Addie Greene Reports on Marsh Public Forum

  Marsh Looks Ahead

Calling the Student Success Act (HB 3427), which took effect January 1, a major achievement of the Oregon Legislature’s 2019 “long session,” District 5 Rep. Pam Marsh told her town hall audience the act will invest $1 billion a year in early childhood and K-12 education. The town hall took place February 1 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ashland.

            HB 3427 decreases personal income tax rates and imposes a 5.7% corporate activity tax, exempting businesses with taxable commercial activity of $1 million or less. This portion of HB 3427 is what so exercised Republican lawmakers, who claimed the legislation was a socialist plot and that the taxes levied would not be used for education.

            Lawmakers were assigned to travel around the state to determine the needs of various school districts. Legislators found chronic underfunding of early childhood education and mental health programs, with disruptive behavior in the classroom increasing, Marsh said. She described teachers having to remove entire classrooms of students from the building because one child was violent—throwing chairs, for example.

            In juvenile justice reform, legislators mandated that every child have a second chance and that intervention on behalf of troubled children take place at the “earliest possible moment.” Judges will have discretion as to whether to try children 15-18 as adults.

            “Oregon is short 150,000 housing units,” Marsh said. “We need to create 30,000 housing units a year” to catch up, she said. To deal with this, the Legislature proposed $150 million in bonds to support an increase in housing density in areas with existing infrastructure. The bill also limits rent increases to 7% a year plus cost of living allowance (COLA).

            In health care, the state has expanded its Medicaid coverage to include one million Oregonians under the Affordable Care Act. Those earning up to 138% of the poverty level are eligible. A $2 a pack increase in the cigarette tax will be on the ballot in November; if it passes, the additional funds will go to the Oregon Health Plan.

“Wildfire season is 60 days longer than it used to be,” Marsh said. “This is an existential issue in front of us.” To combat this and other effects of global warming, the state has pledged to reduce emissions to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.

            “Climate is a major piece of unfinished business,” she said, citing Senate Republicans’ escape to Idaho to avoid voting on HB 2020, which would have set up a cap and trade system. The Legislature is working on a revised version of the bill, which Marsh hopes will be “robust enough.”

            “We need to talk more about the effect (of climate change) on the Oregon landscape—fires, water, investment.” Once the snow pack melts, early increasing temperatures dry out the landscape, making it more prone to fire, she said. “Wildfire will be part of our future. We must have fire-adapted communities and make forests as resilient as possible through restoration.” Sen. Jeff Golden of Senate District 3 chairs the Wildfire Reduction and Recovery Committee, she said. Citing the Pacific Gas and Electric debacle in California, she said Oregon plans four to six pilot projects for utilities, at least one in Southern Oregon, to address this issue. Oregon Department of Forestry management problems will have to be addressed as well, she said.

            The Rural Communications Investment Act will open the Universal Service Fund to cell phones—in other words, a tax only land lines have been paying will also apply to cell phones. These additional revenues will go toward establishing a broadband fund for rural areas. Marsh said 37% of the state’s libraries don’t meet the standards for being technology neutral and provider neutral.

            Each House member may sponsor two bills during the “short session,” which begins February 3 and runs no longer than 35 days. Marsh is sponsoring legislation banning the purchase of vaping products over the internet and making sure vaping products are appropriately taxed.

            When Marsh opened the forum to questions, the first was about mental health. The speaker talked of patients waiting 80-130 days for care because the beds were taken by the incarcerated. “There is an acute shortage of psychiatric care,” she said. “Mental health and addiction services have yet to be addressed by the state,” Marsh replied. “We must create more residential facilities.”

            Mental Health puts Oregon in 51st place, another speaker said. “Oregon is in the top few states on addiction,” Marsh responded. She described a situation where a recovering addict calls a residential care facility for an opening, day after day, and finally falls back into addiction. She suggested increasing beer and wine taxes to support increasing mental health facilities.

            A doctor supported legislation making a list of hospital charges public annually to avoid “sticker shock” when the bill comes. “So many of us are slaves to insurance companies,” Marsh responded. “We need universal coverage.” She cited the case of a woman whose infusions went from $5000 per treatment to $15,000, with 80% coverage.

            Another speaker addressed the plight of the elderly on limited incomes living in manufactured homes and at the mercy of the park’s owners when the property goes on sale. “There are 104 parks in Jackson County and a significant number in the state,” Marsh replied. A $9.5 million acquisition fund has been set up for the state to buy parks, when they go on sale, to protect residents. Half of the units are pre-1979 and composed of toxic materials, she said.

            A member of Oregon for Safer Technology said strong Wi-Fi gives her headaches and that 10% of the population is affected. “Wireless devices cause some of our health issues,” she said. “Do not keep your cell phone next to your body—radiation can cause cancer,” she warned. Marsh answered, “The FCC is in charge. Local jurisdictions can’t make laws in contradiction of FCC rulings.”

            “What can we do to eliminate partisanship?” asked another audience member. “We can communicate on issues that haven’t been addressed,” Marsh replied. During the off season, when the Legislature isn’t in session, she said she and her colleagues plan to take The Other Side of the Hill, an attempt at bipartisanship, on the road.

            “Is the Jordan Cove pipeline dead?” another audience member asked. Marsh warned that, although Oregon regulators have twice denied permits, “Pembina (the Canadian company seeking the pipeline) is going to the federal level.”

            “We as citizens have an obligation to make sure our representatives do the right thing,” Alan Journet commented. “What can we as citizens do?” “Make sure the revised HB 2020 is robust,” Marsh replied. “Alan is a resource in tracking legislation,” she told the forum. “Write the leadership—the governor, Sen. Peter Courtney, Rep. Tina Kotek.” We must have wildfire mitigation and forest restoration from climate legislation, she said.

            Referring to Richard Lindzen of the Cato Institute, a constituent said he no longer believes in global warming but calls the climate movement “a massive globalist, capitalist movement funding wealth concentration and wealth transfer.” “I’ve lived in Oregon for 25 years and have seen major changes,” Marsh answered. “If we fail to act on global warming we will risk life on our planet.”

            Citing the 2020 Census, a constituent said, “Oregon is on the verge of acquiring another member of Congress. We must get people on board to participate.” “The state has put in money to reach the hardest to find Oregonians,” Marsh said. “We must make sure the most vulnerable of our citizens are counted.”

            Another woman complained about microwaves and the damage they are doing to pollinators. Marsh said, again, that we have no local control—the FCC is in charge. “The FCC is using data from the ‘80s and ‘90s,” the woman shot back.

            The Rural Tech Investment Act should use fiber cables for 5G, a constituent proposed. “We have no legal standing,” Marsh replied, but said Sen. Jeff Merkley has created a bill concerning 5G.

            “What is Oregon doing to make the state safe for refugees?” a man asked. “We are proud to be a sanctuary state,” Marsh answered. “We remain open to refugees, support DACA, and have banned ICE from the areas around courthouses.”

            “What can we do to provide hope for rural Oregonians?” another asked. “Young people go where they have access to technology. That said, all people need the same things—education, work, and the ability to put food on the table,” Marsh replied.

            A man said health effects stopped the testing of the hydrogen bomb. “We must do the same for radiation technology.” “You need to pressure the FCC and talk to your federal legislators,” Marsh said.

            “What does the Oregon Legislature have comparable to the OMB?” a man asked, referring to the housing shortage and spiraling rents. “Price control doesn’t increase the size of the pie,” he said. “We need a whole lot more housing units and must protect tenants,” Marsh told the forum.