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Education, climate change, health care on lawmakers’ agenda

January 22, 2019
A man walks by the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore., Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, the first day of the Legislature's 2019 session. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Legislature convened Tuesday for the 2019 session, aiming to improve the state’s lagging public schools — and find the revenue to accomplish that, address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and promote access to health care and housing.

Democrats who control both the Senate and the House of Representatives say they have stretched out a hand to Republicans to bridge the partisan divide.

Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, said lawmakers are building consensus on land use in eastern Oregon. He highlighted a Senate bill on Tuesday that allows counties in the sparsely populated, predominantly Republican region to designate up to 50 acres outside urban growth boundaries for industrial and other employment uses.

The bill was sponsored by Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, and Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena. Courtney has said he wants legislation to benefit the entire state of Oregon.

Rep. Carl Wilson, leader of House Republicans, warned on Friday that they would try to block legislation they deem dangerous to rural Oregon’s economic health.

Legislation to cut statewide carbon emissions is a top priority, Dembrow told reporters. Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels is the biggest component of greenhouse gases that are warming the planet.

“You’ll see it as a priority for the governor, the House and as well for the Senate,” Dembrow said.

One of the challenges in doing a carbon pricing program is to not cause manufacturers in Oregon to move to other states with no, or more lax, greenhouse-gas emissions standards.

“Global warming is a global problem, and so our preference would be to create a program where they can be kept in state, under the program, and put on a steady (emissions) reduction diet over time,” Dembrow said. A third-party analysis will be incorporated into the bill that determined which high-emissions manufacturers wouldn’t be able to compete if the carbon pricing program was instituted too abruptly, Dembrow said.

The Legislature’s joint committee on carbon reduction hopes to have draft legislation ready by the end of January, Dembrow said.

Gov. Kate Brown has a $2 billion education investment package, in addition to her base budget, in her proposed state budget that would require some type of tax increase. Priorities are for early childhood education, increasing the school year to 180 days, increasing the high school graduation rate, and technical education.

Payments into the unfunded liability of the state’s public pension system, known as PERS, will inevitably siphon off some education funding, Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, told reporters Tuesday.

“Whatever we invest in our K-12 system, or even our higher ed system, won’t buy us as much— in terms of teachers, in terms of classroom days — because of the ever-increasing percentage of employer payments into the PERS system,” Steiner Hayward said.

A health care financing package for the Medicaid recipients is critical and will start in the House, Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, who is the chairwoman of the health care committee, told reporters.

Speaking at the opening of the Senate, Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, cited words penned by Langston Hughes that read: “Keep your hand on the plow; hold on.”

“I think that’s appropriate for us as we begin this session,” Frederick said.

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

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