Christmas is not yet over for some Portlanders. (Lynne Terry/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
The legislative session, which starts early February, started to take shape this week with three days of marathon meetings in the Capitol, which is still under renovations. Lawmakers discussed an array of topics important to Oregonians, from addiction to wildfires to child care, activists and concerned citizens staged rallies and lobbyists swarmed the Capitol.
As a side note: It would be nice if lawmakers spread out the out-of-session meetings to give us time to cover more instead of packing them in back-to-back with overlapping sessions. Oh, and could we avoid 8 a.m. meeting starts, please? Those sessions might be good for early morning people, but what about the rest of us?
OK, on to the news: Donald Trump popped into Oregon headlines this week. On Wednesday, as Alex Baumhardt reported, U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, one of Oregon’s two Republicans in Congress, announced on the social media site X, formerly Twitter, he is supporting Trump’s candidacy. He said Trump appears poised to win and so is backing him. Bentz also supported Trump in 2020 and even voted against certifying the election results from Pennsylvania.
Bentz did not mention in his endorsement that Trump is facing 90-plus felonies in four criminal cases and some very serious allegations, like trying to overturn an American election.
Bentz represents the solidly Republican 2nd Congressional District, where he’s likely to win some cheers for his endorsement. Oregon’s other Republican representative, Lori Chavez-DeRemer, represents the 5th Congressional District, which has more registered Democrats than Republicans. She has not endorsed a Republican presidential candidate, and the state Republican Party says it is not allowed to endorse presidential candidates for the primary.
On Friday, the Oregon Supreme Court declined to hear a case about whether Trump should be barred from the primary, as Julia Shumway reported. The court declined to take the case because the U.S. Supreme Court is looking at whether Trump is ineligible to run because the 14th Amendment bars anyone from holding federal office who has sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution and participated in an insurrection. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on that case, from Colorado, in early February.
In other news, Ben Botkin reported this week on a proposal from state House Republicans to essentially overturn Measure 110. Their plan would make possession of small amounts of fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine a class A misdemeanor, which carries up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $6,250 or both. Under the bill, users could avoid jail time through addiction treatment. The bill also would impose a similar misdemeanor penalty for public drug use, and it would toughen prison sentences for dealers and manufacturers.
Among the Republicans supporting the bill are Reps. Kevin Mannix of Salem and Christine Goodwin, R-Canyonville, who serve on the joint committee looking at the drug addiction crisis, and House Minority Leader Jeff Helfrich of Hood River.
While lawmakers discussed policy inside the Capitol building on Thursday, a group of parents and advocates gathered outside, calling for more money to be allocated for subsidized child care. The Employment Related Day Care program has more than 1,300 Oregon families stuck on a waitlist, as Julia Shumway reported, and faces a shortfall as high as $221 million by the end of the two-year budget cycle in 2025. Gov. Tina Kotek has called for lawmakers to spend about $60 million to address the waitlist but she also considers housing, behavioral health and the state’s addiction crisis to be top priorities.
In a turnaround, Treasurer Tobias Read, who has one more year in office, told lawmakers this week he’d like the state to move away from fossil fuel investments in the $100 billion state retirement plan. He doesn’t want a complete divestment in carbon-related investments but is proposing a roadmap to make the pension fund carbon neutral by 2050 by balancing fossil fuel investments with clean energy holdings. Environmentalists have been pushing for the state to stop investing in fossil fuel holdings for years but Read focused on returns, not the type of investment.
We also reported this week that the state ethics commission picked an insider, compliance and education manager Susan Myers, as its next executive director. She was primed for the job by Ron Bersin, who’s retiring. And we published a story about tax systems nationwide. Turns out that all states favor the wealthy but Oregon’s tax system is less regressive than most.