Legislature Roundup: The 2017 Session in Review With Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson and Senator Sara Gelser.

July 10th, 2017: 

Jefferson: You’re listening to XRAY. I’m Jefferson Smith. Joining us now, Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson here to discuss results from the 2017 legislative session. Welcome to the show. Good morning Senator.

Senator Monnes Anderson: Good morning Jeff. Glad to be on the air.

Jefferson: What are the two things you’re proudest of from the session?

Senator Monnes Anderson: I would say the two proudest things, because I chair the Senate Health Care Committee and I’m a retired healthcare nurse, is covering all kids, and women’s reproductive health equity act. Those are the two.

Jefferson: Let’s delve into those just for a moment. Who was uncovered when we were covering all kids? ‘Cause I remember when Ted Kulongoski was Governor he campaigned on covering all kids and there was a bill passed that reportedly did that. Who was being left out and who were you able to add this session?

Senator Monnes Anderson: Well, the ones who were left out are many of the kids that are homeless, many of the immigrant children, the ones who do not have resident status. There’s about 50,000 kids that were not covered and this bill will now cover them.

Jefferson: And what’s the mechanism? Help me with my ignorance. So, before they weren’t covered because of what? They didn’t have health insurance, they weren’t able to go to the hospital, and now if they go there-

Senator Monnes Anderson: They didn’t have health insurance. Many don’t go because they’re afraid of the cost and they wait until the last minute and then their complications get every worse. So, this is just a really good boon. When you have a kid that doesn’t have health insurance or get healthcare they then don’t do well in school, and it affects the whole family. So I’m excited about that one.

Jefferson: And so now if there’s a kid living in homelessness or if there a child from a family of immigrants and this kid might not know they have health insurance, maybe their parents don’t know they have health insurance, how will they know to access this? Do we just communicate with them or they show up at the hospital and we say, “Yeah, come on in, it’s okay.” How do we actually see to it that this works?

Senator Monnes Anderson: That’s gonna be a tough issue because a lot of them do not access even TV. So there needs to be a media campaign and I think word of mouth. I know that public health nurses that go out into the community and talk with the at-risk families will spread the word and say. “Hey, your visit will be covered, you just need to get that kid in.”

Jefferson: Reproductive Health Equity Act. Explain.

Senator Monnes Anderson: Basically all Oregonians in my mind need to have access to the full spectrum of reproductive health services and that includes family planning, abortion, and postpartum care. And it should not matter at all what their income is, what their gender identity is, the type of insurance they have, or their citizenship status. So this legislation will address those critical gaps in the access to reproductive healthcare.

Jefferson: What bills did people put forward that you thought might happen? What good stuff were you rooting for didn’t happen?

Senator Monnes Anderson: I was rooting for a revenue package although we did some wonderful work with transportation and cost containment, but I did want a revenue package. Then I also had a personal bill for the deaf population in the state. Those are the two that I worked on that I was little bit upset with.

Jefferson: I want to get into the revenue one, but explain the other bill. I think you said “deaf.”

Senator Monnes Anderson: Yeah, deaf. My sister was born deaf. My mom had the measles and she was born deaf. She now lives in New York. The services for the deaf community is far greater in other states, but Oregon is just dismal in providing the care, the resources for the deaf. We don’t even have captions for our legislative work, and it’s hard to get interpreters when the deaf come in and want to be a part of the political process. But there are other things in the community too and I think that because we’re one of the worst states in the nation in providing resources for the deaf, I’m hoping, and I will go back, this is the third session, we’re making small inroads. We do have now an advisory committee that is comprised of deaf and the hard of hearing. And so I’m excited about that working. But, this was a budget year where we didn’t have revenue and new programs aren’t very popular in the budget committee.

Jefferson: And you were hoping to get dough so there would be interpreters, there would be sign language, there would be captions?

Senator Monnes Anderson: Yeah, I’d like captions, at least for the legislative process. But there needs to be a better system for the deaf to get interpreters. It is law that we should be providing that but we don’t have the resources for it.

Jefferson: Let’s talk about the revenue package. My question is, is there any hope? I understand the challenge of passing it. But is there any hope. And if you don’t want to go to that hope yet, I’m also curious did you have hope as it was happening, when did you think it might happen, and what made it not happen?

Senator Monnes Anderson: I had hope that it was going to happen. I really did. I think that the Revenue Committee and Senator Mark Hass really had some great options provided to the legislature. The thing is, we took on a whole lot of big issues. Transportation was one and of course the Provider Tax was one. So those two bills we needed to have three-fifths majority and that means we didn’t get the votes. We got the votes for transportation. We got the votes for the Provider Tax. But as we got along I saw, okay it was a struggle getting enough votes for those two packages, I was seeing that Revenue was probably not gonna make it.

Jefferson: One way I heard this characterized was that, for Beider Courtenay, he is saying the transportation package is a necessity. He’s saying a Provider Tax is a necessity or near necessity. He’s saying the Revenue Package as a really nice thing to do. Therefore, from that conception that it was kind of third priority. Do you share that characterization as accurate and whether or not it’s accurate do you agree with it? Another way of asking that is, if you had to pick, Provider Tax plus Transportation Package, gas tax stuff, you get both of those, OR you get a corporate tax to pay for schools, etc., which would have chosen if you had to?

Senator Monnes Anderson: Wow! Oh, man. That’s a tough one because we had been working on transportation for years and the business community, the rural communities are clamoring for adequate roads so they can move their products across the roads. There is congestion unbelievable. So transportation just had been in the queue for a long time. I cannot prioritize just because revenue is so critical to our education system and our healthcare system. And I was hoping we could do it all, but we took on a lot and unfortunately we weren’t able to get it. But I still have hope, I really do. And I’m hoping that next time around we’re gonna be able to get the business community more involved where they can really support some kind of a corporate tax.

Jefferson: Is there any truth to the impression that to some degree when they’re whipping votes, when they are prioritizing the caucus agenda, that the transportation package and provider tax were viewed as slightly higher priority, as greater legislative necessities than a corporate revenue package?

Senator Monnes Anderson: Absolutely it was in the legislative process. We needed to balance the budget and we needed a transportation package and so the provider tax was necessary or else 350,000 Oregonians would have lost their insurance. So it was, transportation and provider tax was first and second.

Jefferson: So explain the provider tax. Who gets taxed and what does it pay for?

Senator Monnes Anderson: Mm-hmm.. Who gets taxed? The hospitals and the providers and the coordinated care organizations.

Jefferson: And who are providers? Are providers doctors, or are providers other things that are kind of like hospitals, like clinics?

Senator Monnes Anderson: All of the above. They are providers, they’re clinics, yes.

Jefferson: And it seems like passing that was easier because the other hypothesis somebody could say, “Well, Jeff, no. It wasn’t that the provider tax and transportation package were higher priorities. It’s that they were easier to pass.” And whether or not it’s one of the other, let’s imagine for a moment, or at least ask the question, is it a little easier to pass provider tax than a corporate tax and if so, how come? What are the politics like around the provider tax?

Senator Monnes Anderson: The provider tax, it’s a bipartisan issue. Healthcare is a bipartisan issue. People don’t like to see people not get health care. And so we needed to balance the budget, number one, but two we don’t want to see people go without healthcare. That is a nonpartisan issue. So the provider tax would be easier to get votes for. And then transportation is a bipartisan issue too because both parties found that to be extremely important. When you get the taxes, like the corporate tax, that’s a partisan issue so that’s why it was number three, although I still have hope that we’ll get some bipartisan support next time around when we address this.

Jefferson: You, me, and Barack Obama would all love if your line that healthcare is a bipartisan issue translated to national politics. How much is Obamacare wrapped up in this stuff, the Affordable Care Act or the new Republican proposal. How much is what you all just did in legislative session anticipating whatever the Feds might do and/or what might we still have to be ready for?

Senator Monnes Anderson: I am very nervous about what’s going to happen at the Federal level, very nervous. I do not… It I scary to think that some of our Federal money will not be coming into the state of Oregon to help us pay for our healthcare system. That is why it was so important to pass that Reproductive Health Equity Act now because we don’t know what’s happening in Washington, D.C. But I am hoping that there are enough bipartisan support to defeat getting rid of the Affordable Care Act. That would be devastating to this state and we would probably have to go back into special session to balance the budget.

Jefferson: So we talked a couple of things you’re really proud of, a couple of things that you were hoping for that didn’t happen. What about bad stuff that got blocked? Because I know there will be some people that said “Listen, if Democrats get sent down to Salem and they tax bicycles and don’t tax corporations, why the heck do we even elect Democrats?” What stuff that was proposed that you think would’ve happened that was at risk of happening had your team not been in control of the legislature. What bad stuff got blocked?

Senator Monnes Anderson: I hadn’t thought about that Jeff. I am most concerned about healthcare and veteran’s issues and they tend to be bipartisan. I’m trying to think of what would have happened. I do want to have reform but the courts have said that we can’t do anything about those that are already retired. So it’s very difficult to come up with any kind of reform that I think if the Democrats weren’t in control there were have been some draft measures that would have really hurt our public employees.

Jefferson: In addition to the bill to help people who are deaf, what other stuff that was coming across the transom that didn’t get quite done? Any other still to-dos? You mentioned the Revenue Package, there will still be discussions about that. Anything else that you see as, “Well, it didn’t get done but that doesn’t mean the conversation is over.”

Senator Monnes Anderson: We need to adequately fund education. We’re limping along and without a revenue package, of course we’re not going to be able to address the need for funding our community colleges, our universities, and our K-12 at an adequate level. I would have liked to have seen more money to help low income women, getting funding to help those women and men too and families, help them so that they can at least have an adequate income to stay in a home. Housing did not pass and … Like rent control is what they call it, but it’s really rent stabilization, as well as people getting evicted. So housing was a huge problem. And we thought we could get it passed in the Senate but we weren’t able to get 16 votes. Housing actually is the number one priority for me in the next couple of sessions because here I live in Gresham and we have the highest density of poverty in the state. And when I was campaigning that was the number one issue, rent and housing. People were being displaced. Seniors, as well as families, actually being displaced. Companies coming in and raising rent. Housing is probably the number on sad point, besides the revenue package, that we weren’t able to accomplish.

Jefferson: Let’s leave it there. Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson, thank you for being with us.

Senator Monnes Anderson: Thank you.


Jefferson: We are joined by the mother of dragons, Sara Gelser, state senator from Corvallis. Good morning.

Senator Gelser: Good morning!

Jefferson: The legislative session is over. What are two things you’re proudest of?

Senator Gelser: I’m very proud of some reforms that we passed for the Department of Human Services as it relates to keeping kids safer in our child welfare system, and a bill that ends shackling of children in juvenile court proceedings and when they are being transferred…

Jefferson: Shackling? You put shackles on their hands and feet?

Senator Gelser: Yes, or belly chains of kids as young as eight. We’re not going to do that anymore. And then we also passed a law that I introduced that adds the rape shield to civil cases so that if a person has been sexually assaulted and she or he brings a lawsuit against their attacker, their personal sexual history is not allowed to be admitted as evidence. That’s an important piece of progress to bring us in line with most of the rest of the country.

Jefferson: I want to get to that one. But I do want to ask a question. How old do you have to be now to be shackled? Who can be shackled, and who can’t be shackled?

Senator Gelser: Well, if you’re a danger to yourself or others you can still be shackled regardless of your age, but what this means is that kids will no longer be shackled in court, and in order to be shackled the court has to make a finding that it is necessary to protect that child or youth or others based on the actual behavior of the individual. Not based on assumptions.

Jefferson: Who used to get shackled who is no longer going to get shackled? I think what you just said is kids?

Senator Gelser: Correct. I first became interested in this when I was in a court hearing for a boy who was I believe 11, and was in a juvenile detention facility because he could not access mental health treatment, and there was no foster home for him. He was shackled at the ankles, the wrists, and with a belly chain every time he went into court to find out if there was a foster home for him to move into. That would no longer happen to a child in that circumstance. I spent some time doing charitable service working at the Department of Youth Services, and I coached a basketball team, and I had to pick up a kid for the basketball games, and he was in shackles. We had to unlock him to take him to the game.

Jefferson: Wow.

Senator Gelser: Yeah. Now they won’t get shackled in less there’s some finding of fact.

Jefferson: Do adults get shackled?

Senator Gelser: Yes, but typically not in court. I mean, this really impacted two specific places. In court, because there’s an idea that viewing someone in shackles is very prejudicial. Then we were also chaining kids when they were being transitioned from maybe the Children’s Farm Home to the Perry Center or from a psychiatric residential treatment facility to a foster home. That will not happen anymore either.

Jefferson: Alright. What didn’t get done this session? So far we’re heard the two biggies, and I will say that as a Portlander if there were two magic wands that a lot of our listeners could wave, they would have waved it for two things. One would have been doing something about housing and no cause evictions and rents, and the other would be doing something about school funding and corporate taxes.  I am guessing that if our listeners had two magic wands to wave they would have waved those two. Those two things didn’t happen.

Senator Gelser: That is true. I will say that the housing … We worked so hard on housing. After April 18th that is pretty much where all of my efforts went. There were a couple of days where I thought that we were going to get there, but in the end we were only able to get to 15 votes, and that is not enough to pass it into law, and we’ll have to come back and keep working on that. It really is a crisis for many people around the state. Certainly corporate tax reform, both in terms of the structure. I think Senator Hass did a really great job on the corporate activities tax proposal. I would have liked to have seen us move forward on that and have more money not just for education but also for really critical services at the department of human services, which nobody ever talks about because it doesn’t pull well. I would say if your listeners had a third magic wand I hope that some of them would have used it for some of the climate change legislation because once again we really came up short on making meaningful progress there.

Jefferson: Let’s deal with these in turn. Let’s deal with housing first. You said it came to 15 votes. Remind people how many democrats there are in the state senate.

Senator Gelser: 17.

Jefferson: Okay, and I assume there were no republicans.

Senator Gelser: Correct.

Jefferson: Okay, so one could say well the thing that needs to happen is there needs to be more democrats, fewer republicans because at least the ratio of democrats is higher.

Senator Gelser: Suffice it to say we worked really hard to get the 15 votes, and we didn’t start with 15. When I got the bill in my committee we had a long way to go, and I’m proud of the progress that we made. I just am sorry we didn’t tip it over the line. Someone that has not gotten a lot of credit for working really hard is actually Ginny Burdick. Worked and worked and worked to try to get people to come on board, and I think she’s been behind the scenes. There are many people that think she was in the way, but I time and again was so grateful for how hard she was working up until the very last weekend to get that to the floor.

We were pretty far away when the bill came over to the senate. I was sad to see that go. We did add some pieces that were not in the original bill from 2004 that I was really proud of including a provision about retaliation, so that if a tenant made a request for a repair that went to a health and safety standard or a code violation you could not issue an eviction for a period of time after that. Because we’ve heard from so many people at the listening sessions that there was a concern that they were getting eviction notices as retaliation. To be fair, the idea for adding that provision in actually came from landlords. What was interesting about the listening session and really about the hearing that we had in the senate, there were some of the people that came out, some of the landlords and tenants really had some really great conversations afterwards. Some of these mom and pop kind of folks that have one or two places that were going over and offering to help folks who had been really badly treated by some landlords.

I don’t know that there was any way to get to a 16th vote as long as there was change in reform around no cause eviction, and I think to me 2004 that came over the most important piece was putting restriction on no cause eviction. I’m not sure how we get there in the short session. I think that’s probably a long session conversation, which is unfortunate and frustrating because I know that families are living with a great deal of uncertainty and fear wondering if they’ll come home and see that note on their door.

For me one of the saddest moments of the session was when we had a little girl sitting on the floor who had been no cause evicted and she was removed from the floor on the basis that she might have an interest in the housing bill. She’s seven years old, and she’d been evicted from her home, and then she was removed from the floor of her state senate. To me that was a very sad commentary on where this whole discussion went.

Jefferson: It’s an important discussion. Because if you had one republican it would have been done. If you had one or two it would have been way easier for you to get up to 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 democrats because it wouldn’t feel like a partisan bill. What is keeping republicans from getting on board? They’ve got constituents that are having housing problems, too.

Senator Gelser: I think there’s a fundamental philosophical divide about what’s causing the housing crisis, and the republican caucus is focused more on supply as the root cause, and supply certainly is a problem. I think the issue around the no cause is that there is a lot of misinformation about how it’s used, and what you need to do to evict someone for cause. What we heard a lot about was if we gave tenants the protection of getting rid of the no cause eviction, then a landlord would then never be able to get rid of a drug dealer, someone that was a child molester that was harassing children in the unit because of the belief that it would be too hard to prove in court that these people were taking these actions, and that the other tenants would have to go to court and testify.

Jefferson: There are a number of people that also believe that argue that that no cause is more helpful for the tenants because it’s not on their record, but there really isn’t a record, and once you’ve evicted someone and someone calls you for a reference you’re going to tell them that you no cause evicted them. To me those are arguments that don’t hold water, but there is a widespread belief that those are true.

Senator Gelser: One of the things I would like to do in if February session is I would like to bring in some judges and attorneys that are not engaged in the legislative conversation and really talk through how does it work? How do you remove a tenant that is a problem, and what is that process really? What are the facts around that? I just don’t think I’m going and sitting in eviction court just to see it for myself, but I think we can spend some of the time in February to get some more facts on the table outside of the charged environment so that we can maybe make more progress next time.

Jefferson: Climate change. You brought it up. You mentioned that climate change didn’t see progress. What were you hoping would happen, and what didn’t happen?

Senator Gelser: Well, so many things. One, I was hoping that we would have a much more aggressive diesel bill. That really watered back and really just focused on school buses. I was really hoping that we could move forward on House Bill 2020 that really looked directly at emissions. I was hoping we would make more progress on the governor’s cleaner air Oregon proposal. I mean, just really up and down the board.

Jefferson: Let’s deal with those very quickly. Diesel, we did have a chance to talk to others about the diesel proposal. Basically diesel is dirty nasty stuff. Wanted to use the money from a recent settlement to pay for help to sort of grease the skids to then require there to be an upgrading of diesel engines, and then that didn’t happen. Instead, as you said, it got watered down, so it’s just dealing with school buses. I think I understand that one. Remind people or explain to people 2020.

Senator Gelser: House Bill 2020 would have created the Oregon Energy and Climate Board to oversee and advise the Oregon Department of Energy and Climate. We really would have renamed the department to include the word climate in it, as that’s something that we really need to talk about. It has great support from environmentalists, the office of the governor, but it got stuck as these things often do. I had visitors in my office. My office every day has been working every day for the last two weeks trying to see how we could get this revived.

Jefferson: It’s the same question. I mean, we’ve seen it in the past with banking regulations. We see it with gun control.

Senator Gelser: We actually did pass the extreme risk protective order which is a very good bill that will allow a gun or a firearm to be taken from or refuse sale to a person that is deemed an extreme risk to themselves or others, so a person that is suicidal, a person who’s making threats. It’s a bill that I really do think is going to save some lives in the very short term very quickly.

Jefferson: Any gun violence prevention priorities that failed to pass?

Senator Gelser: The Charleston loophole failed to pass. Kind of the ability for the boyfriend, the non intimate partner, to be able to go out and buy a firearm if there’s a restraining order. That was a disappointment.

Jefferson: On the politics around climate change, to me it does seem similar maybe to my question about the rent control or the rent stabilization or the no cause eviction bill, that even with democrats in control it still does feel a little bit like the Charlie Brown going to the ball, and the ball getting pulled away each time. Maybe there’s progress being made that people don’t see. What needs to change in the conversation, the political dynamic, because we do not have… Unlike the days of Tom McCall, we do not have a prominent environmentalist republican who can work with some democrats to create a statewide consensus. What has to happen to change the political dynamic in the state so that we can do more leading the way around climate change and the environment?

Senator Gelser: You know, I think we need to continue building coalitions in the community so that that becomes one of the top priorities that constituents are talking to their legislators about. In a district like mine I hear that a lot. I know that’s a key priority for the people that I represent. That is not true for the majority of members in the legislature, so we really need to change that dialogue. You probably remember this from being in the legislature, we come in and it’s like this feast of things that we can get done, and there’s a calendar and a period of time and so many votes that people can take. It really is a matter of what gets prioritized. I think electing more environmentalists to the legislature is we’re out doing, greeting, and looking at those republican races as well.

Jefferson: You said something important that I want to flag. That even if you had the same vote composition, that if you had a couple more loud and proud environmentalists it can move things up the priority list.

Senator Gelser: I think so, yeah. I mean, I think things move through. As members go in they’re committed to a lot of things. Our values are where they are, but you need people that have the expertise and the passion to really drive those things through to the end. Sometimes, you know, if you look at some of the child welfare work that I’ve done that’s hard work. We passed them unanimously in the end, but it’s because you have a couple people that work really hard on them in the background to get them ready to go. You need that for the environment, and you need enough people to be able to push that over the edge and make that their top priority, so they’re telling their presiding officer, “I can’t go home until we get this thing done.” You can’t, and you remember this from being a member, you can’t say I have to do everything I believe in or else I can’t go home, or you’re not going to get anything.

Everybody really does have to boil it down to that one or two things that caused them to run and put their shoulder behind that.

Jefferson: Senator Sara Gelser, thank you so much for joining us, and thanks for your service.

Senator Gelser: Alright. Thanks. Nice to talk to you, Jefferson.