Local lawmakers came together Thursday morning, Dec. 7, to discuss their plans for the upcoming legislative short session while also answering questions from the East Multnomah County business community.
The third-annual legislative breakfast was hosted by the East Metro Economic Alliance at Heidi's of Gresham, 1230 N.E. Cleveland Ave. The event was sponsored by McDonald & Wetle Roofing & Sheetmetal.
About 50 people listened to the panel, made up of Reps. Janelle Bynum (D-Happy Valley), Carla Piluso (D-Gresham) and Jeff Reardon (D-Portland), and Sens. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River), Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham), Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) and Lew Fredrick (D-Portland).
"We are pleased to have all of you here," said Sue O'Halloran, president of EMEA. "We want to use this as a chance for you (the elected officials) to hear our voices and know our concerns."
Here's what lawmkers had to say in response to questions asked by Jarvez Hall, executive director of EMEA, who served as moderator:
QUESTION: How have changes in the federal tax policy affected Oregon?
RESPONSE: Most agreed there remains a level of uncertainty as to what the future will hold with the federal government in terms of decisions and changes to be made.
"I am most concerned about eliminating the Affordable Care Act," Monnes Anderson said. "We need revenue to make sure our most vulnerable are cared for."
The majority of the panel was opposed to the new federal tax bill, viewing it as an attack on programs across the state. Some said the resulting drop of federal revenue will force the state to pick up the slack.
QUESTION: What is the status of Oregon adopting cap-and-trade regulations to reduce emissions? Cap-and-trade is a common means of reducing air pollution by putting limits on greenhouse gas emissions in exchange for limits or caps on compliance costs.
RESPONSE: Dealing with climate change is one of Dembrow's central interests.
"We are not on track to meet our goals as a state on reducing greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "We are seeing the effects of climate change every day, and reports show it will only speed up."
Dembrow held up California as an example of a cap-and-trade system that works, where the program has been in place since 2012 and was recently renewed with support from every county chamber of commerce.
California's solutions low greenhouse gas emissions and stimulated economic growth, Dembrow said.
"We don't want to leave this problem for our children or grandchildren," he added.
QUESTION: How can businesses and business owners get involved earlier in the legislative process?
RESPONSE: The panel agreed that one of the best ways for people to get involved is by attending informal discussions that are held by the elected officials. Some hold discussions every month, while others are more frequent in their sessions.
"All of us have some sort of event, come and talk politics with us," Fredrick said. "You don't have to have a formal process to talk with us."
Another way to stay connected, track the progress of a bill and watch committee meetings is through the Oregon Legislative Information System, which is available at https://olis.leg.state.or.us/.
QUESTION: What is being done to support students, including improvements to the Oregon high school graduation rate?
RESPONSE: Some on the panel discussed the importance of continuing to grow career and technical education, streamlining students to flow into the work force.
Others, however, said a balance must be struck in case the jobs the students are being trained for no longer exist in five years.
In addition to the work being done at the schools, the panel said that addressing instability of families can also make a big difference in reducing dropout rates.