Veterans have earned a tuition break

Alan Bates

Sen. Alan Bates

I served in Cam Ranh Bay and Da Nang in the early years of the Vietnam War. When I returned home I wanted to attend college in the Pacific Northwest, but I was a resident of Michigan, having lived there for a short time just prior to my service. Out-of-state tuition can be prohibitively expensive, and in order to get in-state tuition, I waited an entire year to enroll in college after moving to Washington state.

Based on my own experience, I know that one of the best ways we can support veterans is by making college more accessible and affordable. Oregon has a responsibility to support our servicemen and women in uniform, especially as they return home and prepare to enter the workforce. Unfortunately, veterans often find themselves priced out of a college education due to the high cost of out-of-state tuition.

Recently, I voted on a bipartisan bill to give veterans at Oregon’s public universities and community colleges the opportunity to pay in-state college tuition — making it significantly less expensive than what they’ve paid in the past. This law helps us honor the sacrifice of our veterans by providing them with greater opportunities, and I was proud to vote in favor of it.

Our veterans have made many sacrifices defending their country. We’re making good on our obligation to do what we can to give them better access to an excellent education, and honor them by making college more affordable when they return home.

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We should try to make things easier for families

Mike McLane

Rep. Mike McLane

Families are the foundation of society. As such, it’s critical that government agencies and elected officials do everything they can to make life easier for them.

This week, my House Republican colleagues attempted to bring votes on three bills that would do exactly that.

House Bill 3210 provides tax relief for lower- and middle-income Oregonians. Third-party analysis of similar concepts estimate a typical family of four making $35,000 per year would save $927. It would stimulate the economy by providing more family income for spending and would add more than $2 billion in new tax revenue over five years.

HB 3288 allows 25 percent of the union dues paid by a teacher to be given to the school where the teacher works for in-classroom instructional purposes. This will provide relief for teachers who spend their own money on instructional supplies and dedicate more money for classroom spending.

HB 2411 instructs the Department of Motor Vehicles to establish extended weekday and Saturday operating schedules for field offices. Right now, the DMV is only open during regular business hours Monday through Friday, which forces people to take time off work. These current hours of operation are hard on families who must lose pay or take vacation time in order to renew their licenses or do other DMV business.

Unfortunately, House Democrats denied our efforts to pass these bills. With the end of the session approaching, this represents a lost opportunity to do right by families.

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Don’t manipulate the process

Rep. Sal Esquivel

Rep. Sal Esquivel

The legislative process is designed to be very deliberate, and for good reason — it ensures that ideas intended to be laws are properly vetted before they are voted on.

But that process is being abused as this session winds down.

Typically, bills are heard in committee, where members of both parties and all affected stakeholders can provide critical input. Amendments are often added to clarify the bills to protect against unintended consequences.

A bill that I and my colleagues passed out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee was sent to the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee  this week. There, the contents of the bill were manipulated almost beyond recognition. But instead of coming back to its original committee, the bill was sent straight to the House floor.

Because of that, a bill that was worked on carefully will not get the chance to be considered by a Senate policy committee, but will head straight to the Senate floor instead. Bypassing committees is not good policy.

The legislature has any number of committees specifically dedicated to policy matters. Ways and Means is not one of them. That committee is intended strictly for budgetary issues. But policy issues are being decided there, which undoes all the work that was done in the original committee.

Manipulation of the process does a huge disservice to all of those who have participated in it, and undermines citizens’ confidence in the public institutions that we all rely on. Oregonians deserve better than this.

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It’s down to the hardest part

Peter Buckley

Rep. Peter Buckley

It’s true in baseball, it’s true in theater and it’s true in the legislature — endings are hard. Getting the third out in the bottom of the ninth might be one of the hardest things a pitcher faces, and many talented writers struggle with how to come up with a satisfying conclusion to their works. We’re in the end struggle in Salem right now.

For the main part of our work, the state budget, I have several different scenarios drafted to close things out. I’ve been pushing for a compromise deal on revenue and PERS, backed by the Speaker and the governor, that could result in vitally needed increases in education funding. I believe we can get to a compromise that respects all sides of the issues.  If that does not work out, there are fallback scenarios to move in the most positive direction possible.

The past few weeks have also required a good deal of focus on the proposal to have local boards for our universities. It’s been a pleasure to work with Liz Shelby from Southern Oregon University and other university representatives to ensure that the regional universities come out well in any proposed changes to shared services and overall governance. I’ve also been working on the proposals for building projects at SOU and RCC, and hope to have more news on that next week, as well as a report on a possible overall happy ending.

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End-of-session games begin

Rep. Dennis Richardson

Rep. Dennis Richardson

Last week the governor addressed the House Republicans and requested an additional $275 million in tax increases.  He promised that if Republicans joined the Democrats in voting for tax increases the additional revenue would enable the legislature to help K-12 schools, community colleges, universities and youth mental health programs. In other words, “it’s for the kids.”

I reminded the governor that:

1.  The Democrats control the spending priorities and drafted the state budget;

2.  There is a $1.9 billion (12 percent) increase in the 2013-15 budget over the current one; and

3.  Less than 2 percent of the $16.5 billion state budget is all he wants, and certainly he could find such a small percentage in the state budget “for the kids,” without raising taxes on Oregonians.

I also reminded the governor that notwithstanding the $1.9 billion of additional revenue, he and his party are once again holding the K-12 school budget hostage and acting like a tax increase is required to fund it.  It’s an obvious set-up. If the Republicans fail to agree to the proposed tax increases, the Democrats will, once again, play the blame-game and accuse Republicans of hating children, hating schools and hating seniors. What a farce.

So, if you read political “spin” about how the Republicans failed to provide enough money for the kids, and for the mentally ill and for the seniors, remember the $1.9 billion in extra revenue. Remember which party wanted to fix PERS.  Don’t forget to remember.

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Drone law protects civil liberty

Alan Bates

Sen. Alan Bates

It’s usually in news stories about foreign conflicts that we hear about the use of drones, aircraft that can be automated or remotely controlled by someone located thousands of miles away. It might surprise you, then, that in recent years drones have become much more common right here in Oregon.

Many folks — including myself — have a healthy amount of skepticism about the use of drones in our state. At a recent hearing in Salem, my colleagues heard that the latest drone technology can provide surveillance without being detected, and they’re often not subject to the legal safeguards (such as search warrants) as other surveillance methods.

Rather than everyone putting their heads in the sand about drones, we took action this session by passing a bill that ensures law enforcement agencies obtain a warrant before using a drone in non-emergency situations, requires drones used by public entities to be registered with the Department of Aviation, and bans the use of weaponized drones. The bill also sets a basic expectation of property rights when it comes to drones, so that a search warrant is required for surveillance outside your living room window, for example.

For better or worse, drones are used for everything from crop maintenance to police investigation — and they’re likely here to stay. Sometimes, our laws don’t keep up with major innovations in technology. But this time, I’m proud to report we’ve passed a law that keeps pace, protects our privacy and safeguards our civil liberties.

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Education bills honor veterans

Mike McLane

Rep. Mike McLane

The freedoms that we enjoy as U.S. citizens are due largely to the sacrifices made by our military veterans. Because of that, it’s important that we honor them and ensure their smooth transition back into civilian life when they have concluded their service.

We took a big step toward that with the passage of House Bill 2158. This bill enables veterans to be eligible for in-state tuition at Oregon colleges.

HB 2158 passed the House on a 59-0 vote April 18. It then headed over to the Senate, where it was approved 28-0 on June 10. Two days later, the House concurred in the Senate amendments and re-passed the bill unanimously.

Our efforts to improve education access don’t stop there, though. We’ve been working on another bill, HB 3272, that would create a tuition forgiveness program to promote degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

The program would be available for up to 500 Oregon high school graduates who have a GPA of 3.8 or higher and score in the top 10 percent of their class on 11th-grade evaluations.

Students would have to maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher in college, complete their degree in a STEM field in five years or less and work within Oregon for no less than 36 of the 48 months following graduation. They would also give back to their community by volunteering in STEM-related service programs.

Although an attempted vote on HB 3272 was blocked, I will keep working to bring it to passage.

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Rights must be protected as technology changes

Rep. Sal Esquivel

Rep. Sal Esquivel

It’s no secret that technology has advanced rapidly in recent years. Because of it, new conveniences like cell phones and Internet technology are making the world a smaller place.

But against this backdrop, the global War on Terror that we’ve waged since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has given the federal government unprecedented powers. That, combined with this new technology, creates the potential for those powers to be abused.

Recent revelations regarding the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ cell phone data demonstrate the perils that we face in this new era. The reasonable expectation of privacy guaranteed by our founding fathers has been compromised by all of this.

Despite that, we are taking steps at the state level to reign in the potential abuses of power that technology is enabling.

House Bill 2710 is making its way through the legislative process, and has passed both the House and the Senate. That bill restricts the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones, by public bodies.

While drones have arguably been a useful tool in the War on Terror, many Americans are legitimately concerned about their possible domestic use. In anticipation of these issues, I and many of my colleagues are trying to ensure that the freedoms we cherish as a civilization and a nation are preserved.

The erosion of those rights is non-productive to any of us. We need to get our liberties back in check and reign in the government’s use and possible abuse of these new technologies.

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The right forest policy will build healthy forests and communities

Rep. Dennis Richardson

Rep. Dennis Richardson

Summer is here and we are reminded of the catastrophic devastation caused by destructive forest fires and the blights of diseased forests and rotting biomass which has led to Oregon’s crisis in forest health.  In addition, we are reminded that our ineffectual forest policy has caused the economic pain, unemployment and financial desperation our rural forest communities are experiencing.

Fifty-three percent of Oregon is under federal ownership. That means 53 percent of our state’s landmass is controlled by Washington, D.C., bureaucrats. Therein lies the genesis of our problem.

For the past 20 years we have watched Oregon’s federal forestlands be “reserved” by locking out Oregon’s forest products industry. The result of the failure to actively manage our forests using environmentally sound practices has been (1.) the build-up of highly flammable forest refuse resulting in reoccurring, catastrophic forest fires, and (2.) the economic devastation in O&C counties and rural communities whose forest-related jobs sustained their local economies for generations.

We can learn from our experience, change our viewpoint and promote a rational forest policy that will result in healthy forests and healthy rural forest-community economies.  By promoting a plan where local workers harvest highly-flammable biomass and small trees that compete with and starve larger trees of water and sunlight, we can restore the health of both our forests and our rural forest-county economies.

In sum, with innovative policies and local Oregonians doing the work, we can help restore healthy forests and healthy economies for our rural communities.

Watch my latest YouTube “Minute Update” video on this topic:

Read my extended newsletter on this topic.

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‘Buy Oregon’ program supports small businesses

Alan Bates

Sen. Alan Bates

When I have the opportunity for a conversation with my neighbors, or to chat with patients in my medical practice, I often ask them about their priorities. A common theme emerges: Getting Southern Oregon back to work. We can do that by supporting small businesses right here in Southern Oregon.

With job creation top of mind, I was proud to vote last week to build on our state’s “Buy Oregon” law. “Buy Oregon” was voted into law in 2009, allowing agencies to buy agricultural products produced and transported entirely within Oregon as long as the Oregon product costs no more than 10 percent above the lowest bid.

Last week’s bill — which passed with bipartisan support — improves transparency into how much our state spends on those types of contracts, in support of Oregon-made goods and services. Its goal is to highlight the state’s role in developing and growing our local supply chains, which ultimately helps create local jobs and revitalize Oregon’s economy.

We’re taking steps in the right direction toward economic growth, and as our economy slowly recovers, I’ve been a staunch advocate of initiatives that will bring more good jobs and small businesses to Southern Oregon. Proposals being considered in the legislature today would further streamline the process for businesses using enterprise zones, provide additional resources for attracting businesses to our state, and reduce the burden of insurance costs for our small businesses. We’re also building a skilled workforce by encouraging career and technical education grants for Oregon’s universities.

Working across party lines, our Southern Oregon delegation in Salem sent a letter in support of creating an e-commerce zone in our area, and I personally met with Business Oregon. The e-commerce zone was implemented shortly afterward. E-commerce companies have already created many living wage jobs in Jackson County and are getting people back to work, and creating this zone will continue to bring jobs to our county.

Supporting local businesses helps Oregon’s economy and creates jobs, plain and simple. While there is still work to do, expanding “Buy Oregon” and passing many of the other small business-friendly bills this session will help businesses grow and thrive in our community. Let’s get Oregon back to work.

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