STATE MyEagleNews.com Wednesday, June 26, 2019 A9 ‘Credible threat from militia groups’ closes Capitol Saturday By Claire Withycombe Oregon Capital Bureau Oregon Capital Bureau/Claire Withycombe Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, speaks in support of a bill to allow undocumented immigrants and others without proof of legal residence to get an Oregon driver’s license. Oregon House approves licenses for undocumented immigrants By Claire Withycombe Oregon Capital Bureau The Oregon House June 18 passed legislation that would once again allow the state to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and others who can’t prove they are legal residents. Democrats Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon of Wood- burn and Rep. Diego Her- nandez of Portland carried House Bill 2015, which passed 39-21 after about 30 minutes of discussion. It now heads to the Senate. In 2014, Oregon voters rejected a measure to cre- ate a separate driver’s card for people without proof of legal residence. But the bill House members approved Tues- day would allow people who can’t prove they’re in the country legally to get the standard license now offered by the DMV after Jan. 1, 2021. By that time, the fed- eral government will no longer accept standard licenses as valid iden- tification for boarding an airplane or entering secured federal govern- ment facilities. Next year the state will begin issu- ing Real ID-compliant licenses, documents that meet stricter federal stan- dards and require recip- ients to prove their resi- dency status. Before the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, many states, including Oregon, allowed people to get driver’s licenses without proving their residence. In 2007, then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat, issued an executive order requiring people applying for drivers’ licenses, driv- ing permits and ID cards to document their citizen- ship or that they were in the U.S. legally. The federal govern- ment also began enacting stricter Real ID standards, which go into effect Oct. 1, 2020. Without an avenue to get a driver’s license, many undocumented immigrants can’t legally get to work or to doctor’s appointments, Alonso Leon said in a floor speech. If they drive without a license, they risk being deported if caught. Alonso Leon described the impact on people who could not drive to get to work, school or other obligations. She said that being unable to drive legally is hard especially for peo- ple who live in rural areas, where public transporta- tion is minimal or non- existent. Some have lost their livelihoods because they don’t have a license, Alonso Leon said. “Imagine the pain and frustration that par- ents must feel when they can’t do that simple task,” Alonso Leon, whose voice began to break with emo- tion. “The simple task like going to the grocery store, to buy baby formula, dia- pers, over-the-counter medication. While this has been challenging for many parents, they are not deterred. They have taken to walking for miles to get to work or to that grocery store, on shoulder-less, dim roads, to make sure that their children have their basic needs.” The bill, which still requires people to take the driver’s test and pay the associated fees for a license, would benefit not just undocumented immi- grants, Alonso Leon said. Oregonians who have lost their documentation for whatever reason — to a natural disaster, domes- tic violence, or are home- less — could also get licenses to drive under the new provision. Hernandez emphasized public safety and pointed to Connecticut, which he said passed a similar bill four years ago and has seen a decline in hit-and- run incidents. Licensed drivers in Oregon must have car insurance. The vote was largely along party lines, with most Democrats voting for the bill and most Repub- licans voting against it. However, there were some departures from the party line, including Republican Rep. Cheri Helt of Bend. “We are a nation of immigrants,” Helt said. “Immigrants have con- tributed and continue to contribute to the well-be- ing and the progress of our American society, but currently they are faced with the difficult decision of choosing to take their kids to school or break- ing the law. This bill will allow parents to safely and legally drive their children to school.” Helt said she supported legal immigration, but that undocumented immi- grants needed a pathway to citizenship. “Until the federal gov- ernment steps up to cre- ate one, I will be support- ive of mothers and fathers who are simply wanting to take their children to school safely and legally,” Helt said. The bill contains what’s known as an emergency clause, which means it will go into effect immediately once Gov. Kate Brown signs it. It also means that oppo- nents can’t refer the bill to voters via the initiative process. Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, who opposed the bill, moved to send the bill back to the House Rules Committee to remove the emergency clause so that voters could consider the measure in 2020. “Listen to the peo- ple,” Post said, referring to 2014, when voters rejected a similar policy. Supporters of the new bill have said they believe the political environment around immigration has changed after the 2016 presidential election. They pointed to the failure of Measure 105, a state bal- lot measure last fall that would have repealed Ore- gon’s decades-old law that prevents state and local law enforcement from expend- ing resources to “detect or apprehend” people whose only violation of the law is being here without legal permission. A Saturday session of the Oregon Senate was cancelled Friday afternoon after Oregon State Police reported a “credible threat from militia groups” planning to meet at the Capitol. Senators were advised to avoid the building and have their employees do the same, according to a message sent from the Senate Democratic caucus office Friday and obtained by the Ore- gon Capital Bureau. The development came as the Sen- ate’s 11 Republicans remained missing from the Capitol, hoping to pressure legislative leaders into modifying con- troversial cap-and-trade legislation that was to have been voted on by the Sen- ate Thursday. “IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Senate will NOT be meeting tomor- row (Saturday),” the message read. “The State Police superintendent just informed the Senate president of a cred- ible threat from militia groups coming to the Capitol tomorrow. The super- intendent strongly recommends that no one come to the Capitol and Presi- dent Courtney heeded that advice min- utes ago by adjourning until 10 a.m. Sunday.” “Please make sure your staffs know not to come in tomorrow,” the message continued. “We are still planning to come in Sunday.” In an email to the Oregon Capi- tal Bureau, a spokeswoman for Sen- ate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said that the Capitol would be closed Saturday “upon recommendation of the state police of possible threats by mili- tia groups.” A spokesman for the Senate Major- ity Office could not be immediately reached for comment late Friday. Individuals associated with Ore- gon militia groups have been active on social media since the Republi- cans disappeared. Some have called on a defense force to protect the sena- tors from the state police. One militia leader specifically identified a Repub- lican senator as asking for militia help but that senator denied to the Ore- gon Capital Bureau making any such comment. On June 20, the Oregon III%ers (3 percenters) posted on Facebook a “call to action” for its members across the state to “provide security, transporta- tion and refuge for those Senators in need.” The group did not threaten or encourage violence in its Facebook post. “We will stand together with unwav- ering resolve, doing whatever it takes to keep these Senators safe,” according to the post. “**CALL TO ACTION** “Oregon III% leadership has made the decision to support Oregon Repub- lican Senators to walk out,” according to the group’s post. “In doing so we have vowed to provide security, trans- portation and refuge for those Senators in need. It has come to our knowledge that nearly all Senators are currently safe outside of the state. Your leads will keep you informed as needed for any further action. Be ready, stay vigilant. Mobilization orders will be issued only by Liaisons or County Leads, ORIII% Bylaws Code of Conduct will be adhered to throughout this operation. We will stand together with unwaver- ing resolve, doing whatever it takes to keep these Senators safe.” Gov. Kate Brown, acting at the request of legislative leaders, directed State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton to find and return the sena- tors to the Capitol. She was acting on authority in the Constitution and Oregon law, state offi- cials said. Republicans’ absence was intended to deny the Senate the 20 members required to meet. Democrats num- ber 18, not enough to legally meet for votes. Oregon House votes to increase cigarette tax to $2 per pack By Mark Miller Oregon Capital Bureau Oregon took a step closer Thursday to taxing e-cig- arettes and other vaping devices. On a 39-21 vote, the House approved increasing the cigarette tax to $2 per pack, up from $1.33, as part of a change to the law that would also slap new taxes on cigars and nicotine inhal- ant devices. However, the tax increase — which is scheduled for 2021 — still needs to pass the Senate and get voter approval. Supporters say the tax increase serves two purposes. Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn, said making tobacco and nicotine prod- ucts more expensive could discourage people from starting to smoke or vape. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says when people become smokers, they’re almost always under 25, and nearly nine in 10 start smoking when they’re under 18. Teenagers and younger adults tend to have less dis- posable income than mil- lennials and older adults, and supporters of the tax increase hope that a higher price tag on cigarettes and cigars will effectively pre- vent cash-strapped young people from buying them and becoming addicted to nicotine. “A tobacco tax indeed discourages our youth from ever starting to smoke, and it definitely encourages those who have started to quit,” said Prusak, a public health nurse. “We know that the best way to deter access, particularly by young peo- ple, is to raise the price.” The tax would also raise about $350 million per biennium for the Oregon Health Authority. Support- ers say that money will help the poor, the elderly and other vulnerable groups by improving access to health care. Opponents argue that tobacco taxes are regres- sive and exploit the poor and working class. Because the new taxes are passed along to consumers, they essentially force smokers and vapers to pay more for a product to which they are chemically addicted. “I don’t believe that we can actually price people who are addicted to this out of the market,” said Rep. Duane Stark, R-Grants Pass. “We might be able to keep some people from using it — maybe. But as far as those who are already addicted, I mean, go hang out with any group of homeless people EO Media Group The Oregon House voted to increase the cigarette tax to $2 per pack. and see that those who have addictions still find ways to access those addictions, no matter what the cost of that substance is.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Pre- vention, smoking is more prevalent among poorer Americans, who are already hit hardest by sales taxes. Oregon does not have a gen- eral sales tax. For the first time, the tax would also apply to e-ciga- rettes and similar products. Vaping has become an increasingly popular “alter- native” to smoking and smokeless tobacco. While studies suggest that vaping has a less neg- ative effect on users’ health than smoking, public health experts warn that it can still lead to nicotine addic- tion and may encourage more people to begin using tobacco products. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accord- ing to the CDC. Prospects for the tobacco tax increase looked bleak throughout most of the leg- islative session. However, a compromise was brokered earlier this month between Democrats and moderate Republicans under which the tax hike will be referred to voters in November 2020. Eighteen senators will still have to approve the bill before the new taxes head to the ballot. With the Senate at a standstill due to a Repub- lican boycott, it’s unclear when or if that will happen.