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January 16, 2020

Capital Chatter: Will the GOP walkout?

by Dick Hughes/ For Oregon Capital Insider
All options remain on the table for Senate Republicans as the 2020 legislative session approaches.
PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon's Democratic Party staff has unionized. Party officials embraced the union.
January 16, 2020

In a nod to base, Oregon Democratic Party recognizes staff union

by Jake Thomas/Oregon Capital Bureau
Unionization of the party's staff follows similar moves by labor-friendly campaigns elsewhere.
OREGON CAPITAL BUREAU/JAKE THOMAS - State Rep. Rachel appears on a screen in a legislative hearing room used to accommodate overflow Wednesday, Jan. 15. The topic was a safe gun storage proposal she plans to introduce in the 2020 legislative session.
January 16, 2020

Oregon lawmakers unholster new gun-safety proposal

by Jake Thomas/Oregon Capital Bureau
Proponents say measure could reduce gun deaths and injuries, but opponents dislike one-size-fits-all approach.
PMG FILE PHOTO - Senate President Peter Courtney missed mid-January's Legislartive Days because of a hip problem. He is being treated at OHSU and expects to return in time for the Feb. 3 session.
January 16, 2020

Hip treatment keeps Courtney from Oregon Capitol

by Claire Withycombe/Oregon Capital Bureau
Senate president skips legislative runup meetings, but expects to be back in action for the February session.
PMG FILE PHOTO - An attempted cyber attack has thrown a roadblock into mandatory training for thousands of state employees.
January 14, 2020

Cyber attack halts training for thousands of Oregon state employees

by Sam Stites/Oregon Capital Bureau
Christmas Day attack on the state's iLearn web program left thousands unable to access mandatory training.
PMG FILE PHOTO - State Sen. Michael Dembrow of Portland is working on new environmental legislation that could be introduced in the February session.
January 09, 2020

Lawmakers try to rebuild greenhouse gas proposal

by Claire Withycombe/Oregon Capital Bureau
New plan headed to February session hinges on system of emission allowances that can be bought and sold.
January 09, 2020

Deputy Secretary of State Vial resigns

by Jake Thomas/Oregon Capital Bureau
He has been floated as a possible Republican candidate for secretary of state.
COURTESY PHOTO: HYDRO EXTRUSION USA - Hydro Extrusion USA, a Norwegian company, was hit by a DEQ fine for its aluminum recycling plant in The Dalles.
January 09, 2020

DEQ hits recycler with largest air quality fine ever

by Sam Stites/Oregon Capital Bureau
Norwegian aluminum recycler in The Dalles tagged with $1.3 million penalty for processing dirty material.
PMG FILE PHOTO - A federal judge tossed out a lawsuit brought by state Sen. Brian Boquist.
Jan 08, 2020 1096

Finding 'words have consequences,' judge throws out Boquist lawsuit

Legal fight related to GOP walkout alleged that Senate President Courtney and others violated Boquist's rights.
SAM STITES/ OREGON CAPITAL BUREAU - A tractor trailer approaches the scales at the Woodburn port of entry.
Jan 01, 2020 108

Truck accident rate dropping, state data shows

As trucks log ever more miles on Oregon highways, major accidents can create the impression they are getting more dangerous. But state reports show the accident rate has been dropping as state enforcers target education, not punishment.
SAM STITES/ OREGON CAPITAL BUREAU - Tom Avila inspects a tire shown by the tire anomaly detection system to have a problem. The pilot program implemented at the Woodburn port of entry helps prevent accidents by notifying drivers when there's an issue with a tire or axle, something that's not always obvious when they're out on the road.
Jan 01, 2020 467

Truck inspections crucial to ODOT's 'vision zero'

The state wants zero deaths on its roads by 2035, but an increasing number of trucks is taxing inspectors.
OREGON CAPITAL BUREAU - Research shows that students who are taught civics are more likely to vote and be engaged in their communities.
Jan 01, 2020 689

Nonprofits, state office try to fill the gap

Legislative attempts to mandate civic instruction in Oregon classrooms has failed. The Secretary of State's Office has shifted its priorities to promote civic education.
COURTESY PHOTO - Summer Warners job is to help new Oregon state directors fit in to the agencies theyre chosen to lead.
Jan 01, 2020 383

State agency mentorship helps directors overcome rough patches

Summer Warner and her Department of Administrative Services team work to provide support network for new and experienced state leaders.
Dec 26, 2019 549

AFL-CIO boss says young workers are turning to unions

Graham Trainor was elected in September to become president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, a labor federation representing the interests of about 300,000 private and public sector workers.
PMG FILE PHOTO - Beagles like these rescued from Wisconsin, have been used for animal testing in labs across the nation. A new law taking effect Jan. 1 requires the labs to offer animals for adoption before they are euthanized.
Dec 24, 2019 716

Beaverton students learn a civics lesson in saving lives

Elmonica fifth graders behind Oregon's new 'Beagle Bill' will be honored at a Jan. 13 ceremonial bill signing.
PMG FILE PHOTO - Two initiatives promoting clean energy in the state were rejected by the secretary of state's office.
Dec 20, 2019 921

Secretary of state rejects clean-energy initiatives

Bev Clarno turns to constitutional basis to toss two proposals to increase Oregon's reliance on renewable energy.
(Image is Clickable Link) PMG ILLUSTRATION - A screenshot shows the 35-hour extension granted to Oregonians who want to sign up for health insurance through the Oregon marketplace.
Dec 19, 2019 153

Health insurance enrollment deadline extended after website glitch

People who still need to purchase health care through state program have until midnight Dec. 17 to log on and sign up.
COURTESY PHOTO: FORENSIC JUSTICE PROJECT/MARIELLA MANDUJANO - Nicholas McGuffin, center in tie, his mother, and his attorneys Janis Puracal, Ryan O'Connor, and Andrew Lauersdorf, and investigator John Comery walk out of prison after McGuffin's conviction was overturned.
Dec 18, 2019 517

Nonprofit plugs defense lawyers into new science

Portland's Forensic Justice Project made headlines by overturning manslaughter conviction and is poised to expand its work.
PMG FILE PHOTO - A new greenhouse gas emissions bill could make its way into the Legislature's short session beginning in February. Democrats faced tough opposition to a similar plan early this year.
Dec 14, 2019 994

Democrats float new cap-and-invest environmental plans

Idea may be softened, but it's still fraught with political peril after previous legislation inspired Capital protests and AWOL Republicans.
PMG FILE PHOTO - Retirements by a handful of longtime legislators could change the balance of power in Salem.
Dec 12, 2019 117

Retirements could tilt legislative balance

Among the departures are lawmakers who have been influential in shaping state policy. Many miss 'collegial' atmosphere of the 'old days.'

Capital Chatter: 5 New Year's proposals

In the interest of stirring the political pot, Dick Hughes offers possibly provocative proposals for education in Oregon.

I've never been one to make New Year's resolutions or annual predictions. Instead, in the interest of stirring the political pot, I offer five possibly provocative proposals for education in Oregon.

1. Kill the idea that teachers and other educators have been underpaid.

Salaries are based not on one's worth to society but on the number of people deemed available and competent to fill the job. That's why Joe and Josephine Pro Athlete make more than you and I do -- although Joe is paid zillions more than Josephine, which is unconscionable.

However, there are caveats.

As the pool of qualified job applicants dwindles, school districts must innovate. Raising salaries is one approach, especially when union and district leadership agree to put the money into entry-level salaries.

Labor-management negotiations probably would look far different if the priorities were set by potential job applicants and new employees. For example, ditching the traditional seniority system for job placements, work schedules or other areas could make a district far more attractive to new hires. So could offering free childcare to young couples.

A related issue is that working-class Oregonians, like their kin across the country, cannot afford to buy homes. Student loans are one reason. Until Congress acts — if it does — the Oregon Legislature and school districts could take matters into their own hands by offering loan repayments. Should the state launch a program to support people going into education, rural health care or other desired jobs that meet the state's goals?

2. Require a full academic year of student teaching — and pay the student teachers, or at least cover their tuition cost.

Teaching is really hard work. Student teaching is time-consuming. However, future teachers need the experience of preparing for the school year, opening the year, going through the ups and downs, and closing the year.

One term of student teaching is inadequate. There is too much to learn, especially about classroom management.

Better-prepared teachers will be more effective teachers and more likely to last longer.

3. Bring back sabbaticals.

It's true that teachers and many other school employees get summers "off" and vacations during the year. But the good teachers, counselors and administrators put in an incredible amount of unpaid time during those supposed vacations.

Burnout is real. Research suggests that if a student starts the day in a class led by a teacher suffering from burnout, that student's learning will suffer throughout the rest of the day. Districts axed sabbaticals to save money, but people should be encouraged to take extended time off to get a fresh take on life and learn new skills.

This would be one way to retain experienced teachers.

4. Allow Oregon's community colleges and small institutions to unite.

Small private colleges are in a financial bind. Meanwhile, the regional state universities struggle to maintain their places.

Why not allow a community college to join with a regional or private university? That might bring down student costs while maintaining diversity in offerings, including varied approaches to teacher training.

I know, I know, there would be all sorts of things to work through. But are you going to be naysayer or a "Let's do it"?

5. Make classes relevant.

In my era, boring classes seemed acceptable. That won't cut it anymore. Dropping out no longer is considered appropriate.

The key is for each student to have a reason to come to school each day. That calls for profound redesign of curriculum and teaching methods to make classes interesting, perhaps transforming basic science into "crime science analysis," economics into "how to be a music mogul" and English composition into "how to create and produce a screenplay."

We've come to our senses by recognizing that career and technical education classes have tremendous value. It is common for 90% of CTE students to graduate, as Gov. Kate Brown frequently touts. What she and others don't say enough, however, is that music, theater, sports and other programs also can achieve those levels. For each student, the answer may be different – but it always involves a caring adult.

North Salem High School sought to raise its graduation rate through identifying a trusted adult to serve as an advocate for each student at risk of dropping out. For many advocates, that meant checking in daily with their student.

The school's goal was to boost the graduation rate 10 points within four years. It was accomplished in one year.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at,, or