Lawmakers outline their priorities
The senators talked about civility, the representatives highlighted issues during a forum sponsored by the Westside Economic Alliance.
Two of the eight senators and six of the 10 representatives whose districts take in parts of Washington County spoke at the Jan. 17 forum at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin.
They were asked to give brief comments about their priorities on committees. There were no questions from the audience that required all of them to offer responses to a common topic.
The 2019 session got underway on Jan. 22 and is scheduled to close June 30.
Sen. Kim Thatcher of Keizer, whose district extends into southern Washington County, has been in the majority and the minority — and a 30-30 House — during her 14 years. She's one of three Republicans remaining in the delegation.
"When I first got in the Legislature, I imagined it was going to be partisan bickering all the time because of what you read in the paper or hear on the radio or see on TV. I thought it was going to be nasty conflict all the time," she said.
"Thankfully, it is not that way in the Oregon Legislature. I am not talking about the federal level."
Thatcher said there are disagreements, and not along party lines.
"But we figure it out," she said. "That is what we are going to do as we move forward in this session."
Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, said the public should take heed.
Wagner, who starts a full four-year term after he succeeded Richard Devlin of Tualatin last year, has already drawn nasty comments for his introduction of gun-safety legislation (Senate Bill 501) based on 10 points presented by high school students in his home city.
"This is a moment to educate students about how to come together to talk about issues," he said. "I am standing up for those kids who came to me with their bill concept."
Thatcher is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which generates many bills and has a big workload. Wagner, a first-termer, is co-chair of the Legislature's budget subcommittee on general government and a full member of the budget committee.
Six representatives talked about their committee assignments and personal priorities.
Rep. Susan McLain, D-Forest Grove, is co-chair of the Legislature's budget subcommittee on education in her third term.
"I want to be on the budget committee because if we are going to have tax reform and ask for new resources, we've got to demonstrate we are doing a good job looking at what we have and what is and is not working well," said McLain, a former teacher.
Rep. Margaret Doherty, D-Tigard, is in her fifth term — and also a former teacher who will lead the House Education Committee for a third time.
She wants to see if mental health specialists can reach children earlier in school. "The special education staffers, the nurses and the teachers cannot handle the kinds of problems we are having now in schools," Doherty said.
Doherty also said she is interested in boosting Oregon's high school graduation rate by re-engaging students who have dropped out.
"Tigard High School does a great job of getting them back and finding out what issues they need to deal with to get their GED," she said.
Oregon's 2018 graduation rate was just under 79 percent — still among the lowest in the nation — but Doherty said the five-year rate is 83 percent. She also said that 44 states have fewer requirements than Oregon does for graduation.
Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, sits on the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction — which is expected to produce a carbon-pricing plan — and also leads the House Energy and Environment Committee.
"The issue I'll be working on most is to continue to do what I have been doing for the past three years -- to address climate change in this state and figure out a reasonable way to price carbon for us," said Helm, who is in his third term. "We are very close."
Health and education
The other Democratic representatives at the forum were Sheri Schouten of Beaverton — she married Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten before she started her second term — and newcomers Courtney Neron of Wilsonville and Rachel Prusak of West Linn.
Among Schouten's bills is a proposal for a statewide drug-takeback program, paid for by drug manufacturers, to make sure medications are disposed of safely and do not end up in treated wastewater discharged into streams.
She also said she would like to pursue solutions to opioid abuse.
She is a former public health nurse.
Prusak, who unseated Republican Julie Parrish of West Linn, also is a nurse who specialized in home care for older people. She has been assigned to the House Health Care Committee.
"I can bring to that committee the lens of somebody who serves the most vulnerable people in our communities," she said.
Neron, who unseated Republican Richard Vial of Scholls, has taught at Tigard and Tualatin high schools. She has been assigned to the House Education Committee led by Doherty.
"I am increasingly motivated to address education issues and make sure that we as a state are responding to the great responsibility our state has taken on to fund our students," she said.