Oregon legislature

“Time And Tide Wait For No Man.”


That quote is from Goeffrey Chaucer and it has been used in many different situations. This time it has meaning for two situations. If you pay attention to your calendar you probably noticed that the Vernal Equinox is fast approaching and so is the changeover to Daylight Saving Time. As a matter of fact both events occur on the same day March 14, 2021. The Vernal Equinox marks the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

Vernal Equinox3
Vernal Equinox3 | Image by earthsky.org

We all remember being taught about Equinox and Solstice events in school, but how many of us actually remember the details today? That’s why I am going to explain it in detail now.

Here is the definition of the Vernal Equinox according to an article in Astronomy Essentials by Deborah Byrd posted on earth sky.com: The Vernal Equinox “signals the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. It marks the special moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator going from south to north.” Equinox translates as “equal night” which means the length of day and night is nearly equal all over the world during the equinox.

Vernal Equinox2
Vernal Equinox2 | Image by heimhenge.com

It all has to do with the earth’s axis. That’s the reason for the seasons. As you might remember the earth’s axis is tilted and not parallel to the earth’s orbit. According to the meteorology text book The Atmosphere by Anthes, Panofsky, Cahir, and Rango “There is an angle between the plane of the equator and the plane of the earth’s orbit (also called the ecliptic). This angle, which has the impressive name obliquity of the ecliptic, is now 23 1/2 degrees.” “As the earth revolves about the sun, it’s axis points in the same direction in space.”

Solar Rays
SolarRays | Image by lpi.usra.edu

Both the northern and southern hemispheres get exactly the same amount of sunshine during the two equinoxes, March 20-21 and September 22-23. The authors explain that over tens of thousands of years this angle has changed, and, as a result, the severity of the seasons has also changed. The seasons are less harsh when the angle is small and conversely they are more harsh when the angle is large. Over the last 100,000 years or so the angle has varied between 22 and 25 degrees because the earth actually rocks back and forth a bit as it continues it’s march around the sun.

Solar Rays At Equator
Direct Solar Rays At Equator | Image by Annenberg Learner

At the Vernal Equinox the rays of the sun are directed straight at the equator and then move northward continuing the spring warming and then bringing on summer, the warmest time of the year.

Sun Ray Angles
Solar Ray Angles | Image by physics.weber.edu

One would think that the direct straight-line rays of the sun when the distance between the earth and the sun are at their closest would make the area under them see the warmest time of the year but that is not the case. There is a space of about 3 months between the Vernal Equinox and the warmest days of summer.

Daylight Saving Time
Daylight Saving Time Clock | Image by 1011now.com

Daylight Saving Time is when we “Spring Forward” by turning our clocks ahead by one hour at 2:00 am Sunday March 14th or at bedtime Saturday night if you are not a stickler for being perfectly accurate and don’t want to stay up until 2:00 am to change your clocks. Most of the newer appliances and electronic devices make the change automatically, but the older models must be changed manually which can be a pain. The authorities tell us that we should also check our smoke alarms, Carbon Monoxide detectors, and Radon detectors to make sure they are in working order. Replace batteries if necessary.

Oregon lawmakers passed a bill in June 2019 to keep Oregon on Daylight Saving Time all year long. The Governor signed the bill one week later, but we still went back to Standard Time November 1, 2020. It is possible that we will have made that changeover for the last time, but we’ll have to wait for an official announcement that the change is really final.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

County restricts sales, use of e-cigs

Benton County has joined Corvallis in extending current anti-smoking regulations to electronic cigarettes.

The Board of Commissioners voted 3 to 0 on Tuesday to approve revisions to Chapter 18 of the county code, which governs smoking in workplaces and enclosed public places.

Among other things, the new language adds electronic cigarettes to the list of tobacco products that can’t be used at work, in restaurants or other enclosed spaces where secondhand smoke might endanger the public. It also bans the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 21.

Both restrictions were approved inside the city limits by the Corvallis City Council last month and are slated to be considered by the Oregon Legislature. But e-cigs are not covered by the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act, which has banned smoking in most enclosed public spaces since 2000 and was expanded in 2009.

“This is brand new for Oregon,” said Sara Hartstein, a health policy specialist with the Benton County Health Department. “They are discussing this at the state level, but we’re moving forward at the local level.”

Electronic cigarettes have come on the market recently as a more socially acceptable way to use tobacco. The battery-powered devices deliver nicotine in the form of vapor rather than smoke. Although they’re not yet regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, e-cigarettes have been shown in preliminary testing to produce toxic chemicals.

Locally, electronic cigarettes already have been barred from the grounds of Oregon State University, Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and Benton County offices and parks, where no tobacco products are allowed.

And some area businesses decided not to wait until local ordinances changed to lower the boom on e-cigs. Clodfelter’s, a popular Corvallis bar and restaurant across the street from the OSU campus, banned the devices about a year ago.

“One reason we made a house policy is it does produce a vapor — there is an odor,” manager Gary Evans said. “We have a smoking porch out front; They can get their food and their cocktail out there and enjoy their e-cigs.”

Evans said little is known about the potential health risks of electronic cigarettes, and that makes him nervous about being exposed to the vapor.

“We just decided, to protect our customers and protect our staff, to go ahead and ban it.”

Hartstein has been meeting with representatives of area municipalities for two years to study ways to strengthen and standardize anti-tobacco rules countywide. Corvallis was the first to act, but she said the Philomath City Council is expected to take up the issue next month.

Another revision to the county code bans smoking in retail tobacco shops, closing what Hartstein called “an accidental loophole” in the state law that has allowed indoor smoking lounges to pop up in some parts of Oregon. A hookah bar operated briefly in Corvallis a few years ago, but otherwise the phenomenon has passed Benton County by — and the local anti-tobacco coalition wants to keep it that way.

“We currently do not have hookah bars, cigar bars or other types of smoking lounges in Benton County,” Hartstein said. “As other counties try to close this loophole at the local level, we wanted to prevent those types of businesses from picking up and moving to Benton County.”

Other changes to the city and county codes — such as a ban on smoking within 10 feet of a line of people standing outside a business — bring the local ordinances into line with existing state law.

“They just need to be updated so those laws can be enforced countywide,” Hartstein said.

The commissioners conducted a first reading of the amended ordinance on Tuesday. A second reading has been set for noon Feb. 18 in the county boardroom, 205 N.W. Fifth St., and the changes will take effect March 20.

In the meantime, the multijurisdictional tobacco coalition is preparing a proposal to modify the area’s retail tobacco license program.

Since 1997, businesses that sell tobacco products in Corvallis, Philomath or unincorporated areas of Benton County have been required to have a license, but Hartstein said the rules need updating.

One change being considered: Adding language requiring license holders to comply with all national, state and local laws relating to tobacco. That would allow local officials to take action if state or federal laws are being broken.

A prohibition of candy-flavored tobacco products, which appeal to young people, is also being considered, as is an increase in the license fee to pay for an expanded enforcement program.

Tuition buy-down means University of Oregon students will only pay 3.4 percent more next year

The Oregon State Board of Higher Education has reduced the University of Oregon’s tuition increase to 3.4 percent from 5.8. The board also capped tuition increases at 3.5 percent for the next two years. That means resident undergraduates taking 15 credits will see their overall bill go up by $270 next year rather than the original $465 approved by the state board earlier this year and a maximum of $290 the following year should the UO ask for another increase.

The reduced rate was enacted by the OUS as a response to legislation passed in Salem recently. Near the end of its latest session, the Oregon Legislature approved a $15 million package known as a tuition buy-down that would cap rate increases at all seven Oregon University System schools at 3.5 percent for the coming year.

“We are grateful to the Governor and Legislature for this additional investment, which helps make our public universities more affordable for current and in-coming students,” interim OUS Chancellor Melody Rose wrote in a press release. “Our hope, which I know we share with Oregon students and families, is that this is the beginning of a rebalance in the state-student share of college costs.”

Two decades ago, the legislature covered 70 percent of a student’s tuition and fees with students contributing the remaining 30 percent. Those figures have now reversed, with students footing 70 percent of the bill and accruing record debt as they do so — student loans have recently surpassed credit cards as the number one source of debt for American residents. This is also the first year in quite some time that the Oregon Legislature has approved additional funding for the state’s institutes of higher education.

For students however, the increase is a drop in the bucket compared to the final statement they’ll receive from the UO upon graduating.

“It’s not that much extra, but I wish it didn’t go up,” said Madison Justine Layton, an incoming freshman. “My parents know it’s worth it, so they won’t be too upset. It’s definitely a relief that it’s not going up as much, but it still sucks,” Layton said.

Oregon Senate passes ‘Pay it Forward, Pay it Back’ legislation

The Oregon Senate voted unanimously on Monday to pass HB 3472, a house study bill that’s looking to help students pay for college, while at the same time helping Oregon fix itseducation budget.

The “Pay it Forward, Pay it Back” bill completely redefines the way higher education is funded. It allows students to attend any Oregon public university without paying a dime in tuition or fees up front while attending school. Instead, students will pay after they graduate by taking a percentage of their monthly paycheck (approximately 3-5 percent) and putting it toward their accumulated tuition bill from their time in college.

“The funding system in Oregon is broken,” said Diane Saunders, director of communications for the Oregon University System. “The golden age of funding for education is long gone. We’re looking for a solution to both the struggles of students paying for college, as well as trying to fix Oregon’s budget.”

One of the prominent issues with the bill is the need to make a self-generating pool of capital that can sustain students and their tuition fees until they graduate and start making their payments. Once students graduate, they’ll have 25 years to pay off their tuition. Whatever isn’t paid after 25 years will be discharged or, in other words, forgiven.

A test program must be put forward to the 2015 legislature, which means the “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” couldn’t be active until 2019 at the least.

Bill for tuition freezes heard in legislature, likely to pass Higher Education Committee

Tuition freezes for incoming undergraduates in Oregon universities could be one step closer to reality if House Bill 3472, heard in the Oregon Legislature this week, is passed.

The bill, which would begin a study on the plausibility of tuition freezes in the Oregon University System, had its public hearing on Wednesday, along with two other bills concerning Oregon higher education costs and student debt.

HB 3472 is currently being amended to combine with HB 2838, which proposes establishing a pilot program that would eliminate tuition for students and instead have them pay into a fund for future students’ higher education costs. According to Representative Chris Harker — a sponsor of HB 3472 and representative for District 34 — the amendments would allow the state to study what model would be best for Oregon universities.

“Currently, the Tuition Freeze and the Pay It Forward concepts are being amended into one bill that will create a Task Force to examine what will work best in Oregon,” said Harker.

Harker is optimistic about the bill’s progress after the amendments.

“That bill is anticipated  to pass out of the House Higher Education Committee and on to the Ways & Means Committee,” he said.

HB 3025 was heard along with HB 2838 and 3472 on Wednesday. The bill would appropriate tax revenue into a “Next Generation Fund” to fund higher education and early childhood education programs.

According to Harker, bills proposing innovative solutions to student debt are important in reducing the price of higher education.

“Education is hugely valuable but it shouldn’t be hugely expensive,” he said.

With proposals like the tuition freeze task force, Harker said he hopes that the cost of higher education can be reduced.

“I am well aware of the rising cost of higher education and I’d like to provide financial certainty to our students,” he said.

Sign My Petition or I’ll Lose My Job – Part One


From Switzerland to Eugene: The History of the Oregon Initiative Process

2012 is an election year. From the presidential race to local ballot measures, voters are bombarded daily with candidates and issues to consider. In large cities around Oregon, you will often encounter a more personal method of campaigning: canvassing. If you have been to the DMV or a bus stop or public library, you likely have seen people canvassing. They approach with clipboards and colorful petition papers, asking if you are registered to vote and, if you are, to please sign your name and print your address for one issue or another. For the 2012 election, Oregon public advocates are attempting to get a total of 43 initiatives on the ballot.

Considering that the average petition requires 87,213 signatures to qualify for the ballot, this means the average Oregon voter has been or will be asked many times to sign many petitions. And you might wonder: Why am I being asked to sign? What am I being asked to sign? Who are these people? Do they get paid? Can I trust them?

What is this whole petition thing about?

In the next few days, EDN will take you inside the Oregon initiative process: the history, what canvassing jobs entail, and, most significantly, claims voters and former employees are making about one of Oregon’s leading canvassing companies.

How it all began

In 1902, the state of Oregon began a grand experiment in democracy. An overwhelming majority of its voters, 91 percent, approved an amendment to the state constitution, allowing a process of initiatives and referendums. The idea was to provide voters with two ways of directly changing Oregon statutes and the Oregon Constitution. The initiative process gives direct legislative power to voters, permitting any person to sponsor an initiative to enact or change laws or the Constitution. The referendum process, on the other hand, allows voters to reject legislation adopted by the Oregon Legislature. The overarching idea was to place ultimate authority to change Oregon law in the hands of its citizens.

According to the Oregon State Bar,

“The initiative is a direct democracy idea from Switzerland. In the 1800’s, the initiative process became a movement adopted by American Populist and Progressive political groups to challenge special interest groups.”

Oregon’s initiative process is a direct democracy idea from Switzerland.

Oregon was one of the first states to allow the use of the initiative process. Oregon was also the first state to place a statewide initiative on its ballot, in 1904.  University of Oregon Professor Daniel HoSang says the impetus behind this move was to free the electoral process from undemocratic influences. HoSang says,

It comes from a particular time, especially in the western U.S., where there was distrust of elected representatives, especially from the influence of big corporations. The idea was, if we could put the power back in the hands of people, we could get things done.”

Much has indeed been done since 1902. As of April 2010, the State of Oregon reported that Oregon voters have passed 118 of 348 initiative measures on the ballot and 23 of 64 referenda on the ballot. During the same period, the legislature has referred 419 measures to the people, of which 244 have passed.

Passing a law through the initiative process is not easy. The sponsor of the proposal, the chief petitioner, must first qualify the proposal to be on the ballot of a General Election. To do this, the chief petitioner must receive written approval from the Secretary of State to circulate signature sheets in order to collect signatures from registered voters. Chief petitioners must then obtain the necessary number of valid signatures and submit them to the Secretary of State no later than four months prior to the date of the next regularly scheduled General Election.

Article IV, Section 1 of the Oregon Constitution establishes the number of signatures required to qualify an initiative to the ballot. The number of active registered voter signatures required to place an initiative measure on the ballot is based upon a percentage of the total votes cast for all candidates for Governor at the last election in which a candidate for Governor was elected to a full term. The signature requirements for 2012 are: for statutory change, 6% (or 87,213); for an amendment to the constitution, 8% (or 116,284).

But for many reformers, this is a battle worth the hassle. In fact, many of the initiatives  since 1902 have held great significance for the state. Great battles of ideas have been waged within this democratic experiment. Phil Keisling, former Oregon Secretary of State, explains:

“The initiative process has often been a safety valve for ideas that have been thwarted through the legislative process. It has allowed citizens who cannot get issues addressed to go through the initiative process to do so. At the turn of the century, it was women’s suffrage. It took a while but it’s one of the most significant milestones. The initiative process finally got the legislature to do it. Or there’s the income tax. From 1920-1930, the initiative process helped abolish the state dependency on statewide property tax in favor of progressive tax.”

For a long time there were not many initiatives. In the early 1970s, for example, there were fewer than 20 initiatives in the whole country. But by 1996 there was a total of 22 initiatives on the Oregon ballot alone. When Phil Keisling was Secretary of State, he saw 50 initiatives get on the ballot. As the initiative process grew in scope and power over the years, so, too, did the stakes involved. As more groups become interested in pursuing their agendas through initiatives instead of the legislature, the costs and difficulties of successfully passing an initiative increased.

Enter the money

When chief petitioners want to get an initiative on the ballot, they face the daunting task of collecting almost 100,000 signatures to change a law, and over 100,000 to amend the Constitution. Originally, the people who would gather signatures were volunteers. For a while people could be paid to gather signatures. In 1935, Oregon prohibited the use of paid signature gatherers. However, in 1983 this prohibition was repealed. As special interest groups, corporations, and unions invested in the initiative process, money flooded the system.

Keisling says, “It’s almost now exclusively a necessity to pay for it. It’s now $300-400,000 for an initiative. The vote by mail initiative was the last to pass solely by volunteers. It’s happened, of course, because the courts have allowed it. As more people did it, the more common it became, starting in the 1990′s. When people get less inclined to sign, volunteers have a harder time doing it. The number of initiatives is down in the last decade. They are down because more and more people are leery of it. Also, it is out of reach for larger numbers of groups.”

Signature gathering is a big industry.

As the costs skyrocketed, the task of gathering signatures became a business. Groups started popping up everywhere. In 1998, there were 50 companies in California alone dedicated to gathering signatures for political efforts. In Oregon, companies included Arno Political Consultants, VOTE Oregon, the Signature Gathering Company of Oregon, and Democracy Resources.

As money flooded the system, the claims of corruption began—though money has been an integral part of politics since the beginning.

Professor HoSang says, “Money has influenced the initiative process for the last 75 years. Special interests have done this throughout the 20th century. It is not a current phenomenon. The notion of a golden period is just not true.”

But in recent decades, the influence of money on the initiative process has received significant attention. In 2002, Oregon voters agreed to amend the Constitution (Measure 26) to prohibit chief petitioners of initiative campaigns in Oregon from paying petition circulators on a per-signature basis, either directly or indirectly. The idea was that, when people are paid per signature collected, they have an incentive to cheat—make up signatures, lie about their petitions, and so forth.

“There’s something unsavory about putting a price per signature,” HoSang says.

While Oregon is one of 27 states with an initiative process, it is only one of a few states —Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming— that have banned paying per signature. The results are not exactly clear. To some people, like Keisling, this has cleaned up the process: “It’s taken the most direct, powerful incentive to cheat out of the equation.”

But to others, like HoSang, money is not the issue, per se. Rather, the problem is the process itself:

“In California they still pay per signature. But here in Oregon, where you can’t pay per signature, you still see people with four or five petitions shouting out two sentences for each. ‘Save our children!’ you know. The interaction is inevitably shallow and appeals to peoples’ base interests. There’s not a huge amount of difference in corruption between California and Oregon. It’s like any other campaign finance reform.”

Democracy Resources

Democracy Resources website (Portland)

Ultimately, whether signatures are gathered legally is up to the signature gatherers themselves and the companies that employ them. In Oregon, news stories appear every election cycle about corruption within the businesses. In 2006, for example, stories surfaced about canvassers paying homeless people to sign their petitions. Often it is difficult to pin point who is responsible for these violations, as the Portland Mercury reported about the incident:

“Many initiative campaigns…hire their petitioning work out to firms like the California-based Arno Political Consultants, which had the contract for the term limits and TABOR petitions, or local firm Democracy Direct, which was hired to run the redistricting of judges petition. These companies will then frequently hire the work out to subcontractors, who in turn hire the work out to sub-subcontractors. By the time these petitions hit the streets, it’s difficult to determine who is working for whom.

When some canvassing companies violate the rules, it can affect other companies.

“When voters hear about fraud, they get turned off from the whole process,” says Ted Blaszak, owner of Democracy Resources. “The most frustrating thing is that it’s just not hard to follow the law and treat your staff with respect.”

Blaszak’s company, Democracy Resources, has been prominent in Eugene the last few months. In fact, if you have been anywhere around Lane County, you have probably seen employees from the company. Dressed in brown vests with IDs hanging around their necks, they seem to be everywhere.

It’s less than a week until the July 6, 2012 deadline when canvassing groups must get their signatures to the Secretary of State to qualify their petitions for the Oregon ballots, so workers for Democracy Resources have been in full swing. “Are you registered to vote? Do you like kids and salmon? If so, sign.”

That’s their general approach. You will find them at the University of Oregon, the DMVs, the post offices, in the Wal-Mart parking lots, the Saturday Market, and the bus stations. They are hustling everyone they can for signatures. They are even at the beach in Florence, the OSU campus, and stationed around Roseburg.

Based in Portland, Oregon and run by Ted Blaszak, Democracy Resources says on its home page that it is “the national leader in signature gathering.” In the last twelve years, they say they have “qualified more than 50 measures for the ballot in states, counties, and municipalities across the nation.” This year in Oregon they are working on four different measures: 21, 35, 36, and 38 (the first two are for public schools and Oregon salmon fishing, the second two are for legalizing private casinos).

But while Democracy Resources claims to be the leader in signature gathering and the example of how it can be done ethically and legally, stories around Eugene have surfaced of another side to the company. With the economy in a recession and people desperate for jobs, the question arises:

What exactly does it mean to follow the law and treat your staff with respect?

PART TWO: Former and current employees of Democracy Resources have important answers to that question.
PART THREE: Are Voters getting the whole truth?

Note: Democracy Resources did not respond to numerous attempts on EDN’s part for comments or an interview on this or any other part of the investigative series.

Background, discussion and details are available on the R.L. Stollar, Journalist blog.