The Blue Mountain eagle. (John Day, Or.) 1972-current, December 30, 2015, Page A9, Image 9

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    State
Blue Mountain Eagle
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
A9
Minimum wage ta[ ¿ghts toS Salem agenda
By Hillary Borrud
and Paris Achen
Capital Bureau
SALEM — The New Year
will ring in some pivotal policy-
making and elections in Oregon
that could shape the state’s gov-
ernment, economy, quality of
life and balance of power.
The Legislature will only
meet for about a month in 2016,
but lawmakers still plan to tack-
le high-pro¿le issues including
the minimum wage, child wel-
fare and problems at the Oregon
Department of Energy. It also
promises to be a year of con-
tentious ballot measures, from a
proposed corporate sales tax to
a measure aimed at repealing or
weakening the state’s low-car-
bon fuel standard.
Minimum Wage
Four competing Oregon bal-
lot initiative proposals would
gradually increase the $9.25 per
hour minimum wage to at least
$13.50, and to as much as $15.
Some Oregon lawmakers are
trying to head off that contest
with their own proposal during
the 35-day session in February
and March.
Sen. Michael Dembrow,
D-Portland, is spearheading
the effort. His proposal would
set three minimum wages for
the state based on cost of living
and median income. Lawmak-
ers have yet to agree on exact
amounts to propose, Dembrow
said. They are scheduled to meet
after the New Year to continue
discussions.
Conceptually, the bill would
raise the minimum most in the
Portland region, where housing
costs have skyrocketed. A mid-
dle-level minimum would take
effect in mid-size cities such
as Ashland, Bend and Eugene,
while the lowest minimum
would apply to less populated
coastal and rural communities.
&orSoraWe Wa[ ¿ghW
A union-backed tax measure
planned for the November 2016
ballot would require certain cor-
porations to pay a 2.5 percent
tax on sales in Oregon greater
than $25 million.
Economists in the Legisla-
tive 5evenue Of¿ce have al-
ready projected the corporate
sales tax would raise an addi-
tional $2.65 billion annually for
the state.
State Sen. Mark Hass,
D-Beaverton, said he’s heard
businesses could spend as much
as $30 million to ¿ght the tax
measure, and supporters could
spend a similarly large amount.
“You’re going to have two
months of nasty business on TV
and social media,” Hass said
back in November. “And out of
EO Media Group
The New Year will
ring in some pivotal
policymaking and
elections in Oregon that
could shape the state’s
government, economy,
quality of life and
balance of power.
that, a very toxic atmosphere.”
Hass hoped to bring together
the governor, lawmakers, sup-
porters and opponents of the tax
to broker an alternative revenue
measure which the Legislature
could pass in 2016. So far, he
hasn’t had much luck and the
outlook for alternative revenue
legislation is not good.
“We just need some people
to come to the center,” Hass said
on Dec. 22.
PERS shortfall
Oregon’s unfunded public
pension liability roughly dou-
bled this fall, under newly up-
dated actuarial projections. That
means the pension fund is now
$18 billion short of the money it
is supposed to pay retired school
teachers, state workers and other
public employees.
Bill would require recording grand juries
By Paris Achen
Capital Bureau
SALEM — The chairman
of the state Senate Judiciary
Committee is reviving legis-
lation proposed in the last ses-
sion he says will bring more
transparency to secret grand
jury proceedings.
Oregon is one of the few
states where grand jury pro-
ceedings are not recorded.
Sen. Floyd Prozanski,
D-Eugene, is reviving leg-
islation from that would re-
quire all grand jury testimo-
ny to be recorded. The bill,
originally proposed by Rep.
Jennifer Williamson, D-Port-
land, stalled during the 2015
session in the Senate because
lawmakers wanted more time
for deliberation. Prozanski,
who is a lawyer, said he plans
to submit the bill again in
February.
Prozanski said the 2015
bill is “the starter.”
“That is not the end point,”
he said.
Federal courts and more
than 40 states mandate that
grand jury proceedings be
electronically recorded, ac-
cording to a count by the Ore-
gon Criminal Defense Associ-
ation, which supports the bill.
“The national norm is
when you have grand jury tes-
timony, it needs to be record-
ed verbatim,” said Gail Mey-
er, lobbyist for the criminal
defense association.
What happens to the re-
cordings after the proceedings
differs from state to state.
Prozanski’s bill would re-
quire all grand jury proceed-
ings to be recorded except
deliberations and voting. In
case of indictment, the tran-
script would be released to the
district attorney and defense
counsel. If there were no in-
dictment, the transcript would
not be released except when
the accused was a public ser-
vant such as a police of¿cer.
High-pro¿le cases of po-
lice of¿cer-involved shoot-
ings in which grand juries
declined to indict of¿cers
have fueled national interest
in adding transparency to the
grand jury process.
But well before that debate
was sparked, critics say, Ore-
gon had multiple examples of
abuse of the grand jury sys-
tem. Proponents of Prozans-
ki’s bill have argued that elec-
tronic recording would have
served as a deterrent to abuse
in those cases.
“One of the reasons is to
impress upon the witness that
this is on the record, this is
important,” Meyer said. “It
has to be accurate because
important decisions will be
made based on what you say.
It also makes viable the threat
of perjury should someone
testify contrary to the truth.
It has been recognized that
recording testimony reduces
prosecutorial overreach and
abuse.”
One of the most scandal-
ous examples of prosecutori-
al abuse came out of Clatsop
County in 1993.
Then-Clatsop
County
District Attorney Julie Ann
Leonhardt won grand jury in-
dictments against two Astoria
police of¿cers. One of the of-
¿cers, Cpl. Tim Thurber, had
given Leonhardt’s ex-convict
boyfriend a traf¿c ticket ear-
lier that year, according to a
Oregon Supreme Court ruling
and media reports at the time.
Leonhardt accused Thurb-
er and Sgt. Bill Stowell of
trying to sell drugs through an
informant with the Drug En-
forcement Administration and
failing to turn over all con¿s-
cated contraband.
Oregon ‘motor voter’ system set to launch
By Hillary Borrud
Capital Bureau
SALEM — Oregon is on
track to launch its automatic
voter registration system in Jan-
uary, Secretary of State Jeanne
Atkins said Monday.
8nder the new law, people
who are eligible to vote will be
registered after they obtain or
renew their driver’s licenses,
permits or identi¿cation cards.
Oregon is the ¿rst state to enact
an automatic voter registration
law, and the legislation was
a top priority for Gov. Kate
Brown dating back to when she
was secretary of state.
Atkins said during a press
brie¿ng Monday that people
outside of Oregon are watching
to see how the new system un-
folds.
“We’ll probably see the
nation paying attention, in ad-
dition to Oregonians paying
attention,” Atkins said. “We’ve
been very pleased with the
work that’s been done so far
and our ability to run end to end
tests here in December.”
State of¿cials expect the
new system will add approxi-
mately 10,000 voters to the rolls
each month starting in January.
The secretary of state will also
use Oregon Driver and Motor
Vehicle Services Division data
to register people who obtained
or renewed their driver’s li-
censes, permits or identi¿cation
cards over the last two years,
agency spokeswoman Molly
Woon wrote in an email. This
provision could add as many
as 275,000 voters to the rolls,
Atkins said. However, the state
will not implement that portion
of the law until after the May
primary.
It’s less clear how many
people will opt out of voter reg-
istration.
The DMV will only send
data to the Elections Division
for people who have demon-
strated, through documents
shared with the DMV, that they
are eligible to vote. This means
Oregon residents who are 8.S.
Citizens and at least 17 years
old. The Elections Division will
send mailers to people identi-
¿ed as eligible, giving them 21
days to opt out of registration or
to register with a political party.
If people do nothing, the state
will register them as unaf¿liat-
ed voters.
Once a citizen opts out of
automatic voter registration,
the Elections Division will not
contact the person in the future
when he or she renews a drivers
license or updates an address at
the DMV. The other voter reg-
istration options will still be
available, including registering
to vote online and at the DMV.
“How many people will say
‘no thank you’ is a little bit of
an unknown,” Atkins said.
People exempt from the
automatic registration process
include certain law enforce-
ment and other individuals who
have signed up through the
state to keep their addresses
con¿dential for personal safe-
ty reasons, according to the
state’s new voter registration
manual.
The increase is partly due to a
decision in April by the Oregon
Supreme Court, which struck
down a portion of the pension
reforms which the Legislature
passed in 2013 to trim costs. The
state is also paying out more be-
cause retirees are living longer,
and the pension fund’s invest-
ment returns have fallen short of
expectations since 2014.
Gov. Kate Brown and legis-
lative leaders haven’t given any
indication that they plan to tack-
le the shortfall in 2016. But they
won’t be able to avoid the issue
when the pension system gov-
erning board sets the 2017-2019
contribution rates at the end of
September.
By then, election campaigns
will be in full swing for gover-
nor and legislative seats across
the state.
If lawmakers and the gover-
nor put off working on the issue
until 2017, they will only have
a few months to agree on solu-
tions during that legislative ses-
sion, before schools and other
governments are forced to pay
more starting in July 2017. In-
terest groups plan to begin ham-
mering out potential solutions
behind the scenes in 2016, for
the governor and Legislature to
take up the following year.
)uel standard ¿ght
Oregon’s low-carbon fuel
standard, which the Legislature
made permanent in 2015, takes
effect in January.
However, the Oregon Envi-
ronmental Quality Commission
recently voted to delay enforce-
ment of the standard until 2018
and opponents of the law have
¿led three proposed ballot mea-
sures to weaken or repeal it in
November.
Gov. Kate Brown and law-
makers are closely following
the ¿ght, because the outcome
could impact the Legislature’s
ability to pass a funding bill in
2017 to pay for the state’s back-
log of highway, bridge, transit
and other transportation work.
Republicans refused in 2015
to vote for a gas tax increase to
pay for transportation projects,
unless Democrats agreed to re-
peal the fuel standard.
The law calls for gasoline and
diesel importers and producers to
reduce the total carbon emissions
from the fuels by up to 10 percent
over the next decade.
Power battles
Gov. Kate Brown is unlikely
to attract any formidable compe-
tition during the 2016 election,
according to political analysts.
“The chance of dark horse
candidate in the gubernatorial
races is zero,” said Jim Moore,
politics professor at Paci¿c 8ni-
versity and director of the Tom
McCall Center for Policy Inno-
vation.
But some House and Sen-
ate races could tip the scales of
power in Salem, Moore said.
Races to watch are in dis-
tricts that have traditionally
swung between Democrat and
Republican victories in the past
few election cycles, especially
seats where incumbents might
decide against seeking reelec-
tion, he said.
One example is District
40, where Rep. Brent Barton,
D-Clackamas County, has de-
cided against seeking reelection.
So far, one Democrat, real
estate executive Mark Meek,
and no Republicans or Indepen-
dents have ¿led for that election,
according to the Secretary of
State’s elections database.
Other potentially interesting
races: District 30, held by Rep.
Joe Gallegos, D-Hillsboro; Dis-
trict 20 held by Rep. Paul Evans,
D-Monmouth; District 29, held
by Rep. Susan McLain, D-For-
est Grove; District 25 held by
Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer; Dis-
trict 51 held by Shemia Fagan,
D-Clackamas; and District 52
held by Rep. Mark Johnson,
R-Hood River.
“The Oregon Senate is a
much more sedate place for
elections, but the swing of just
three districts puts the Senate in
a 15-15 tie for 2017,” he said.
Audit cites evidence testing backlog at OSP labs
By Paris Achen
Capital Bureau
SALEM — A backlog of
untested forensic evidence at
Oregon State Police laborato-
ries has ballooned by 90 percent
since 2005, fueled by increased
demand, inef¿cient practices
and staff shortages and vacan-
cies, according to a Secretary of
State’s audit.
On average, the agency’s
Forensics Division takes about
twice as long to test forensic ev-
idence than national standards,
the audit showed.
“The quality and reliability
of forensic testing is extremely
important to the criminal justice
system,” the auditors wrote. “If
the best evidence is not submit-
ted in court, the guilty may go
unpunished or an innocent per-
son may lose their liberty.”
Auditors said the Foren-
sics Division has already taken
steps to increase ef¿ciency with
technology investments and
process changes. They recom-
mended additional strategies to
enhance the Àow of casework
and to eliminate duplication
of work. For instance, they
recommended more strategic
planning such as using data to
manage workloads and project
needs for additional resources.
OSP laboratories take an
average of 65 days to test evi-
dence, according to the audit.
The National Institute of Justice
standards call for evidence to be
tested within 30 days. But audi-
tors also noted that backlogs
also are a problem in other parts
of the nation.
Oregon’s backlog now
stands about 3,700 cases. In
2014, OSP received 29,500 re-
quests for testing. The demand
for testing has surged by 31
percent since 2005 with only
“marginal” staff increases, the
audit stated.
The audit was “substantial-
ly complete before allegations
were publicly reported” that a
forensic analyst in the division
had tampered with evidence,
auditors wrote. They said em-
ployees had disclosed no crim-
inal behavior during the audit.
A criminal investigation
into the allegations is under-
way. Nika Larsen, a forensic
analyst in OSP’s Bend of¿ce,
has been identi¿ed as a suspect
in the case.
Gov. Kate Brown also has
appointed a work group to re-
view the division’s practices
and procedures for evidence
control.
The division has 127 em-
ployees, ¿ve laboratories in
Bend, Central Point, Clack-
amas, Pendleton and Spring-
¿eld and a biennial budget of
$35.8 million.
Debbie Ausmus
245 South Canyon Blvd.
John Day, OR 97845
OPEN WED. & THUR.
9 am - 5 pm
541-575-1113
24 hrs/7 days wk
debbie.ausmus@
countryfinancial.com