Your Guide to the 2016 Oregon Legislature


On Jan. 14, an Oregon House committee met in Salem for a public hearing because Rep. Vic Gilliam (R-Silverton) wanted to name the Newfoundland the state dog.

Gilliam's constituents argued the Newfoundland should be Oregon's official pooch because explorer Meriwether Lewis brought a Newfie named Seaman on his expedition west.

For 17 minutes, nine Oregon elected officials discussed the question: Who's a good dog?

"On the Lewis and Clark Trail, about 200 dogs were actually eaten [except] one: the Newfoundland," said Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis). "Not only are we recognizing history with something like this, we're also recognizing all those dogs that didn't make it back home."

The hearing hasn't led to a bill. (Gilliam had already reached his limit of bills to sponsor.) But the discussion is a telling example of how the Oregon Legislature's "short session" is anything but.

The short session, held for 35 days every other year, was designed for balancing the budget and making minor adjustments to state law. But it has grown faster than Mark Zuckerberg's bank balance—into a showcase for major policy cooked up fast.

That's partly because the prospect of activist-backed ballot measures in November is pressuring lawmakers and Gov. Kate Brown to find compromises now. It's also because Democrats—facing no resistance from an impotent GOP—are free to chase their policy goals. All of them.

The 2016 session, which opened Feb. 1, will feature major legislation on the minimum wage, affordable housing and the state's broken foster care system. It also includes dozens of bills on less pressing issues—from artificial beaver dams to sky lanterns.

The Legislature's frantic multitasking offers WW an opportunity to debut a new way of bringing you the news.

Each week, before diving into the in-depth stories you've come to expect from WW, we'll offer you a page of charts, numbers and quotes to help you better understand the week's news.

The short session? That takes five pages.

Here's our guide to the fights and challenges facing Oregon—the problems that naming a state dog won't fix.


Great Dogs in Oregon History

Oregon legislators haven't yet acted on a proposal from canine enthusiast Becky Davis of Hubbard, Ore., to name the Newfoundland as Oregon's state dog.

Should they take the bone, the Newfie is the obvious candidate. But Oregon history offers plenty of good, good dogs.


Oregon's founding dog was a Newfoundland named Seaman, companion to Meriwether Lewis as he traversed North America with William Clark. Seaman reached the Pacific Ocean—and, perhaps more importantly, avoided the fate of the other 200 or so dogs that accompanied the Corps of Discovery. They became dinner.

(Jon Upton)


There was a third central character in the drama that unfolded around former Gov. John Kitzhaber: Oregon first lady Cylvia Hayes' Rhodesian ridgeback, Tessa. Hayes got state workers to take care of Tessa, and when Hayes traveled to Seattle in August 2013, she booked a spendy hotel that catered to dogs—at taxpayer expense.

(Jon Upton)


When Vietnam War protesters interrupted an event in May 1971 with high-school students, then-Gov. Tom McCall told them they had the manners "of dogs." He later apologized—not to the protesters but to his terrier, Duffy. Duffy then issued a statement. "You would be intrigued to know," Duffy remarked, "that my master wishes he had it all to do over again. Given the same boorishness he would tell the boors: 'You have the manners of jackals.'"

(Jon Upton)


A collie named Bobbie grabbed headlines across the country in 1924 after he walked about 2,500 miles to Silverton from Wolcott, Ind., where he had been lost by his Oregon master, G.F. Brazier. "When interviewed," an April 6, 1924, story in The Oregonian read, "Bobbie was somewhat reluctant to say anything about his adventures."

(Jon Upton)


A dog version of Cheryl Strayed's Wild, Disney's Benji the Hunted was filmed in 1986 at Oregon locations, including Astoria and Newport. It features a mixed-breed dog wandering Oregon's wilderness, saving the lives of cougar cubs from a nasty wolf. The film met with mixed reviews.


That's how many state contractors, paid by Oregon, actually owe money to Oregon. That number, in a September report by state auditor Gary Blackmer, caught the eye of state Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie). In House Bill 4065, Witt asks the state to offset those debts against payments coming from the state. That's a great idea, but not exactly novel—40 states already do so and previous audits have suggested Oregon adopt the practice.


Portland's Rent Spike

Lawmakers will consider a swath of protections for Oregon renters this session. That's in part because wages aren't keeping up with the price of rent. Average apartment rent has skyrocketed—going up 63 percent—in the seven-county Portland metro area in the past nine years, while renters' median income has increased at about half that rate: 39 percent. (By contrast, home prices have risen just 16 percent over the same period while homeowners' earnings are up 22 percent.)


Do You Support Our Oregon's Tax Measures?

No single issue casts a larger shadow over the legislative session than the specter of November ballot measures, backed by labor-funded advocacy group Our Oregon, to raise taxes on businesses whose Oregon sales exceed $25 million a year. The tax measures would raise an estimated $2.5 billion a year to supplement Oregon's general fund. The plan has unions and the business lobby on a crash course that state leaders seem powerless to prevent.

We asked the three leading candidates for Portland mayor: Do you support the Our Oregon proposal to increase the corporate minimum tax on big businesses?


Sarah Iannarone, program manager at Portland State University: Won't say. "I'll have to look into that more. I haven't made a decision on that yet."


Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey: Yes. "As an economist and father of a young child, I've wrestled with this proposal for some time. I have even expressed reservations in the past. But I have come to the conclusion that we must act to improve our schools—no matter what. Oregon has waited too long for real revenue that provides every child the high-quality education they need to grow, thrive and find a good-paying job."


Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler: Leaning no. "I still hope we can find a way to raise the needed revenue without this fight. Oregonians expect collaborative problem solving – not millions spent on attack ads. If an agreement is still possible, I do not think it is helpful for statewide elected officials to start picking sides."


Inclusionary Zoning

If at first you don't provide affordable housing, try, try again. Senate Bill 1533 is the fourth attempt in four years by state lawmakers to overturn Oregon's ban on inclusionary zoning (this time, they're calling it "inclusionary housing"). Inclusionary zoning laws allow local jurisdictions, like the city of Portland, to require developers to build a certain number of affordable housing units in new projects. Oregon is one of just two states (the other is Texas) to bar cities from using this tool to compel developers to build cheaper units. Here's the timeline of futility.

1999: Gov. John Kitzhaber signs into law a bill, backed by the Oregon Home Builders Association, that blocks cities, counties and regional governments like Metro from enacting inclusionary zoning.

Feb. 11, 2013: State Rep. Jeff Reardon (D-Happy Valley) introduces House Bill 2890 to repeal Oregon's inclusionary zoning ban. Portland City Hall doesn't back the bill, which never even makes it to a committee vote.

2014: Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-North Portland) convenes a work group to study inclusionary zoning and other affordable-housing issues.

Summer 2014: The work group drops the idea when it can't reach a consensus.

January 2015: Leaders at Portland City Hall, including Mayor Charlie Hales (a former lobbyist for the Oregon Home Builders Association), pledge their support to efforts to overturn the ban.

Jan. 12, 2015: State Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) introduces House Bill 2564.

April 14, 2015: HB 2564 passes in the House on a partisan vote of 34-25. (The bill, as passed, would have lifted the pre-emption on inclusionary zoning, but it would have applied only to projects with homes for sale, not apartments.)

July 6, 2015: HB 2564 dies in Senate committee without ever making it to the Senate floor for a vote.

Jan. 7, 2016: Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) vows to try again with Senate Bill 1533.


What It's Like to Have a Family Member Die Horribly

How much is a human life worth?

The state of Oregon says it's never worth more than $500,000. That's the 1987 cap state law places on awards in wrongful death lawsuits.

Thirteen other states have no such cap. House Bill 4136 seeks to raise Oregon's cap to $1.5 million.

Why would a family want the higher figure? Consider the case of 22-year-old Andrew Lane, a roofer who died in 2014 in Clackamas County from carbon monoxide poisoning after being told to use a 5-gallon bucket as a toilet in the back of an enclosed truck.

Here's what Lane's mother, Tina Lane, said about his death, which occurred when an improperly vented machine filled the truck with carbon monoxide.

Andrew was my son. He was at work and passed away from using a 5-gallon bucket in back of a pickup—uh, enclosed box truck—that his boss told him to use because they didn't supply an outhouse.

Andrew was the youngest of my kids. I have three kids. He was my baby, and my whole life has changed because he's not here. It's fallen apart. Andrew's family has fallen apart.

The house that they were working on had seven bathrooms in it. And it had a couple outbuildings that had bathrooms in them.

It was pretty simple. Let my son go to the bathroom, and he would have come home that day.

When I found out there was a cap on [the award], I was appalled. Totally appalled. Five hundred thousand dollars is not enough to make them think, "Wow, what did I do?" When you have a business, you're responsible for those people who work for you.


"Our clean reputation is built on smiles and a deliberate unwillingness to look below the surface. We pretend corruption doesn't exist, and then declare ourselves a national model for the rest of the country."

—Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), who is proposing a Legislative Committee on Accountability, with subpoena power to independently investigate state agencies.

Introducing Senate Bill 1577, Johnson cited the state's failure to spot breakdowns in the Department of Human Services until WW reported on widespread neglect and abuse at a Portland foster care provider.



Same State, Different Wages

Gov. Kate Brown released a revised proposal Jan. 29 for raising the minimum wage from its current level of $9.25 an hour. After intense negotiations with labor and business interests, Brown proposed increasing the wage July 1, 2016, six months earlier than she'd previously proposed, and phasing in a two-tiered system that separates places inside Portland's urban growth boundary from the rest of the state. By July 2018, the Portland wage will be $1.25 higher than the rural wage, and the two will then rise in lockstep until 2022.


Foster Care

Last year, WW reported on allegations of neglect and fraud at Portland foster care provider Give Us This Day. With Senate Bill 1515, lawmakers led by state Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) are aiming for a total makeover of the Department of Human Services, which funds and regulates foster care. Ensuring children's safety is paramount in every state—but it's particularly important in Oregon, which federal statistics show places children in foster care at a rate that is 50 percent above the national average.


Source: Children First for Oregon

Most Bizarre Bills

Some bills are crucial to the future of the state. These are not those bills.

Senate Bill 4142

Mall Cops

Sponsored by Rep. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale)

Bans security guards from wearing badges or driving patrol cars that would cause a "reasonable person" to think they were actual police officers. It's unclear what reasonable person is currently making that mistake.

House Bill 4140

Sky Lanterns

Sponsored by Rep. David Gomberg (D-Central Coast)

Bars the release of sky lanterns—the candle-powered paper lanterns often associated with Chinese New Year celebrations—anywhere in the state, at the risk of a $2,000 fine.

Senate Bill 1565

Subsidized Wine

Sponsored by Sen. Brian Boquist (R-Dallas)

Provides a five-year property tax break for any new industrial property costing $1 million or more. Originally proposed in 2015 to exempt the new Willamette Valley Vineyards tasting room, this giveaway contains no requirements for job creation.

Pot Pop Quiz

Oh, you didn't know there was going to be a test? Too bad, stoners! The marijuana bills this legislative session are mainly intended to clean up loose ends and loopholes from the 2015 session, which were mainly intended to clean up loose ends and loopholes from the 2014 ballot measure that legalized recreational weed. Get the answers right and maybe we won't have any pot bills in the next session. (Fat chance.)

True or False?

House Bill 420 would help banks to do business with marijuana producers, processors, wholesalers, retailers and researchers.

Answer: False

State Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton), who's running for state treasurer, introduced such a bill. But it's the much-harder-to-remember House Bill 4094.

House Bill 4132 specifies that recreational marijuana retailers would not be allowed to do what?

A. Collect sales tax from any recreational buyer.

B. Collect sales tax from any recreational buyer or holder of a medical-marijuana card.

C. Collect sales tax from any holder of a medical marijuana card.

Answer: C

The rule also applies to caretakers.

Oregon lawmakers would like to change the existing rule that says marijuana producers must have lived in Oregon for at least two years. They would like the residency requirement to be how many years?

A. 10

B. 0

C. 5

Answer: B


Artificial Beaver Dams

Scott Campbell gives a damn about dams.

For more than a decade, the former owner of Banfield Pet Hospital has been building artificial beaver dams to restore natural habitat and boost hay production on Silvies Valley Ranch, his 140,000 acres of high desert in Grant County.

Campbell's dams ran afoul of Oregon law in part because they blocked endangered redband trout's migratory passage upstream. Now he's trying to change the law.

Portlanders don't think about artificial beaver dams much, but it turns out there's more than one kind. Senate Bill 1518 would legalize several. Here's the difference between what Campbell wants and what environmentalists want to limit him to.

artificial beaver dam made of wooden posts
Kim Herbst
artificial beaver dam made of dirt and rocks

1. Posts

The artificial beaver dams favored by enviros feature a series of wooden posts vertically positioned across a stream with wood woven between them—to emulate the dam-building style of the beaver. The broader definition favored by Campbell allows dams made of dirt and rocks.

2. Small pools and plants

Small dams create healthy streams by forming pools of water for fish to inhabit during the hot, dry summer months as well as raising the water table to help trees and plants grow. The dirt dams block the passage of fish.

3. Actual beavers

Small dams made with woven wood could attract beavers to return. Large earthen dams won't lure any beavers, and require human upkeep.

Source: Waterwatch of Oregon Legislative Testimony

The Charleston Loophole

White supremacist Dylann Roof, who slaughtered nine churchgoers at a Bible study in Charleston, S.C., last year, was allowed to buy a .45-caliber handgun—legally—even though a background check on him was not completed. That's because in most states, including Oregon, gun sales can legally be made even if the buyer has been flagged for further review and that review has not been completed.

House Bill 4147, sponsored by Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland), would close what's become known as "the Charleston loophole."

Lawmakers don't know how many guns were sold last year without a complete background check. The law currently allows the sale to go through after three days. That's not nearly enough time for the Oregon State Police to finish a background check.

Estimated average turnaround time for an Oregon State Police background check that is flagged for further review: 42 days

Time when a sale can be completed even if the background check isn't finished: 3 days

Prediction: Winners and Losers

Power can shift quickly in the Capitol. The 2015 legislative session saw Gov. Kate Brown try to make a massive transportation-funding deal—which crumbled along with her carbon emissions standards. Here's who enters Salem with and without momentum.


Organized labor

Labor's November ballot measure—including $5 billion in corporate taxes—has shown lawmakers and business interests who runs this state.

Gov. Kate Brown

She needs something to run on in November. An expected deal to increase the minimum wage would give her that win.


They landed two big bills

on the agenda: one to revise carbon emissions goals, and another to exchange coal power for renewable energy.


Landlords and real-estate developers

More than a dozen bills aim to alleviate the rental crunch. Property owners and builders will be expected to foot the bill.


They don't want a higher minimum wage or new environmental regulations—and they hoped in vain for a transportation package.


Senate Bill 1557 ratifies the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife decision to remove the state's 85 gray wolves from the endangered species list.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.