Provided by Representative Jean Cowan.
This was the first voter-mandated annual session in Oregon’s history. With a constitutionally mandated timeframe of 35 days, our primary task was re-balancing the budget mid-biennium. Along with that responsibility, we also moved forward some transformational new concepts.
As co-chair of the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Human Services, most of my work during this session has been specifically focused on balancing the human services budgets (Department of Human Services and Oregon Health Authority). That was a major task, especially when it was combined with efforts to begin the transformation of healthcare delivery in Oregon.
Oregonians can take pride in the final budget that we produced. Although state revenues have declined by $341 million since the end of the 2011 legislative session, we were able to make the necessary adjustments while still preserving stable funding for education, public safety and critical services for our most vulnerable citizens. As the Legislature’s biggest advocate for seniors, I am particularly pleased that we were able to preserve services for this population, which includes: Oregon Project Independence, home-delivered meals, adult day care services, home care hours, and other protections for our community-based long term care programs.
A careful review of all potential options allowed us to also protect community mental health services, Employment Related Day Care (ERDC), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and programs for people with developmental disabilities – as well as re-opening enrollment in the Oregon Health Plan.
In addition to the above balancing the budget information, I would like to bring your attention to a few bills that are important to me, including some that I sponsored or co-sponsored, but which may not get much media attention. Those include:
SB 1510 – Marine Reserves: The Coastal Caucus (a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators representing the Oregon Coast), of which I am a member, led efforts to implement three additional marine reserves and marine protected areas in Oregon. This experiment will establish a system of reserves along the coast line and will allow us to determine if marine reserves are an effective management tool for Oregon’s valuable fish species. Socioeconomic effects of any fishing prohibitions are of huge concern to Oregon’s coastal economies, and steps will be taken to make sure there are no adverse impacts to the Coast. The Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC) recommended these sites near Cape Perpetua, Cascade Head and Cape Falcon. The areas’ final boundaries were determined after extensive review by community teams made up of dedicated individuals who have worked very hard on this issue. Their work is sincerely appreciated!!
SB 1563 – NOAA Commissioned Officers Corp & US Public Health Service: There are seven “uniformed services” of the United States, of which commissioned officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is one. Under current state law, several benefits, including the ability to break a lease under certain conditions and free hunting and fishing licenses, are extended to the other six of these “uniformed services.” NOAA commissioned officers are subject to many of the same disruptions as others in the “uniformed services;” they, and their families, are routinely uprooted and moved to other parts of the country, with very little notice. This bill grants NOAA commissioned officers the same benefits as the other six “uniformed services.”
HB 4068 – Allows Food Banks to receive commercial fish by-catch: Under current law, any by-catch from commercial fishermen must be thrown back in the ocean. Many of these fish do not survive for long, and end up as nothing more than crab bait. This bill, authored by Rep. Deborah Boone, allows fish processors to process this by-catch, cover their costs, and then donate family-sized portions, to local food banks.
HB 4091: This bill convenes a workgroup in the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to identify efficiencies in the criminal background check process. This workgroup is expected to identify areas in which DAS can more effectively and efficiently perform background checks, saving the state money. The workgroup will report its findings back to the legislature later in 2012.
Other successful great ideas:
PROTECTING OREGON’S SENIOR CITIZENS
HB 4039 – Senior Property Tax Deferral Program: In 2011, the Legislature passed HB 2543, which significantly changed the eligibility for Oregon’s Senior Property Tax Deferral Program because the program was faced with declining repayments revenue and an uncertain future. When implemented, those changes dramatically reduced the number of people eligible for the program. Understanding the difficult burden that action placed on many previously eligible homeowners, HB 4039 grants a two-year delay for existing participants who were deactivated solely for having a reverse mortgage on their residence. This will re-instate 1,664 participants, at least temporarily, and allow for an additional examination of the program next session.
HB 4084 – Allows for easier investigation into elder abuse: This bill creates critical new protections for Oregon’s most vulnerable seniors. It increases the statute of limitations for several crimes against elders, and allows law enforcement agencies to access necessary medical and financial records more quickly when suspected abuse is reported. It also creates a council to review reports of abuse in order to determine root causes of abuse and how it might be prevented.
BILLS TO SPUR JOB GROWTH & CREATION ACROSS OREGON
HB 4040 – Oregon Investment Act: This multifaceted strategy will better coordinate how the state allots business development resources, helping small Oregon businesses thrive and hire more employees.
HB 4050: Eliminates the current lottery system for the ocean troll salmon fishery, allowing fishermen to get fair market value when transferring ownership of their permit.
HB 4059: Directs the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to develop academic credit for prior learning by students, allowing students with real-world experience to translate that into higher education credits at state universities.
HB 5201: Addresses bonding authority and includes $9.6M in Lottery Revenue bonding authority to be shared by all 17 of Oregon’s community colleges, once it is determined that there is adequate lottery-backed debt capacity available. These funds will allow Oregon Coast Community College to move forward on its planned Allied Health Teaching Center and science lab renovation at the Waldport campus.
TRANSFORMING OREGON’S HEALTH CARE AND EDUCATION SYSTEMS
SB 1580 – Implements Coordinated Care Organizations (CCO): Hailed as the next step in health care transformation in Oregon, this bill builds upon HB 3650 (2011), which created coordinated care organizations to synchronize the health care of Oregon’s Medicaid population. This bill will allow the state to begin to see the savings that will come about from coordinating health care on a local level. It also establishes guidelines as to how these CCO’s will operate.
HB 4164 – Health Insurance Exchange: This bill provides a central insurance marketplace for consumers and small businesses, improving access and decreasing costs for these crucial engines of Oregon’s economy. Individuals and small businesses will be able to easily shop for and compare plans, and potentially receive help paying benefits.
HB 4165 – Early Learning Council: Replaces the State Commission on Children and Families with the Early Learning Council, which streamlines the way birth-to-six years child development is delivered, ensuring that children are ready for school from day one, and that they get the proper initial instruction to see their success to maturity. Valuable services such as Head Start are protected by this bill, and each step toward its implementation will be a public and transparent process.
SB 1581 – the Oregon Education Investment Board, is the companion to HB 4165. It will restructure education agencies and develop a new accountability model in our K-12 public school system. It will allow Oregon to apply for a federal waiver from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act and to instead develop an Oregon-designed set of achievement compacts with local districts.
Finally, during the closing hours of this session, agreement was reached on new foreclosure protections for distressed Oregon homeowners. SB 1552 will require lenders to meet face-to-face with homeowners and a mediator to negotiate alternatives to foreclosure; it also prohibits banks from renegotiating loan terms while pursuing foreclosure.
It is my honor to serve as your Representative for House District 10 in the Oregon House of Representatives. I look forward to an opportunity to talk to you directly at an upcoming Town Hall or other opportunity to review the session and answer your questions!
Since this was my last legislative session, closure of the 2012 Legislative Session brought with it a feeling of success and accomplishment, along with some bittersweet personal reflections. I will continue to serve House District 10 until my successor is sworn in next January; then I will retire after over 20 years in various elected offices.