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Councilors, mayor ask state representative to push for funding for the Newberg-Dundee bypass

In less than a month representatives from around the state will convene in Salem for the 2017 regular legislative session. Newberg's local representatives, state Rep. Bill Post and state Sen. Kim Thatcher, recently updated the City Council on what they anticipate and plan to accomplish during the lawmaking session.

Post, who recently won re-election for House District 25 that encompasses Newberg and St. Paul, described growing misunderstandings among the public over what is actually being proposed within the state budget. Gov. Kate Brown has referred to a $1.7 billion shortfall in the budget and has described cost-saving measures that will likely need to be employed to fill that gap.Post

But Post took issue with the notion that there's a shortfall.

"There's a lot of confusion, people talk about the governor's budget … it is not a budget, it's the governor's wish list," he said at a council meeting last month. "We're not held to it, we don't have to follow it, we could toss it in the garbage ..."

The governor's budget reflects "what we would like to have if we could have everything," Post said. But because it's still so preliminary, he said he does not think there will be any cuts made, let alone the major cutbacks being floated in media reports.

Unsurprisingly, the Newberg-Dundee bypass came up more than once during Post's update.

"The mantra that I would like to have you pick up on, if you can, is 'We finish the project,'" Mayor Bob Andrews said.

Post said he's asked to have the bypass included in funding packages, but that his requests go unanswered because he's in the minority party as a Republican, and because his district votes consistently Republican rather than swinging left or right.

He also noted that one of the sticking points on bypass funding and a transportation package in general, is the low-carbon fuel standard. Extended by lawmakers during the 2015 legislative session, the program aims to reduce the amount of carbon in fuels by mixing cleaner fuel into gasoline and diesel.

It's also projected to raise the cost of fuel in Oregon due to the additive requirements, and Republicans in the Legislature who oppose the program have made repealing or weakening it a contingency for passage of a transportation package, which would likely also increase the cost of fuel through a gas tax.

Democrats are one vote shy of a three-fifths supermajority, which means they can't pass revenue-increasing legislation such as a gas tax increase without Republican support.

"So, yes, it's on the front burner," Post said of transportation funding. "Yes I want it done. But we have got to get some compromise to get to that transportation package, because it's not just here, it's the whole state."

Despite that obstacle, councilors still urged Post to promote and advocate for the bypass at the state level.

"I appreciate your concerns about carbon emissions and the fees and the cost of a gallon of gas, but down here at the city level, we're stuck," Councilor Patrick Johnson said, asking Post to "please, please consider us when you have your discussions down there at the Legislature." He also noted that the unintended consequence of drawing a line in the sand with the low-carbon fuel standard, is that drivers in Newberg will be stuck in traffic.

"Let's see if we can work our way around those things," Andrews said. "Maybe think outside the box, whatever the case may be."

Bill proposals

Although Post reminded the council he's sometimes referred to as "No Bills Bill," due to his aversion to proposing legislation, he brought up a few bills he's considering for this session. One bill would ease restrictions on buying psuedophedrine (cold medicine) in Oregon, removing the need for a prescription and bringing the process more in line with what is employed in Washington. Psuedophedrine is also one of the main components needed to make methamphetamine. The Legislature passed a bill in 2006 that required a prescription for pseudoephedrine and banned it from being sold over the counter.

Another bill would tighten up the emergency clause option that allows legislation to be speedily signed into law — the "emergency" would need to be more clearly articulated, Post said.

He's also considering proposing legislation that would define attacks on police officers and firefighters as hate crimes, "in light of what's happening across Oregon and America."

"Our police deserve better and we have police officers being assassinated now, and that really bothers me," Post said.

He brought up an idea he discussed prior to last year's legislative session but which proved "far too controversial" to be considered: creating a "pregnant women's assistance fund." It would take the money Oregon Health Plan (OHP) now uses to pay for abortion expenses, and instead make those funds available for costs that pregnant women incur, such as clothing, food and shelter. The program would have exceptions so OHP could continue to pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest or risk to the health of the mother, Post said.

Finally, he mentioned a bill that would create a "starting wage" paying less than minimum wage for short-term jobs. Post floated the idea of a job paying 85 percent of the local hourly wage for 90 days, in light of the minimum wage increases passed by the Legislature during the 2016 session.

"Our kids need to be hired, they're not going to get hired next year," he said. "The farmers in my community are telling me, 'I'm not going to hire those 16-year-old kids, I can't afford to.'"

Brief update from Thatcher

While she couldn't be at the council meeting due to illness, Thatcher sent a letter detailing some of the issues she anticipates during the upcoming session. A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thatcher said there is work on increasing the registry of predatory sex offenders (right now there are less than 500 offenders on the state website out of 29,000 altogether), and increasing ignition interlock device installations for drivers charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII).

On the Workforce Committee, Thatcher described an upcoming proposal that would require retail businesses to institute "predictable scheduling." That means workers would need to be given a schedule two weeks in advance, and if the employer does not stick to it the employer gets penalized. Additionally, if a worker gets called in to cover for someone else, the employer must pay an "on-call" bonus for calling the employee in on short notice.

Thatcher is also on the General Government and Accountability Committee, and said it will be looking at public records request reform in terms of cost to the public, and a timeframe for response from the public agency.

Finally, on the Joint Information Management and Technology Committee, work is focusing on cyber security for state agencies and local governments, particularly in light of what Thatcher identified as cyberattacks on eight state agencies in the past two years, which resulted in personal information being compromised.

The 2017 session kicks off Feb. 1.

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