During the COVID-19 shutdowns, thousands of businesses across the state were shuttered. Workers and employers alike have struggled to make ends meet, even after the most significant shutdowns were lifted.
On top of the devastating loss of income, small business owners are required to pay the new Commercial Activity Tax, which Portland-area legislators passed in 2019. My caucus and I fought hard to have the implementation of this tax delayed because so many are going to be unable to afford the new obligation. Unfortunately, because Portland-area leaders control all the levers of power in Oregon, we were unsuccessful in obtaining a delay in the tax. I intend to continue fighting this and other taxes in these difficult times caused by government shut-downs of the private economy. Our economy needs government help, not additional government harm, to heal from the damage caused by the virus and our response to it.
The distance learning model currently being used in our schools is the best possible under the governor’s orders, but it is unfortunately not adequate for many of our kids. Approximately 10% of Medford’s students never logged in to the online learning classes last spring. Clearly, many of our students will struggle with the online learning platform and all will suffer from lack of access to activities and athletics. When I was on the Medford School Board, our goal was to make sure that every child had a meaningful school experience and was prepared to go to college or work when they graduated. The new challenges of distance learning mean we have to be even more diligent to ensure our schools don’t fail our kids. I have confidence in our teachers and administrators and I will do everything possible to ensure that our area has everything we need from the state level.
One of my main focuses on the House Education Committee is to integrate Oregon’s secondary school curricula with our college programs. I know, as many of you do, that Math 111 is the most often failed college course in Oregon. This is directly correlated to the inadequate math curriculum and learning at the high school level. Oregon kids coming out of Oregon high schools should be able to pass Oregon college classes. I am working with the Presidents of Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University to address the need for better math education.
The COVID-19 Pandemic showed like never before the importance of government agency accountability to the people. Government agencies like the Employment Department (OED), the DMV, and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) are executive agencies, meaning that they are run by the governor’s office. Agencies are set up to execute laws passed by the legislature. Sadly, many of the agency failures in the pandemic were foreseeable. In particular, OED failed to pay tens of thousands of Oregonians the unemployment benefits they were owed because of COVID-19 shutdowns. Mismanagement of this particular agency dates back years. In 2009, an $85.6 million federal grant was awarded to the Department to upgrade its outdated computer systems. The funds were not spent, and the systems were not improved. The director has announced that the department will not complete these upgrades until 2025, so claims will continue to be paid on the current, outdated system.
I work every day to hold these agencies accountable. I serve on the Transparency Commission, where we made every agency’s budget available to the public. We are working on computer upgrades to make them more easily searchable. My staff and I are also still working to get your neglected unemployment claims paid. We will be available to assist you until every COVID-19 related claim has been cleared from the backlog and the pandemic is resolved.
The tragic fires of September 2020 have highlighted like never before the urgent need to address our gross mismanagement of our forest lands. Oregonians have always been proud of our clean air and beautiful landscapes. Instead of fighting to preserve what makes our state unique, we’ve heard we can only sit back and “let it burn”. However, a more effective solution is to eliminate excess fuel by responsibly and sustainably harvested timber.
In July 2020, we passed Senate Bill 1602, which codifies an agreement forged between the timber industry and environmental groups. This new law requires all sides to participate in a mediated process to pursue changes to the Oregon Forest Practices Act. Interest groups have agreed to stand down from pursuing initiative petitions and filing lawsuits against each other. This legislation will provide more certainty and a durable framework for future disputes.
This is a good first step in mending the relationship between foresters and environmental activists who have been warring about forestry best practices for decades. I will be watching the mediation process very carefully and working with both sides to make sure that Oregon can move from the timber wars to creating balance so that we can enjoy truly healthy forests and benefit from our most abundant natural resource.