Murmurs: Treasurer Pushes Back on Divestment Bill

In other news: Justice Department probes Taft Home.

TREASURER PUSHES BACK ON DIVESTMENT BILL: Three lawmakers, Reps. Khanh Pham (D-Portland) and Mark Gamba (D-Milwaukie) and Sen. Jeff Golden (D-Ashland), are sponsoring legislation that would force the Oregon State Treasury to divest from certain fossil fuel investments. But State Treasurer Tobias Read pushed back against House Bill 2601 in a Jan. 18 letter to lawmakers, noting that the treasury’s job is to maximize returns for pensioners to whom the state’s $91 billion in investments belong. Read says dumping carbon stocks could weaken results and require larger contributions from government employers, reducing basic services. “Statutorily limiting the investment opportunities of the Oregon Public Employee Retirement Fund—no matter how well-intentioned—will lead to lower returns, higher employer rates, and a less robust retirement for thousands of Oregonians,” Read writes. The lawmakers defended their bill. Golden noted Oregon invests more heavily in opaque private equity funds than other states; Gamba disputed fossil fuels are a good investment; and Pham defended the Legislature’s oversight role. “This bill is about ensuring the long-term health of our state’s investments,” Pham said. “It’s about making our state and its residents more resilient to the climate crisis.”

PUBLIC DEFENSE OVERSEERS WANT PAY BUMP: High caseloads and low pay are driving out Oregon’s public defenders, and the result is a criminal justice system in crisis. There aren’t enough attorneys to represent every defendant. Responsibility for fixing that problem lies with the state Office of Public Defense Services, which doles out contracts to local nonprofits and lawyers. The office is asking for pay increases—not just for public defenders, but also its own oversight commission. Commissioners would be paid $151 per diem for positions once filled by volunteers, similar to the pay of other state commissioners. “We want to build and support a commission that can elevate the perspectives of the communities we serve and bring diverse points of view to public policy,” office spokeswoman Autumn Shreve tells WW. The office has been roiled by turmoil in recent months. After its executive director, Stephen Singer, angered Chief Justice Martha L. Walters, the judge dissolved the office’s oversight commission and appointed a new one—which promptly fired Singer and promoted Multnomah County public defender Jessica Kampfe to replace him. Kampfe has proposed not just commissioner stipends, which would require legislative approval, but also attorney retention payments and an improved case management system.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PROBES TAFT HOME: WW has learned the Oregon Department of Justice’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit is conducting an investigation into the Taft Home, the Southwest Portland residential care home for low-income and disabled seniors that closed in December 2021 after repeated violations of care, safety and sanitary rules. The probe is in its 10th month, DOJ says. WW chronicled the decline of the Taft Home—and how some residents fared poorly after the shutdown—in a July 2022 cover story. The home was run by privately owned Concepts in Community Living, which operates facilities in Oregon, Washington and California. The investigation includes the company’s other Oregon operations. CCL did not respond to a request for comment.

HOSPICE REOPENS AFTER LONG CLOSURE: Hopewell House, the pioneering hospice in Hillsdale, reopened Jan. 23 after a four-year closure. Prior to shuttering in 2019, Hopewell House operated for 30 years, serving 10,000 people. Supporters of the 12-bed facility raised $5 million to buy it from Legacy Health and refurbish the manor house and 4-acre property. Hopewell House is the only licensed end-of-life care facility in the three metro-area counties. Supporters of the hospice movement have long maintained it’s more humane and far cheaper than dying in a hospital. Executive director Lesley Sacks says care at Hopewell House will cost about 10% of an equivalent hospital stay. “People are seeking choices and support in how they will spend their final days,” Sacks says. “This is especially important with the silver tsunami of baby boomers.”

CASCADE STATION KICKS OUT PDX LIQUOR AFTER CRIME SPREE: Managers of Cascade Station are kicking out the upscale shopping plaza’s liquor store, according to Saleem Noorani, president of the Associated Liquor Stores of Oregon. The airport mall told Malik Pirani, manager of PDX Liquor and Wine, that it would not be renewing his lease due to a “high number of break-ins,” Noorani told the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission last week. “It breaks my heart,” he said, before reading a prepared statement from Pirani, who told commissioners that daily shoplifting, a string of four overnight break-ins, and repeated threats to staff had forced him to spend $50,000 a year on armed security guards. In the end, they weren’t enough. Management refused to renew Pirani’s five-year lease. Noorani asked the OLCC to consider reimbursing Noorani for his $750,000 investment in the store. “It’s through no fault of his own that he’s being driven out of business,” Noorani said. Cascade Station management declined to comment.