed the House and has been sent to the Senate. I voted in favor of the bill as amended. The bill simply establishes a legal process for any person to surrender one's firearms if one is already required to do so under current law pursuant to a court order or a federal law following a domestic violence conviction. The bill allows the owner of firearms to turn them over temporarily during the duration of the court order to a licensed firearms dealer, a law enforcement agency or a third party of one's choosing. The bill was amended to provide a Constitutional 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. The bill allows the owner to transport firearms for the purpose of handing them over without incurring a penalty for unlawful transport.
In the Capitol
April 12th was the 2019 Oregon Advocacy Day for the Alzheimer's Association. I had a wonderful meeting with several volunteers from the Oregon & Southwest Washington chapter of the organization to talk about the devastating impact that this syndrome has on people who are diagnosed with it, as well as their families and care givers. For more information and where to go for help, call their helpline at 800-272-3900 or go to their website here.
On April 23rd, a group of constituents stopped by my office in the capitol to discuss their thoughts on HB 3063. In Oregon, every child through grade 12 must be immunized against 11 specified diseases before attending school. Under current law, parents may exempt their children from becoming vaccinated for medical and non-medical reasons such as religious or philosophical beliefs. HB 3063 removes these non-medical exemptions, along with some previously approved medical exemptions. The bill passed the House and was blocked in the Senate from further consideration. I appreciate these individuals for taking time out of their day to share their thoughts. Constituent input is crucial to me and it affects how I approach issues and bills as your State Representative.
Also on April 23rd, the House Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness took a field trip to the Oregon Military Department's Deibert Flight Operations Facility near the Salem Airport, where we toured the Civil Support Teams and Aviation Armory. The facility, formerly known as the Salem Aviation Center, was dedicated in 2010 to Charles L. Deibert, who served as Oregon's Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army after a 22-year military service career. Today, the facility functions as a tactical deployment center for the Oregon National Guard, particularly in response to domestic tragedies. I appreciated the opportunity to visit the facility and to learn more about the tools that our National Guard is working with.
On May 2nd, the Salem Upbeat Kids Choir performed the opening ceremony on the floor of the House, accompanied by Miriam Butler on piano. Salem Upbeat Music was established in 2014 and is a Christian homeschool organization that offers fun, enriching, and educational choirs for those aged 3 to 18. I want to extend a special thanks to Miriam and the students for sharing their talents with us. It was an honor to sponsor this group from my community. A link to their performance can be found here.
May 2nd was also Apple Pie Day at the Oregon State Capitol. According to the Oregon Department of Education, the average Oregon homeschooled student scores 15-30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized tests. In addition, private home schooling saves Oregon taxpayers over $375 million every year. To raise awareness and support for home schooling here in Oregon, volunteers for the Oregon Christian Home Education Association Network visited their legislators' offices to deliver home-made apple pies. Special thanks to Melissa Bassani, a homeschooling mother living in Clackamas County, for stopping by my office and dropping off the delicious apple pie!
On May 6th, I attended the annual Oregon Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus banquet in Salem. The Sportsmen's Caucus, of which I am a member, is a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers that strives to preserve and promote the traditional rights of Oregon's citizens to hunt, fish, and pursue outdoor recreational activities and to recognize the importance of those activities to our economy. The Sportsmen's Caucus is also hosting a Fishing Day at the Capitol at 9:00 AM on Saturday, May 25th, where volunteers will teach casting, fish anatomy, and knot tying, and cook the fish that attendees catch. Thanks to Representatives Sherrie Sprenger and Brad Witt, who chair the caucus, and all the organization's sponsors for making these events possible.
May 14th was Armed Forces Day at the Capitol. The Oregon National Guard honored all military members and veterans during the annual ceremony. Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Maj. Gen. Mike Stencel, Adjutant General, Oregon both spoke at the ceremony that included an F-15 Eagle fly over by the Oregon Air National Guard's 142nd Fighter Wing and a howitzer salute by the "Governor's Own" Bravo Battery, 2-218th Field Artillery Battalion.
The Oregon Army National Guard's 234th Army Band provided music during the ceremony. Salem residents Rita Hathaway, a 'Rosie the Riveter' during WW II, and war bride, Joy Beebe, were also honored, along with families and other world war-era veterans.
This year's Armed Forces Day ceremony paid special acknowledgement to WW II veterans and families as well as those that support the war effort.
You can view more photos by clicking here.
I am pleased to introduce Team Lewis:
Michelle Felton serves as my Legislative Director. She joined my office in January. Although she is new to my office, she has been legislative staff at the Capitol since 2008 and has served as Chief of Staff and Legislative Director to former Representatives Vicki Berger, John Davis, and Rich Vial.
Cindy Jones is my Director of Constituent Services. Cindy has served the constituents of House District 18 since 2007. Cindy served as Chief of Staff, and Director of Constituent Services to former Representative Vic Gilliam.
Caleb Huegel recently joined my team as a Legislative Assistant. Caleb is a third-year law student at Willamette University College of Law. He too is a veteran at the Capitol, having served as staff to former Representatives Gene Whisnant and Rich Vial.
I am grateful for their work and commitment to serving the citizens of House District 18. Please don’t hesitate to contact them should you need any assistance navigating the legislative process or personal assistance with state government.
Honoring Robert Maxwell
I wish to extend my sincere condolences to the Maxwell family. On May 11th we lost a true hero. Robert “Bob” Maxwell, a revered American serviceman, who was the oldest Medal of Honor recipient when he passed in Bend at the age of 98.
Maxwell unhesitatingly threw himself on a grenade during an early morning attack on his battalion headquarters in Besançon, France, in September 1944. His bravery saved the lives of those around him. It was a characteristic response for Maxwell whose actions during WW II earned him two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and a Bronze Star.
This photo with Bob, Representative Evans, and me was taken in 2017 when we were creating the Medal of Honor Highway. The Medal of Honor Highway (Highway 20) extends from Newport, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts and honors Oregon’s 26 Medal of Honor recipients who served during eight major wars in ten countries over a span of 108 years from the Civil War to the Vietnam War.
As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve as your State Representative. Please feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance.
State Representative House
Oregon's Christmas Tree District
Capitol Phone: 503-986-1418
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE, H-484, Salem, OR 97301