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The bottom rung

ridenbaugh Northwest
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What's it like to live in Idaho on the minimum wage?

The people who actually have to do that don't get a lot of media attention; they don't heavily populate the ranks of broadcast spokesmen and interview subjects. We don't hear from them much.

Should be the job of news reporters to fill some of that gap, though that too seldom happens.

It has, however, in the case of a series of reports by the NPR-affiliated group State Impact, which has released online a series of stories under the heading, "Bottom Rung: Living On Low Wages In Idaho."

The cover page lead: "The share of Idaho workers earning minimum wage has grown from 5 percent in 2011 to 7.7 percent in 2012. The growth has put Idaho in the top spot for the largest share of minimum wage workers in the country."

That should give a taste of why this is important. Read the rest to get a fuller sense of it.

Weakening Oregon’s public meetings

ridenbaugh Northwest
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From testimony prepared for delivery by Sal Peralta, secretary of the Independent Party of Oregon, about a bill amending Oregon's public meeting law.

I am here today to testify on behalf of the Independent Party of Oregon in opposition to HB 3513.

Before addressing the substantive provisions of the bill, I would like to point out that Oregon ranks among the worst states in the nation with regard to “Public Access to Information”, according to the State Integrity Investigation, a project of Public Radio International and the Center for Public Integrity.

This bill would take a bad system and make it far worse. Short of an outright repeal, it is difficult to imagine a bill that would more effectively dismantle Oregon’s public meetings law.

The impetus behind this legislation appears to be a case that was settled in 2011, in which the Lane County Commission, and most particularly Commissioners Pete Sorenson and Rob Handy, were convicted of violating the state’s public meetings law for engaging a series of meetings and communications in 2009 that culminated in what Judge Michael Gillespie called a “sham vote” to approve a supplemental budget that hired part time assistants for the Lane County Commission.

I have attached a copy of the judge’s ruling in that case, as well as copies of numerous editorials and news stories that were published around the time that decision was reached that affirm the need for maintaining strong open meetings laws in Oregon.

Given the importance of the state’s public records law, I suspect that this
legislation will draw intense scrutiny from the press should this legislation move forward in this committee.

With regard to the bill itself…

HB 3513 constitutes a radical departure from current law.

Under Oregon Statute, all meetings of governing bodies that involve "deciding on or deliberating toward a decision" must be held in public unless the content of the meeting is specifically exempted in ORS 192.610 – ORS 192.690.

This legislation limits the scope of matters relating to decisions by governing bodies only to those relating to “budget, fiscal, or policy” matters.

None of these terms “budget, fiscal, and policy” are defined in the bill or in any part of ORS 192.610 to 192.690, so presumably it would be left to the governing body seeking to circumvent the public meetings law to determine whether decisions made in private meetings relate to any of those categories.

Second, the bill effectively neuters Oregon’s Public meetings law by exempting the following topics from the definition of "deciding on or deliberating toward a decision."

(A) Communication that is wholly unrelated to the conduct of the public's business;

(B) Fact gathering activities; or

(C) On-site inspections of property or facilities at a location other than the regularly scheduled meeting room of the governing body.

The latter two of these exemptions are especially troubling.

Fact gathering missions must currently be held in public, pursuant to Oregonian Publishing Co. v. Oregon State Board of Parole, 99 Or App 501 (1989).

Fact gathering is often the most crucial stage at which decisions are made by government. It would be unimaginable that a judge in a court of law should accept facts outside of the context of a public hearing open to all parties. Given that the role of governing bodies such as county commissions or city councils is often “quasi-judicial”, as in the case of land use decisions or other variances from local ordinances, what is the rationale for adopting a lower standard for Oregon’s governing bodies?

Similarly, the bill exempts from the definition of “deciding on or deliberating toward a decision." “Onsite inspections of property or facilities at a location other than the regularly scheduled meeting room of the governing body.”

The plain ordinary language of that subsection makes it clear that anything can be discussed in private, so long as the meeting occurs at a location other than the regularly scheduled meeting room of the

ORS 192.620 states that: "The Oregon form of government requires an informed public aware of the deliberations and decisions of governing bodies and the information upon which such decisions were made. It is the intent of ORS 192.610 to 192.690 that decisions of governing bodies be arrived at openly."

I would respectfully submit that no part of this bill serves that public purpose and recommend against moving this bill forward.

Spring in bloom

ridenbaugh Northwest
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A piece from the Oregon Department of Agriculture on the bright colors of spring in Oregon, and their economic effect.

A sudden burst of warm sunny weather in late April has hastened the bloom of many flowering plants in Oregon that help bring color and cash to the state. With the blossoms come sales of floricultural production, which remains a key sector of Oregon agriculture. A new report shows cut flowers, potted flowering plants, and bedding plants are still important components of the state’s $744 million greenhouse and nursery industry, even though the numbers are down slightly.

“Floriculture is very important to Oregon’s economy,” says Gary McAninch, supervisor of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Nursery and Christmas Tree Programs. “Of course, it’s a smaller subsection of the nursery industry, but floriculture’s sales and production value would by itself make it a top ten agricultural commodity in Oregon.”

Motorists don’t even have to stop or get off the freeway to see the splendor of Oregon floriculture in the spring.

“All you have to do is travel I-5 to see all the flowers that are blooming,” says McAninch. “The tulips and daffodils are already out, the irises will start blooming soon, and the dahlias will follow. It’s a beautiful time of the year to be driving in the Willamette Valley.”

The US Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has released its annual floriculture survey. Nationally, the 2012 wholesale value of floriculture crops increased one percent to an estimated $4.13 billion, which is the same figure recorded in 2010. California continues to account for about 24 percent of the nation's production followed by Florida, Michigan, Texas, and North Carolina. California and Florida combine to produce about 44 percent of the US floriculture production. Notably, both states saw a slight drop in production value last year despite the overall increase nationally.

Oregon ranks 11th in the nation in value of floriculture, with 213 growers responsible for about $129 million in wholesale value– about a 2 percent decrease from 2011. The number of growers in Oregon has dropped from 250 three years ago. The statistics show bedding and garden plants with a wholesale value of $50 million, potted flowering plants at $18 million, propagative materials, such as bulbs, at $9 million, and cut flowers at $12 million. All categories are down from three years ago with the exception of cut flowers, which has increased in wholesale value about 17 percent since 2010. (more…)

Eight questions

ridenbaugh Northwest
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From the IdahoEdNews site, a post by Kevin Richert.

The governor’s education reform task force wraps up its statewide road show Thursday night in Boise.

If this listening session goes like the preceding six, it’s likely that the testimony will focus on funding and Idaho Core Standards, the state’s version of the multistate Common Core effort. Those have been two recurring themes from the other sessions, including Tuesday night’s session in Pocatello.

But this task force tour has been nothing if not unpredictable.
Nampa forum

Richard Westerberg of the State Board of Education kicks off the task force forums April 10 in Nampa.

Crowds have varied widely from city to city, from sparse in Lewiston and Twin Falls to near capacity in Idaho Falls. And the testimony has taken on an open-ended feel. Task force members have heard everything from the heartfelt (from parents who question whether schools can adequately teach children with autism) to the offbeat (from a speaker who said Idaho should encourage the use of e-readers, so kids aren’t overburdened with heavy backpacks).

Ask Idahoans how the state should improve its education system, and you’re apt to get any number of responses. Especially when the Common Core controversy has taken on a talk-radio life of its own in recent weeks.

So let’s go back to where the task force started, two weeks ago, when these forums began.

The task force posed eight questions designed to get people talking. They’re on the State Board of Education’s website, but let’s save a keystroke. Here they are:

What is the basic amount of funding needed to adequately educate a student in Idaho?
˜Given the finite amount of funding, how would you like it spent in your school?
˜How should/could we balance a decentralized model with the Constitutional requirement for a uniform, thorough, common system of education?
Is funding based on attendance an appropriate model?
˜What should be the measure(s) to hold schools and districts accountable?
˜What should we be measuring with respect to student achievement?
˜What should be done about schools/districts that continually underperform?
˜What professional technical education skills would you like to see taught in high school?

Yes, you see several questions about funding. And why not? Education funding is a perennial Idaho issue. And in theory, the task force could have some say over where education dollars go (see Question No. 2). The Legislature earmarked some $34 million in one-time money for schools in 2013-14 — temporary spending on merit pay, professional development and technology, designed to free up money in 2014, at the task force’s disposal.

But you don’t see a question that addresses Common Core, even obliquely. And here’s a possible reason: It’s a settled issue. The State Board approved the math and English language arts standards in November 2010. And the House and Senate education committees approved the standards in January 2011 — amidst the heated debate over the Students Come First bills. Schools will begin teaching to Idaho Core Standards in 2013-14, four months from now.

So the task force has some pretty clear ideas of what it wants to talk about. Whether these topics come up Thursday night is another matter entirely.

How it plays

ridenbaugh Northwest
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When a party takes over a legislative chamber, especially by a modest margin, the incentive ought to be to play it cautiously, stay relatively moderate, and not overstep. That's even more the case if you're in the position the Washington Senate Republicans hold today: In effective control of the chamber (with crossover help from two conservative Democrats), even though the voters didn't give them a majority at the ballot. Stepping carefully, and cooperating with the opposition, would seem to be in order.

That's not been happening. You needn't buy all the Democratic spin to get that the Senate Republicans have been operating more as if they had a large and secure majority in the chamber. This may come back to bite them.

How that may happen is suggested by an April 17 press release from Democratic Senator Nick Harper, which seems to outline clearly Democratic talking points next year:

Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, released the below statement following Wednesday’s cutoff to consider bills from the opposite chamber.

“When the Republicans took control of the Senate, they said their style of governing would be one of ‘policy over politics.’

“Four months later, their policies have proven to be purely political.

“They have operated in lockstep with the National Republican agenda, rolling back rights of working families, denying women access to reproductive choices, preventing aspiring Americans education options and doing absolutely nothing to prevent gun violence, most recently refusing to vote on HB 1840, which would have helped protect victims of domestic violence from gun violence.

“This bill passed the House with bipartisan support and was further amended in the Senate to address concerns raised by organizations such as the NRA. This is a yet another piece of common sense firearm legislation left to rot on the vine by the Republican majority.

“Their values are not the values of the majority of Washingtonians and they have demonstrated that every misstep of the way.

“This ‘Coalition’ of 23 Republicans and two ‘Democrats’ is firmly in the hands of a few far-right ideologues who have threatened to walk should any legislation that doesn’t line up with their FOX News-view of the world advance to the Senate floor.

“One session after seizing control, Washington state has at best been stuck in neutral and at worst been thrown in reverse.”

A Democrat reviews the Idaho session

ridenbaugh Northwest
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A review of the last Idaho legislative session from Idaho Democratic Chair Larry Kenck.

The 2013 Idaho Legislature exceeded expectations. By that measure, it succeeded. Unfortunately, our expectations are so low for this annual GOP-controlled event that we can call it a success if they don’t accidentally burn down the Capitol.

Let’s look at how they exceeded our expectations.

In December, Idaho’s wealthiest corporate interests had convinced everyone that a $140 million tax shift from big business to homeowners was a virtual certainty. Counties, cities, schools and Idaho Democrats crunched the numbers, rallied, and got the word out. In the end, small and medium-sized businesses saw their personal business property taxes cut without severely harming communities.

That was certainly better than we expected.

The Legislature also birthed a small group of Republicans who stood up to rightwing radicals who are still fighting the Affordable Care Act. This minority of the majority joined Idaho Democrats to help create a state-run health insurance exchange, benefiting consumers and giving Idaho control over insurance options.

That small triumph for moderation was unexpected.

Of course, we always expect some truly awful ideas to emerge from the GOP fringe. And, I suppose it’s fair to credit GOP leaders, along with Idaho Democrats, for killing some terrible legislation. (more…)

View from the middle, or something like it

ridenbaugh Northwest
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The Independent Party of Oregon recently polled members on a variety of issues, and released the results this week. From their statement on the polling results, in a party very roughly positioned between Democratic and Republican:

82% agreed that "The cost of PERS exceeds the state's ability to pay and should be reformed to reduce expenses."

A majority supported each of the reforms contained in the Oregon School Boards Association Proposal for PERS reform. The most favored reform was stopping payments to out of state retirees to cover their Oregon state taxes that they do not actually pay.

A majority did not support "rate collaring" as a means of reducing PERS costs.

Only 11% thought that PERS reform was not needed.

Only 6% stated they were "willing to pay more in taxes in order to protect retirement benefits for state workers."

76% favored reducing tax breaks for wealthy individuals.
69% favored reducing tax breaks for corporations.

50.0% favored capping at $30,000 per person the income tax deductions and credits claimed on state income tax returns.

No other proposals for cutting costs or increasing revenues earned majority approval.

The most popular potential additional tax was a sales tax (38% approved), while increases in income taxes and property taxes were highly disfavored.

IPO Members strongly support consumer protection & economic development legislation.

89% opposed a 2011 law that repealed a 2005 statute prohibiting private utilities (like PGE) from charging ratepayers for "income taxes" that the utilities actually do not pay.

Large majorities favored legislation intended to protect consumers from unfair practices and greater public review of health insurance rate hikes.

Large majorities approved awarding government contracts under rules giving preference to Oregon-based companies and providing tax credits for capital construction in Oregon for companies that hire new Oregon workers

50% approved of automatically registering to vote all persons who prove their U.S. citizenship and Oregon residency to government agencies, such as DMV.

Increased spending on transportation infrastructure received only 45% approval. IPO Members strongly support opening Oregon's primary election to all minor parties.

98% agreed that Oregon should allow minor parties to participate in the state's primary election instead of being compelled to conduct their own primary elections or caucuses.

Idaho Democrats: Medicaid decisions

ridenbaugh Northwest
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From a statement on March 28 by Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Kenck.

How does half a billion dollars in savings to counties and homeowners sound? How about, at the same time, we get health care to 110,000 Idahoans who don’t have it?

That is exactly what Idaho’s Democratic lawmakers have tried to do in the Capitol this year. That is exactly what our state’s GOP leaders refuse to consider. The issue is Medicaid Expansion and the GOP fears blowback from their “return to the gold standard” faction.

But, what do GOP leaders tell the public as to why they won’t make this wise policy choice? Why will they allow Idaho families to suffer the indignity and despair of poor health care when a far more humane (not mention fiscally responsible) option exists?

“We are going to be done by Friday, and I don’t think we can give that issue the thorough public vetting that it needs between now and then,” House Speaker Scott Bedke told the press. “They have my full attention, because it seems to offer very, very significant property tax relief.”

Good news!

GOP senators are just dysfunctional enough to smack down the $1.3 billion education budget at the 11th hour, giving most lawmakers nothing to do for another whole week. Now, they have plenty of time to take recommendations from months of study by a governor’s work group and take Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong’s word that he has the tools to make it all happen right away.

It’s not as if the GOP-controlled Legislature can’t make things happen fast if they care about something. Just last year they handed Idaho’s richest 17 percent of citizens a $35 million gift in the final days of the session.

Idaho Democratic lawmakers have pressed hard on this issue and repeatedly have been foiled by a GOP united against Idaho’s best interests.

It’s time for the GOP to stop playing the politics of appeasement to the radical-wing of their base. Businesses want this policy. Our state’s economy will benefit from this policy. Our federal taxes will remain the same even as we pay for other state’s that are wise enough to take advantage of this policy. Idaho’s children, who don’t have dental care or access to basic health services, absolutely need this policy.

My fellow Idahoans, it is up to us. Contact your legislators over the weekend. Tell them to do their jobs! Tell them to stop squandering opportunities and to stop making us pay for partisan political bickering. Tell them to expand Medicaid coverage—and then, after doing something good, tell them to go home.

On Obamacare bashing

ridenbaugh Northwest
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This opinion is by Duff McKee, a former Idaho district judge. He originally posted it on Facebook.

The continued diatribe from the extreme right wing, the incessant drumbeat that Obamacare must be repealed in its entirety, and the more recent attempts to emasculate or nullify the act by withholding state participation, defy reason and common sense to the point of becoming ridiculous.

The plain fact is that under any fair evaluation the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare, when taken in its entirety, is a moderate compromise of policies embracing traditional values and views of both the right and the left. Obamacare is not a federal take-over of health care, it is an overhaul of health insurance. It is not an irresponsible give-away to benefit one segment of society at the expense of another, it is a compendium of moderate policies and methods to benefit all of society, methods that have long been recognized and used by both left and right. To call it Socialism or Marxism is uneducated – showing a lack of understanding of either the fundamentals of Socialism or the teachings of Karl Marx. To make these arguments pejoratively, as though the Act is an evil encroachment upon our freedom, demonstrates a blatant ignorance of how our government and economy actually work.

The plain fact is that every president beginning with Truman – both Republican and Democrat alike – has tried to secure passage of some form of universal healthcare. The parties have and do differ of aspects of policy, but both parties have long considered healthcare to be a matter of legitimate concern to the government.

Over the years we have seen the arrival of expansive programs extending government involvement into the delivery of health care, some after significant debate and others with broad bipartisan sponsorship -- Social Security’s SSI, Medicare, Medicaid, Prescription Drug Benefits, and Children Health Insurance Programs identify the main programs, but there are many more. These programs have been fully assimilated into our society and are now endorsed by both parties. There are differences, certainly, and both sides continue to propose adjustments and modifications, but with the exception of a very few extremists, nobody argues that any of these programs should be abandoned. Government participation in healthcare is here to stay as an essential ingredient of government service.

Obamacare is an exemplar of a middle-of-the-road compromise, embracing principles dear to the heart of both sides. While the overall objective of universal healthcare is a long-held liberal tenet, the framework of Obamacare may have been inspired by the national insurance plan suggested by Nixon in the 1970s. Parts of Obamacare mirror research in the late 1980s by the Heritage Foundation, a deep red conservative think tank. The concepts were fashioned into the program adopted and successfully implemented in Massachusetts in 2006, which has been operating without any of the dire consequences suggested by the right wing ever since.

Obamacare caters to the right in that it is based upon private insurance, issued by private companies, through private premiums, and with plenty of room for individual selection. The foundation of the plan continues to be employer sponsored health insurance for as many as possible. It answers the goals of the left by providing machinery to make coverage available to all through premium subsidies and expanded Medicaid. And it provides a network of regulation over the insurance industry to prevent abuse and assure availability by including such provisions as a baseline of minimum coverage, elimination of lifetime ceilings, elimination of preexisting condition exclusions, inclusion of appeal processes and other means of dispute resolution, making coverage non-cancelable, and regulating the percentage of premium dollars that can be absorbed by administration and profit.

The act does mandate compliance and impose sanctions, but this is not contrary to our society or our freedom or our theory of government. We have long had mandatory automobile liability insurance, mandatory workers compensation insurance, and the extraordinarily popular mandatory retirement insurance. We require that our young be schooled, that our minorities be treated fairly, that our workplaces be free of avoidable hazards, and that we be paid a minimum wage for our efforts. We insist on quality and safety in the milk we drink, the meat we eat, the cars we drive, the planes we fly, the new houses we buy, and the bridges we cross. Sanctions are imposed for infractions in all of these. Obamacare presents nothing new. (more…)