July 2019 McLain-Sollman Joint Town Hall Recap

Event Report

July 8th, State Rep. Susan McLain and State Rep. Janeen Sollman held a Joint Town Hall at the Hillsboro Civic Center to field questions after the latest legislative session. They started by giving opening statements regarding the 2019 legislative session.

Opening Statements

Susan McLain (SM):  Rep. McLain has returned from one of the most intense legislative sessions of her life. With high expectations for the Democratic supermajority and as co-chair of the Education Budget committee, Rep. McLain recounted her focus on increasing education investment, combating climate change, and focusing on other issues important to Washington County. She recalled being a part of the Joint House/Senate committee that spent over nine months traveling around Oregon gathering feedback and listening to concerns around the state. In the Capitol, she helped pass $9 billion for education funding and secured part of that funding for special education, STEM training, ESL, social and mental health and a number of other groups.

She also spoke about investing in new technology and lamented an autonomous vehicles investment bill that was unable to pass due to the Republican walkout. Rep. McLain also took a moment to thank her staff, the legislative aides, and countless interns for all the hard work put in throughout the 2019 legislative session. She ended her remarks by thanking Janeen Sollman for co-sponsoring two bills in the last session, one for better genetic testing for newborns and the other to improve transparency for local area contracting and processes.

Janeen Sollman (JS):  Rep. Sollman returned the thanks to Rep. McLain, also thanked her staff and interns, and then thanked the audience for attending the Town Hall. She emphasized how important community involvement was in keeping the legislature informed and focused on the most important issues. Rep. Sollman described her second term in the House as a “whirlwind” of activity (with 15-hour long days) and was in awe of the accomplishments they produced. Regarding the Republican walkout, she stated that “it doesn’t matter the party, if you walk away democracy fails, we don’t do our jobs.” “Shenanigans”. She also took time to praise the leadership of Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, who kept in communication with House minority leader Carl Wilson and helped convince them to stay involved in the process.

Rep. Sollman also recounted the successes in student and community led initiatives regarding sustainable shopping and removing plastic bags. After passing legislation phasing out plastic bags in Hillsboro, Rep. Sollman suggested passing a bill on the state level. Finally, she spoke to how much of a game changer this session was for school funding. As a former school board member in Hillsboro, Rep. Sollman fought for sustainable funding for years. Through collaboration and involvement from numerous groups, including students, teachers, school board members, county commissioners, and city council members, and the legislature, school funding received its most comprehensive fix with $9 billion of funding.

They then turned over to questions from the Town Hall attendees, starting with Washington County Chair Kathryn Harrington.

Questions

Question #1: Regarding PERS reform and the salary redirect. Tier 1 and Tier 2 will see a 2.5% redirect, and some others for new employees. She has heard concerns from employees about this. The redirected money is being put to use to pay for PERS. Do those dollars evaporate forever?

SM: It is going to the unfunded liability. Until we get to 90% funded again, we will be keeping the 2.5% or 0.75% redirect. The state of Oregon is trying to buy down that liability as quickly as possible. We’ve already taken 100 million from the general fund, and some other areas, to see how we can buy that down in the future, but there is still a gap. But 85%-90% is a reasonable, practical and good financial number. We are at 79% funded right now. At 90%, then those redirects will go back into their investment package again. As for where these numbers came from, they were researched thoroughly by analysts. This was one of the hardest votes I had in my life. I’m also a PERS enrollee, but this provides certainty that we aren’t just putting it off, we are ensuring it is going to be healthy.

JS: I’ve been on school boards and worked to get the most out of funding. It’s about the kids, keeping calendar days on the school calendar and keeping adults in the building. Go to OLIS, look up the bill, on the first page, look for my conflict of interest vote explanation for more in-depth details.

Question #2: Regarding SB761, which modifies rules about initiatives, what’s the reason for that change? It smacks of trying to suppress the ballot initiative system. Explain your votes.

JS: I voted in favor. The initiative sheets were being left on tables – we wanted to make them more available. The person getting someone to sign an initiative sheet will need the explanation on the back of that sheet, but e-sheets are different. That explanation was not matching or getting onto the paper sheets. Some people were able to provide their own unofficial explanation. This fixes that when using e-sheets.

SM: You can still do it the old way, 1 sheet, 25 names a page, on a street corner. As mentioned, some of the sheets did not have complete explanation. For example, one state representative was outside a Safeway and someone asked her to sign something. When she asked for clarification, verbal explanation was given that was incorrect. The e-sheets let someone provide a signature on their own online (rather than stand with the person holding the sheet of names). Also, if you live in a rural area e-sheets are helpful since there are less big population centers to go to for in-person signature collection.

Question #3: Two questions regarding the Student Success Act which may be on a ballot in January. What is the date by which they have to collect signatures? As elected officials are you able to do anything to promote its passage?

SM: The middle of January. If they do get all the signatures, they will be out knocking on doors asking to maintain this, to get $2 billion in education. So, they will do a hard-fought campaign to make sure people say “YES”. At the legislature, we will need to make sure it is written up correctly and avoids confusing grammar. We will work with school districts, teachers, parents, and students, because we know they want this investment and identified where the money should go. It will be spent on education.

JS: Grocers are neutral on this bill because they were at the table already. OBI are neutral, they gave money to Measure 97 as well. When Measure 97 came out, people overwhelmingly said NO, and it was a very expensive campaign. People don’t want money going into the general fund not knowing where it would be spent, but with the Student Success Act, it was very precise which buckets it could be spent in. That had been the Measure 97 issue – “where would it be spent?”

Question #4: Clarifying question regarding expunging marijuana convictions connected to SB420. Was a separate bill necessary if that had already been accomplished? Wasn’t this previously accomplished by a previous bill?

SM:  It had not. New legislation was needed to expunge the convictions.  This will help us spend less on jails.

Followup Question:  Thank you, I didn’t know that. What would it take to get ex-convicts (aka “reformed citizens”) into a protected class of citizens? 1 in 3 Americans have a criminal record. Half of all men have been arrested by the age of 21. I myself have a criminal record.  12 years ago, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up a convict.  Since then I have been clean, gotten a college education, a job, and a house. But I had just gotten a great Intel job recently until in the background check they saw the crime and I was rejected.

SM: SB1008 was basically “how do we change circumstances for juveniles that are arrested – if they have good behavior and are in school and want to get a job, and they need a second or third chance?” We passed it – Jackie Winters, it was one of her legacy bills. She managed to get to the senate chamber to vote on it before she died. That was a start. We started with young people, who had demonstrated the likelihood of changing their lives and becoming productive adults in our society. The answer to the question is we need to keep working on this.

Washington County has done a good job with their sheriff to reinvest money in community treatment, housing, diversions, and job training. It’s really helping a large part of the population. These are not addressing your specific issue, but that issue is on the list. The government, especially the Senate and House judiciary chairs, are working hard on that issue. It would take a majority of the Senate and majority of House to vote yes. We won’t have a specific answer for you tonight, a specific bill, but we are committed.

JS: I hadn’t worked with the young men at MacLaren in Woodburn much, but have listened to them several times, and brought forth some change and policy like SB1008. With Measure 11, students were all looked at with the same lens when they committed a crime. I met Todd, age 19 with 3 kids, his dad and brother were incarcerated, mom was on drugs. He got a GED and cried because he didn’t think it would ever have been obtainable. So, I worked on a bill that makes sure adults and youth that got a GED or diploma would still get Oregon Promise dollars (2 years community college).

If incarcerated for 6 months, that would have killed their eligibility. Now it freezes their time, and when they are released, it starts the clock again. That happened during the recent Republican “shenanigans” time, so I was happy that passed. The same goes for the young ladies at Coffee Creek. This is about rehabilitation and punishment, but then changing their lives.

Question #5: A couple questions regarding HB2001 – I listened to Kotek on Speak Out Loud, and she said it was an important bill, and it will take a long time for it to matter. How much time does the local government have to respond to this and when does it take effect? To what degree will this matter, in terms of Metro boundary expansions? In this area will it have an effect over time? How much push back do they think it will have when it is implemented?

SM: They lengthened the time they have to change. In the Metro area there has been more of this type of diverse housing stock than elsewhere in the state. Hillsboro, Forest Grove, and Cornelius have some duplex opportunities in single-housing areas. This gives more depth to it. We put in an amendment to respond to folks so that you don’t have to do it now, you just say where you will do it.

In Metro, yes, I thinks it will have an impact. Money and technical support are involved. If certain communities don’t know how to do this, the state will make a blueprint they can use if they want. It takes willing builders. Builders were at the table, gave suggestions, got amendments that granted more local control. Metro will still do the same work it always has though. We’ll look at cities that have plans, true comprehensive types of futures, and ways to support those futures. So, it supports good planning and local control. HB2001 came down to the last hours of the session, and it was high priority.

JS: I was a “no” on the bill, not because we don’t need more housing, I’ve worked on those issues before. There were a few problems I had: (1) Talking to Hillsboro, there were concerns about gentrification – that this type of housing won’t happen in the rich neighborhoods. (2) I was concerned about the infrastructure, toured PGE, roads and parking – where will the cars go if we expand? (3) As a school board member, we planned for growth, a formula, and where the boundaries are going to be for schools, so this will mean a change for redistricting schools which all sorts of people hate. (4) In Oregon, we build schools on the backs of taxpayers, so this could hurt school funding bills. But it did pass both chambers.

Question #6: Question on the Daylight Savings Bill, surveys say many want to do away with it, but it passed with a provision that it will only take effect if Washington and California also pass it and then the federal government must agree with it. Why do we need this agreement?

JS: For ease. We have people that work in one state, live in the other. So that would provide consistency.

Question #7: Thanks for working on HB2020. I watch the climate news closely. Unprecedented heat wave in Europe and Alaska, fires in California and the Midwest. I think climate is a planetary emergency, thank you.

SM: This legislature is not done with addressing climate change. I am all over trying to continue. There were over 116 amendments to the bill over the past 3 years. It was not a new bill. I heard from different sectors of industry. The one where we did not get to an agreement was with transportation. Many felt that they did not have the technology or ability to do what they needed to do to make the changes in a short time frame, so they lengthened the time frame but it still was not enough. There were also some logging and farming concerns (both had some amendments to help them), but it was mostly transportation issues.

Part of the problem is that the transportation system is funded by the Highway fund (bridges, roads, maintenance, updating, modernizations, water infrastructure, avoid flooding on roads or on the coast). There is a lot of emergency planning related to earthquakes, too. They wanted to make sure the money from those willing to buy the ability to pollute was going to help fight climate issues (and not just be used for something else). Kate Brown may call us back in a special session in September or October, just that one issue only. It’s almost there. It would be historic.

JS: Timing is everything. We want to connect to the Western Compact to tap into their infrastructure. I just went out to a farm out in Roy, and found there had been misinformation about the bill. There were questions on why we did not push it to the ballot. That’s because it’s so complex and detailed; we can’t put a difficult to understand bill to ballot. This bill took ten years of planning and three years concerning the specific language. So, it was right to handle this in the legislature. The complexity got in the way. When people are confused and don’t know the answers, they start going back and forth.

Question #8: I am just happy you all are our reps, you are educated, well spoken, and I’m proud of you.

Crowd: [Applause.]

Question #9: Regarding HB2020, how can we help to push it through? What can we do rather than talking amongst ourselves?

JS: People need to focus on one issue and stick to that. Everyone can contribute Letters to the Editor and talk about it on social media. Pam Marsh has been doing a lot of social media on HB2020, trying to share to fight the misinformation. Rep. Powers, too. But we need to communicate with the governor: we want this, we need this. Constantly talking to others. Encourage your federal folks. Pay attention to who is running on your favorite issues. And call out how it’s contributing to other issues like the Southern border with kids. It’s overwhelming. Different areas at different times.

SM: Don’t quit talking to people that have different opinions from you. Find common ground, there is a lot. Connect despite your differences – I did on a bill where two GOP Reps. from Eastern Oregon and I had the same ideas on the bill, so we connected. The complication of a climate bill or allowance program – there will be 100’s of pages, so that’s the problem with putting it on the ballot. Voters will hesitate to vote yes on something like that, even if it was actually something that they would agree with.

Question #10: Looking forward to the 2020 elections, are there plans to wait until after the national election to move forward on larger issues? What are those discussions? [The actual question seemed a bit unclear to everyone]

JS: There are plenty of issues we should be handling more efficiently or effectively on a federal level. Healthcare. Climate change. Gun violence prevention. Timing is critical, but it’s not necessary to wait for the national election before doing anything.

SM: No. Oregon has to be a national leader; we have to show them how it is done.

Question #11: Regarding the campaign finance reform bill. What is your forecast for how that might play out? Any money put into push back?

JS: I’m not sure about push back. There were some items done on dark money and disclosure; if there is an ad, it helps to know who’s paying for it. The dark money, I don’t know how a ballot measure would play out due to potential complexities. There are certain federal restrictions if you are donating directly to Merkley or Wyden, there are certain limitations. Oregon didn’t not have those. We want to put some restrictions and make PAC money less dark; that actually passed. But some federal things lack clarity. Sometimes the money is going to be pushed into darker areas.

SM: Transparency and dark money passed. Limits did not pass. But I think it depends what gets to the ballot as to how fierce the campaigns will be.

Question #12: While Oregon is not one of the major destination states for asylum seekers, we do have a lot. They are very vulnerable. One example, we know someone from Honduras who has several children because she has distant relatives, but she and children are not safe in that home. She has not showed up for check-in appointment since she was given bad info. She wants to get to Mississippi and heard someone from Texas that could help her get there. One of many cases. We don’t have access to a database who are the asylum seekers ending up in Oregon and how we can respond. Support from you all would be great. I know Portland gets $2 million for legal support, but they might not be allowed to work this issue. The host families are already stressed. We see a need for coordination and funding to support asylum-seekers.

SM: Give us some time, it’s on our outreach plan. We did do this once, around September 2018, when ICE was showing up at the courthouse, but we have not gotten a handle on it. There were 2 organizations we saw, Causa and [another one], that had leadership and young folks with networks; they shared some with them.

JS: We are both committed. We are living in an unreal time. I’ve listened to Quatama fourth graders worried about their own parents not being there when they get home that night. Unbelievable.

Question #13: As a Libertarian, I am in an extreme minority. I appreciate your message about talking to people that don’t believe what you do. I went to Senate hearings, tried to apply to testify, just used normal public comment, finally got just four minutes after several hours. So, I could not deliver all my testimony. I ask you to invite people that disagree and give time to say it. I want to note the irony that limits on campaign donations will make me less able to say things.

SM: We can talk in more detail about your experience after the Town Hall.

Question #14: Regarding transportation infrastructure, what’s up with the I-5 bridge?

SM: Right now, the update is a little stale, but WA Gov. Jay Inslee opened up an office to come to the table to get the bridge going soon. Right now, it looks like we won’t get to it this session. This is a mega-project. Trying to figure out how not to pay money back to the federal government like last bridge, but then Washington did not contribute so we had to cover that. We are waiting on Governor Brown and the mega committee is looking closely at finding the best solution.

With no more questions and time running short, Reps. McLain and Sollman gave some closing statements.

Closing Statements

SM: What makes this work doable and worthwhile is that we have some of the best citizens willing to talk to us. I’ve received the largest amount of emails in sixteen years of any political effort that I have ever seen. It could be any issue, vaccinations, transportation, climate, or family medical leave, there will be people testifying. One weekend had 500-600 people on one issue. That is a good thing. Voters are passionate, but 99% were also respectful.

JS: Thank you all for being part of this journey, I try to make myself as accessible as possible. I’ve had 13 listening sessions so far this year and a 14th coming up this Friday. I wasn’t a farmer, I needed to go out and hear from farmers. To connect to small businesses, I have had several small business round tables. I believe education is that foundation and can open doors. Please be involved and keep up to date on social media.

This is not the official record and the Washington County Democrats are solely responsible for any inaccuracy in this transcription.