End-of-Session Wrap Up
Greetings Neighbors and Friends,
The 2015 legislative session has come to a close. Capitol veterans describe it as one of the more challenging and productive in recent memory. High profile issues included:
• The earliest passage of a K-12 budget in at least a quarter century, funding all-day kindergarten and boosting funds in key areas to improve educational outcomes.
• Key investments in local economies, including important projects in our community (more on that below).
• Approval of policies to try and keep firearms out of the hands of felons, the mentally ill, and domestic abusers.
• Development of new regulations and infrastructure to manage legalized marijuana sales, implementing the voter-approved Measure 91.
My own perspective is that we made significant progress on large issues that are particularly important to our district. Here are a few examples:
Hatfield Marine Science Center
Marine Science Initiative: Great news! In the closing days of the Session, matching funds were approved that will assure expansion of the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center in the center of our district. I’ve been working on this daily for the past six months. Plans include as many as 150 new staff and 500 undergraduate students.
Hatfield is now positioned to become a global resource for studies of ocean warming, acidification, resilience, and the health of our various marine-based industries. Our success means a major economic boost to the Central Coast and critical support of our Pacific Ocean.
Oregon Coast Community College
The Oregon Coast Community College Newport Campus
Education: My highest priority coming into the Session was improving our education system and reversing a decade of cuts to our schools, colleges, and universities. I was pleased with the results.
By end of Session, we had committed a K-12 budget of $7.4 billion for the 2015-17 biennium. This is a 25% increase since 2011 and includes funding for all-day kindergarten for every kid in the state.
In addition to the K-12 budget, $500 million will be going to Community Colleges in Oregon and $700 million to Oregon universities. This represents 20% and 30% funding increases respectively and will help to lift some of the student load debt burden that students in higher education are currently facing.
To be clear, we still have a long way to go. We have one of the shortest school years in the country. Our classroom sizes are too large. And our graduation rate needs improvement. But we are taking steps in the right direction. Sadly, fixing a broken thing takes longer than the breaking. I believe that Oregonians can feel optimistic about the direction we’re moving in.
Economic Development: I have long argued that our economic challenge is to create meaningful jobs for minimum-wage earners to advance to, and educated/qualified employees to fill those jobs. Small business is the backbone of our district economy. I worked hard to substantially increase funding of our Small Business Development Centers to help entrepreneurs create a sustainable future for their families and their employers. And through my position as co-chair of the Transportation and Economic Development Committee, I was able to assure funding for important highway and job-creating initiatives locally and statewide.
Government Efficiency: This session I initiated a system-wide study of credit card use in state government. Cards can be used to pay for everything from renting a yurt in State Parks, to buying a bottle in state liquor stores, to paying taxes. The total comes to over a billion dollars each year. And any small business owner will tell you that there is a sizable bank charge to accept credit cards. I worked to ensure that the state gets the best rate and took steps to allow cities and counties to save millions each year using the same contract.
I also took the lead on policies to help Oregon better collect money owed to the state. For example, we learned that thousands of businesses being paid for products and services are also still on the hook for unpaid taxes, fines, or fees. We’re now doing better matching people we send money to with people that owe us money. And that potentially can save a billion dollars a year.
Coast Guard Air Station: I authored a resolution to Congress urging permanent funding of the Coast Guard Air Station on the Central Coast. I won’t suggest that this measure ultimately convinced the Federal government to make the right decision, but I was pleased to see our legislature and governor sign on strongly supporting safety in our coastal waters.
School Lunches: Two-thirds of the kids in our district schools receive free or subsidized lunches. And important programs like Backpacks for Kids raise funds to send food home on weekends so students return Monday ready to learn rather than looking to eat.
I have written before about one of our neighbors, Nel Ward, who generously paid past due accounts in Newport so students would no longer receive an emergency meal which I dubbed the “scarlet sandwich.” That story inspired a new measure this year that funds lunches for all qualifying students. School meals are a critical investment in our children and are designed to help them succeed in school.
New Laws Affecting Folks on the Coast
• HB 3343 and SB 302 If you have an ongoing medical prescription, you can now get a 90 day supply. This helps seniors in districts like our own, where driving may be challenging and the nearest pharmacy might be many miles away. Similarly, qualifying women can now receive a 12-month supply of prescription contraceptives. This is crucial, as research suggests that having a longer supply of contraceptives reduces unwanted pregnancies by 20 percent.
• SB 320, better known as the “home baking bill” allows entrepreneurs to sell some low-risk baked goods—such as cookies or bread—without regulation by the Department of Agriculture. This bill requires sellers of home baked food items to label their products with contact information, the ingredients, and any allergen risks, such as peanuts.
• HB 3030 allows the creation of Sand Control Districts if a group of neighbors wishes to tax themselves to control or move drifting sand. An elected Board will manage the district. In some parts of our district sand is a big problem. Now we have a better way to deal with this if local residents choose.
• HB 3011 No self-service gas is a longstanding Oregon rule. (One exception is a tribal station in Grand Ronde.) But a new law allows stations in smaller counties to accept self-service after hours if they wish. The concept was intended to help Eastern Oregon, where stations are few and far between. But it appears the exemption will include Tillamook County as well. You won’t be forced to pump you own, but you may have the option later at night if you wish.
• HB 3549 increases setbacks for aerial pesticide spraying. Where there are currently no buffer zones, there will now be an unsprayed 60 foot strip along inhabited dwellings and schools. There will be a telephone hotline for complaints. And there will be new licensing requirements and penalties for violations.
• HB 3125 would exempt food processing equipment from personal property taxes. This will be a great incentive to small dairy farmers in Southern Tillamook County.
Additional Items of Interest:
• In the pages of the Oregon Department of Transportation budget was the welcome news that DMV field offices will begin accepting credit cards next year. This small change will save Oregonians the cost of ATM charges when they need cash in those offices, and also save DMV staff the time needed counting millions of dollars each year.
Hwy 20 Project Overview
Overview of the Hwy 20/Pioneer Mountain Project Between Corvallis and Newport
• The construction budget includes important projects in our district. That includes a commitment to fund a second road access for Nescowin to mitigate flooding and emergency access concerns. We’ll have money for a new Tillamook Courthouse. There is a state allocation to help retrofit local schools for seismic resilience. And bonding is in place for affordable housing on the Central Coast and Coast Range.
In short, it was a challenging session but also a productive one. Despite some controversy and conflict early on, we stayed committed to improving the lives of everybody in our districts.
Now I’m back in the district instead of commuting to Salem daily. I expect to cover our large and wonderful district like the fog in February. I look forward to seeing you at our summer parades, community celebrations, and local meetings. Feel free to continue emailing me with any questions or concerns.
Rep. David Gomberg
email: Rep.DavidGomberg@state.or.us I phone: 503-986-1410
address: 900 Court St NE, H-371, Salem, OR, 97301