Murmurs: Trial Begins for Foster Home Operator

In other news: Freedom Foundation and SEIU quarrel over whether union numbers are dropping.

Trial Begins for Foster Home Operator: The federal criminal trial of Mary Holden Ayala, longtime executive director of defunct Portland foster care provider Give Us This Day, began in U.S. District Court in Portland on Jan. 29. As WW first reported ("Home Sweet Hustle," Sept. 16, 2015), Holden Ayala for years allegedly diverted federal funds meant for foster children to fund exotic travel, home renovations and mortgage payments. Holden Ayala is charged with stealing federal funds, using that money for her own benefit and failing to file tax returns. In addition to a conviction, the feds hope to seize $450,000 in ill-gotten gains. Holden Ayala's attorney, Whitney Boise, says his client is guilty only of "incompetent business practices."

Border Patrol Confronts Portland Comedian: U.S. Border Patrol agents interrogated Portland comedian Mohanad Elshieky for about 20 minutes at a Greyhound station in Spokane, Wash., on Jan. 27, questioning his work permit and Oregon driver's license even though he was granted political asylum last October. "They kept repeating the word 'illegals' over and over and over again," Elshieky says. A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed the details of Elshieky's story but insisted federal agents had done nothing wrong and suggested the comedian should have been carrying proof of his asylum claim. The Spokane Greyhound station has been a flashpoint for tensions between federal immigration and city officials.

Union Says Its Numbers Aren't Dropping: When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that union members were not obligated to pay dues, union critics said the impact on membership would be dramatic and immediate. Last week, citing federal filings, the anti-union Freedom Foundation said membership at Service Employees International Union Local 503, Oregon's most influential labor organization, had dropped by more than 20 percent. SEIU political director Melissa Unger disputes that figure. She says 2,000 of the union's roughly 50,000 members did quit, but since the June court decision, membership is still up 2.2 percent. "Janus [v. AFSCME] did have an impact," Unger says, "but we've been changing, adapting and growing."

Lawmakers Seek to Ban Pet Rent: Fido and Fluffy don't have money. Soon, they may not have to pay rent. Three Oregon legislators—Reps. Rob Nosse (D-Portland), Karin Power (D-Milwaukie) and Tawna Sanchez (D-Portland)—filed a bill Jan. 29 that proposes to outlaw "pet rent." House Bill 2683 "prohibits landlords that allow pets from charging tenants additional rent or fees based on possession of pets." Power says it's an attempt to quash unfair penalization for animal ownership. The bill is the latest addition to an ambitious legislative agenda this session to keep rents from spiking further in Oregon.

Measles Outbreak Spreads: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency late last week over a measles outbreak centered in Vancouver, Wash., that had grown to 36 confirmed cases by press deadline. The outbreak of the disease, considered eradicated in the U.S., has been spurred by low vaccination rates in Clark County. At least one Multnomah County resident was infected, and health officials said exposure sites included the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry on Jan. 19.