STATE GOVERNMENT & POLICY
House Republicans said they supported both maintaining the Medicaid expansion and the bulk of majority Democrats’ plan. But they proposed an alternative version that would have eliminated the 1.5 percent tax on certain commercial insurance plans. That tax would hit 12,000 college students, some small businesses and public agencies, they pointed out. The Democrats’ plan “intends to do the right thing, but fails to do so,” said Rep. Julie Parrish, a West Linn Republican.
Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, who is an orthopedic surgeon, said he wanted to ensure everyone in Oregon had access to quality health care. But he opposed the bill as giving legislative approval to the Oregon Health Authority’s flawed handling of the program. “We have had success with the Affordable Care Act in Oregon,” said Buehler, adding, “the exchange continues to struggle. We are going to see nearly a 60 percent increase in premiums in the next few years. Now we are adding taxes?” Buehler suggested the Legislature fund the program for one year instead of two and come back during the short session of the Legislature in 2018 with a longer-term fix.
“I urge you — send this bill to defeat,” Buehler said. “Let’s roll up our sleeves, quit playing politics.”
The Associated Press
“The inclusion of a tax on insurance premiums will result in higher health care costs for small businesses, college students and everyone in between,” said Republican Rep. Cedric Hayden, who played a key role in negotiating the provider tax package. “It’s disappointing that bipartisan alternatives were not given the consideration they deserved by the majority party.”
State Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, as well as Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, and Rep. Julie Parrish, R-Tualatin/West Linn, spoke out against the bill. Buehler said that the legislation failed to hold the Oregon Health Authority to account. About 12,000 students enrolled in health plans through public universities would be subject to a 1.5 percent premium tax.
Portland Business Journal
“The contract between Oregon Healthcare Enterprise and OHA is no longer necessary and its elimination gives us the ability to provide (health care) to more Oregonians,” said Rep. Dan Rayfield, a Salem Democrat and co-chair of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services. The savings would be reallocated to the Oregon Health Plan, or the state’s Medicaid program, said Courtney Crowell, an OHA communications officer. “OHA is working on the best way to proceed with a no cost contract or agreement to take its place,” Crowell said.
“Too many of our veterans are facing obstacles accessing the health care available to them,” Meek said. “While there has been recent movement within the industry to provide individuals with help navigating health care, those individuals do not exist within the Veterans Affairs system. This legislation will build on the work ODVA is currently doing in this area.”
PAID SICK LEAVE
Farmers can pay the minimum wage to piece-rate employees who miss work due to illness under a bill Oregon lawmakers passed Thursday.
EDUCATION & HIGHER EDUCATION
Changes to federal standards in the Head Start program, and a desire to run a financially tight ship, are pushing the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency to cut costs and reorganize. “These business decisions affect good people, and we do everything we can to minimize the impact,” Executive Director Jon Reeves said.
At stake is House Bill 2004, the legislative vehicle for a variety of tenant protections, including a ban on no-cause evictions. Rent increases would be limited to once per year, and landlords with more than five tenants would be required to fork more than one month’s rent if an eviction is prompted by renovation, demolition or other new building uses. The bill has roused strong arguments from both sides. But Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, said the current housing situation is broken. She glommed onto the bill early and is one of its chief sponsors. “People are paying more than half — and over half — of their income on housing. That’s tough,” she argues. “It’s people like you and me that are being displaced, and they’re good people.”
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
Portland Business Journal
A new business group is launching in Oregon with a specific and unique focus: It wants the state to get real about its carbon-reduction goals. “Oregon is probably not going to meet its legislatively mandated goals if we don’t do something we’re not already doing,” said Tom Kelly, owner of Neil Kelly Co. and chair of the Oregon Business Alliance for Climate, which will hold a news conference next week to outline its agenda and introduce founding members.
JOBS & THE ECONOMY
The Associated Press
Nike Inc., which is based in Beaverton, said the layoffs represent about 2 percent of its 70,000 employees around the world. It declined to provide additional details about the cuts. The Susquehana analysts said they believed the jobs cuts are likely eliminating redundant back-office positions as a result of a consolidation of reporting segments.
Amazon said Friday it has agreed to buy Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion, a stunning move to boost its grocery business even as the brick-and-mortar retail sector continues to sink under the weight of e-commerce.
The Washington Post
“This partnership presents an opportunity to maximize value for Whole Foods Market’s shareholders, while at the same time extending our mission and bringing the highest quality, experience, convenience and innovation to our customers,” Mackey said in a statement. The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2017, pending shareholder and regulatory approvals.
Mayor Ted Wheeler took the Bureau of Emergency Communictions from Commissioner Amanda Fritz when he reassigned agencies to the members of the City Council on Friday.
The mayor’s spokesman, Michael Cox, said the mayor’s office was in the best position to coordinate between other bureaus as the work of improving BOEC’s management is under way.
“Commissioner Fritz and our office have enjoyed a collegial and cooperative working relationship and we expect that to continue,” says Cox. “Assigning BOEC to ourselves is by and large a product of our proactive agenda for the bureau.” Fritz’s office issued an immediate statement, saying she was “disappointed” not to see through changes the bureau.
NONBINARY DRIVERS LICENSE
Transgender and intersex Oregonians say the change validates their identities and makes them safer as they hand over their licenses at restaurants, health clinics and airports. Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles officials say they received little opposition to the change, which they first announced plans to carry out last summer.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Starting next month, the Oregon DMV will offer identity cards with a third gender marker. It’s the first time a U.S. state has recognized non-binary identities.
Prosper Portland (formerly the Portland Development Commission) awarded eight Interstate-area projects with $300,000 total in community livability grants, the latest round offered to a series of districts, including Lents, Chinatown and the Central Eastside. “Community Livability Grants are one of our most valuable tools to help organizations fulfill neighborhood action plans and better serve diverse populations throughout the city,” said Kimberly Branam, executive director of Prosper Portland. “We believe these successful proposals will support our goals to enhance partnerships and support thriving, vibrant neighborhoods in the North/Northeast community.”
It makes considerably less sense, however, that legislators would look to squeeze money out of college students, nonprofit organizations, K-12 school districts and small businesses who have no distinct responsibility for or connection to Medicaid. Unfortunately, House Bill 2391 falls down with a strangely punitive 1.5 percent tax on premiums collected by commercial insurers, a tax that backers acknowledge would simply be passed on to customers. Democrats in the Oregon House, who are pushing to vote on it as soon as Thursday afternoon, should rethink the bill and give consideration to a competing proposal that removes the tax.
House Republican Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, understands the problems anonymity creates. He tried earlier this year to correct the problem by changing the rules in the House. Though there was a public hearing on the issue, the effort went nowhere. In addition, Senate Joint Resolution 42 would have asked voters to amend the state constitution to bar the practice. It also failed to gain traction.
Federal and state government own more than 60 percent of the land in Oregon, but still no price is too high for those who believe the Elliott State Forest must stay in government hands.
Two other pending bills also could help the cause of open government: Rep. John Huffman of The Dalles has a bill to end certain public records exemptions and place sunsets on future exemptions. And a bill introduced by Brown would create a public records advocate. The 2017 legislative session could be the best one in 40 years for proponents of open government. We are grateful, but it seems a shame that we’ve had to wait this long.
Whether the Trump administration can reduce the size of monuments designated under the Antiquities Act of 1906, or rescind them altogether, is far from clear. In more than a century, no president has sought the wholesale alteration or abolition of national monuments. Any changes will be litigated. But when Zinke offers his recommendations for other monuments in the coming months, Cascade-Siskiyou should be excluded from the list. Indeed, it should never have been included on the list in the first place.
Oregon has had legal medical marijuana for two decades. While some supporters fear the new administration will seek to enforce federal law here, medical marijuana has support in Congress, and President Trump isn’t likely to push for a punitive policy that would be deeply unpopular with the public.
The Associated Press
“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” the president wrote in his tweet.
The Wall Street Journal
The law also can’t erase government liabilities, and pension woes won’t be fixed until governments are honest about what they owe and how to pay for it. But the Pennsylvania improvements are at least a start. Are you paying attention, Illinois and Connecticut?
The Associated Press
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday the review should be finished this fall and workers, meanwhile, will follow interim guidelines issued in a 13-page directive intended to make sure anyone near a device is alerted.
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