Friday, April 29, 2011

House Honors Dance Week In The Nick Of Time

Better get dancing: With its final vote on the last weekday of April, the Oregon House today declared the last week in April of each year to be "Oregon Dance Week." (The Senate approved the resolution a few weeks ago.) While the national celebration of Dance Week lasts until this Sunday, May 1st, the Oregon version will officially take place during "the last week of April." So that means the House gave you less than 36 hours to officially kick up your heels.

To get a sense of the great reverence accorded to Dance Week by the House, I strongly urge you to listen to this floor speech in favor of the resolution from Democratic Representative Greg Matthews. The former Army paratrooper and current Gresham firefighter clearly knows a thing or two about the value of dance:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ketchup May Not Be A Vegetable...But Can You Drink It?

Ketchup may or may not be a vegetable, but most people would agree that it's not a beverage.  Yet opponents to an effort to overhaul Oregon's iconic Bottle Bill, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, have raised the specter that the new version would implement a deposit on everything from condiments to maple syrup. Sponsors of the measure have been open about their intent to expand the Bottle Bill to cover things like sports drinks, juices, and iced tea. Right now the deposit system only applies to beer, soda and water. But no one's ever said anything about slapping a nickel deposit on, well, virtually everything in the store, as some critics allege.

Here's the source of the consternation: a provision in the bill that would expand the applicability of the deposit in 2018 (or earlier if certain triggers are met). The bill states that in addition to the existing beverages, the deposit would apply to liquids that are "intended for human consumption and is in a quantity less than or equal to one and one-half fluid liters, except cough syrup, caramel syrup, distilled liquor, wine, and any dairy, or dairy equivalent, product."

Opponents say that's so vague it could be interpreted to apply to just about anything liquid you put in your mouth. After all, the TSA has a fairly liberal definition of "liquid." Would we have to pay a deposit on cranberry sauce and gravy?

No, according to the Bottle Bill overhaul's co-sponsor, Representative Ben Cannon. The Portland Democrat tells me that was never the intent of the measure. Cannon moved to send the bill to the House Rules Committee today so that the "human consumption" clause could be clarified. Cannon says he doesn't expect this to derail the bill for too long. Indeed, it's already been scheduled for a work session this coming Monday. But Cannon also says he doesn't expect the clarifying tweak to completely mollify the bill's critics. He thinks they'll just latch onto a new reason to oppose the bill.

No word, for now, on how the Catchup Advisory Board feels about this.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

House Democrats Hold Their Own Budget Hearings

The Ways and Means committee is halfway through a series of public hearings on the state budget. Only one of those hearings was in the Portland area. House Democrats, who are trying to drum up support for more funding for schools and seniors, figured a good way to bring more attention to their cause would be to hold additional budget hearings under the glare of the Portland and Eugene media markets. (Having covered the first hearing, I can certainly attest to a lack of television cameras at that event.)

The House Democrats' caucus office emailed several advocacy groups this week alerting them to a series of three "town halls." House Democrats Communications Director Geoff Sugerman writes that Democrats "are working very hard at getting press coverage at these events and hope that you are all promoting this as an opportunity for your voices to be heard...whatever your budget message is."

The meetings will include a budget presentation by Democratic Representative Peter Buckley, who is the House co-chair of the Ways and Means Committee. And while the meetings are sponsored by the House Democrats, Sugerman adds that Republicans have been invited to attend.

Here's a list of the upcoming meetings:

Monday, May 2nd 
Beaverton City Hall
City Council Chambers

Thursday, May 5th
Lane Community College
Forum (Building  17) in Rooms 308 and 309.

Wednesday, May 11th
Rex Putnam High School auditorium (4950 SE Roethe Rd., Milwaukie, OR 97267-5798).

Kitzhaber Predicts Higher May Revenue Forecast

Governor John Kitzhaber today predicted that the much anticipated May revenue forecast will show positive economic growth. The May 12 forecast is key because it will be the final set of economic predictions before lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn, meaning most state budgets will be based on those figures. The state has endured a string of downward revenue forecasts over the past two years. The only exception to that trend was last fall, and that was due to a technical change in the way the forecast was calculated and did not represent an actual increase in predicted revenue. So an "up" forecast would be big news, if the governor is correct.

That said, the governor tempered his optimism with this warning: He doesn't want lawmakers to use a higher revenue forecast as an excuse to overlook some of his major policy objectives. "My biggest fear," Kitzhaber said, "is that if the May revenue forecast is up--and I hope it is--that as soon as the economy starts coming back, the appetite for this kind of change to our health care system or our education system will evaporate like a snowball on a skillet."

Kitzhaber made his remarks during a speech this afternoon to the Salem Rotary Club.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Salem Gets Back On The Map

Starting today, Oregon can no longer be counted among the list of states without commercial airline service to its capital. A small airline called SeaPort is now offering flights from McNary Field in Salem to Portland. The twice-daily flights are primarily intended for passengers who wish to connect to other airlines in Portland or continue north to Seattle on SeaPort Airlines.

Salem has had air service in the past, but has been without commercial flights for nearly three years. Some here in Salem grumbled that a state capital without airline service is an embarrassment, and indeed most state capitals do have flights. But ironically, of the handful of other states that lack commercial air service, two of them are Oregon's neighbors: You can't book a ticket to either Olympia, Washington or Carson City, Nevada.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Golden Gobblers Get Ethical Greenlight

Lawmakers can apparently attend lobbyist Mark Nelson's upcoming "Golden Gobbler Awards" without fear of reprisal from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. Nelson wrote the commission asking if his shindig, a capitol tradition for more than a decade, would put lawmakers in jeopardy of violating state ethics laws. The ceremony "honors" lawmakers who've introduced legislation deemed to be ridiculous.

In a letter to Nelson, Ethics Commission Executive Director Ron Bersin writes that "based on the information provided," Nelson and his Public Affairs Counsel lobbying group could feel free to hand out "four game hens and one turkey" to public officials present at the event, scheduled for May 4. The gathering qualifies as a "reception" and therefore lawmakers may accept food and beverages, including those officials selected to receive the award of "turkey legislation of the year," since a turkey apparently has a resale value of less than $25. Bersin's letter to Nelson is below:

2011-4-11 Nelson Golden Gobbler Award Reception Staff Advice

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jefferson Smith Goes International

Jefferson Smith, Oregon's internationally famous state representative, can now add National Public Radio to his list of admirers. The Portland Democrat was interviewed on the national broadcast of All Things Considered this afternoon. Unlike the BBC, however, NPR did not ask Smith if his prank "made him what they call a fratboy." (For the record, Smith told the BBC that he is not a fratboy.)

So how is Smith handling his 15 minutes of fame? Well, he's still showing up for votes on the House floor. But it seems as though the crush of publicity is growing so fast that he's calling in reinforcements. A colleague of mine who covers the Washington legislature in Olympia forwarded me an email today from a New York based publicist who promises that "Jefferson is available for booking to talk about the project and the potential of using humor/fun to bridge the partisan divide."

Rally & Hearing Set For Dead Bill

This coming Monday evening, the capitol building will buzz with activity with appearances by groups for and against a bill that would allow the state to issue drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants. Supporters are holding a rally on the capitol steps in advance of the hearing. A group opposed to the measure is urging its members to call lawmakers and show up for the hearing to testify against it.

The twist? Well, it turns out that SB 845 is only posted for a public hearing and not a work session. And with the passing of a recent internal deadline to post bills for work sessions, it means that the bill technically can't advance. An aide for Senate Business Committee Chair Lee Beyer says the hearing was scheduled because supporters wanted an "on the record discussion" of the issue. The aide said Beyer's office has received more than 300 phone calls from both supporters and opponents of SB 845.

Of course, the usual disclaimer about no bill or issue being truly dead until the final gavel falls applies here. In fact, the group that opposes the drivers' license bill is warning its members against complacency. But absent an unusual turn of events, Monday's hearing could very well be simply an exercise in public rhetoric.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Kulongoski: Anonymous No More

Former Governor Ted Kulongoski's capitol portait no longer languishes in anonymity. On Tuesday--three months to the day after the portrait was unveiled--workers installed a small plaque that lets everyone know who's in the painting.