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A criminal investigation has been launched into the alleged diversion of expensive bourbon brands, including Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon, by top officials at the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission.

OLCC Officials Face Criminal Probe for Diverting Pricey Bourbons

Committees began grappling with stickier issues in week four of the 2023 legislative session after handling most of the politically easier “technical” fix bills. Budget committees continue to receive agency overviews while awaiting the March revenue forecast.

An investigation came to light alleging senior officials at the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission improperly set aside for personal use expensive brands of bourbon. Governor Kotek already had asked for the resignation of OLCC Director Steve Marks and then demanded resignations from the implicated senior OLCC officials. The Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation and The New York Times picked up the story.

The Senate Health Care and Human Services Committee took testimony on Senate Bill 486 to provide reimbursement to hospitals for patients no longer needing acute care but without placement options. It also dealt with Senate Bill 584 related to access to health care interpreters.

The House Health Care Committee began hearings on the sustainability of the state’s 9.8.8 mental health hotline with a 40-cent monthly surcharge on telecommunications lines. It’s the only new tax Kotek is advocating and likely to pass. The committee also began to review a series of health care mandate bills.

Oregon Department of Transportation staff briefed the Joint Committee on Transportation on electrification and public charging infrastructure. The agency said it will take active steps to prevent EV charging deserts where private-sector stations aren’t viable.

House Business aired House Bill 2800, introduced at AARP’s request, that would establish a new standard for age discrimination, including prohibiting employers from asking age-related questions in job interviews.

Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp announced floor-vote delaying tactics would continue until Democrats agree to scrap renter eviction or gun control bills.

Leah Feldon

New DEQ Director Named
Leah Feldon was chosen as director of the Department of the Environmental Quality following a seven-month, nation-wide search. Feldon, who is an attorney, has served as interim director since September and has been with the agency since 2005. In 2016, Feldon became the Special Advisor to the director of the Cleaner Air Oregon program.

Top State Executives Resign
At the request of Governor Kotek, three state agency directors have resigned – Barry Pack as director of the Oregon Lottery, Steve Marks as director of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission and Andrew Phelps of the Office of Emergency Management. Patrick Allen, head of the Oregon Health Authority, resigned earlier. Pack was an aide to Governor Brown when she was a state senator and secretary of state. Marks, who served as the final chief of staff for Governor John Kitzhaber, won praise for helping the OLCC manage legalization of marijuana. Phelps came to Oregon after working in emergency management roles in New Mexico and serving as a volunteer firefighter.

Cities Lack Funds to Prep Industrial Land
A survey reveals many Oregon cities lack the financial resources to make land ready for industrial development, including 500-acre or larger sites for semiconductor labs. The survey was released by the Oregon Economic Development Association, the League of Oregon Cities and Oregon Business Council, on behalf of the Oregon Semiconductor Coalition. Farming advocates expressed concern about industrial expansion onto prime farmland.

Making Immigrants Eligible for Food Aid – SB 610
Democratic lawmakers are touting a bill to make undocumented immigrants and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) individuals eligible for federal food benefits. Oregon Food Bank, Partners for Hunger Free Oregon and 75 other nonprofits are seeking the legislation to qualify up to 60,000 current Oregon residents for food assistance. The Department of Human Services is developing a cost estimate.

Tax Breaks for Homeowners Who Rent Rooms – HB 3032
Legislation to make homeowners who rent rooms eligible to subtract up to $12,000 per room from their taxable income on Oregon returns. The bill moved from the House Committee on Housing and Homelessness on a 9-1 vote. Supporters said it would create more immediate housing options, assist homeowners and lessen the need to build more affordable housing units. Oregon needs another 110,000 houses or apartments. Opponents said the measure lacks renter protections, gives homeowners an unnecessary tax break and would create situations similar to adult children living with their parents.

Domestic terrorists have been accused of destroying Pacific Northwest electric substations.

Bills Aim at Domestic Terrorism – HB 2572, HB 2772
Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, introduced  House 2772 that would make domestic terrorism by individuals or groups a felony. House 2572 address paramilitary activity. Both bills will be hear in House Judiciary this week. The Oregon Secretary of State issued a report last year noting Oregon has the sixth highest violent extremism incidents in the nation. Oregon, as well as other states, attracted national attention when armed militia groups took over public lands and targeted the electric grid.

Remote Worker Transportation Reimbursement – SB 853
Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp introduced legislation to end a pandemic-era policy of reimbursing full-time state remote workers for travel back to their home offices. All 30 Oregon senators and 26 House members signed onto the bill. Knopp said he wrote the bill after reading about the practice in Willamette Week. Knopp indicated there are 500 or so state workers who live out of state or in remote locations that receive compensation when they travel to Salem.

Fight Over Measure 110 Funding – HB 2089
House Revenue took testimony on legislation that would return marijuana tax revenue to cities, counties and state police and away from drug addiction efforts flowing from voter-approved Measure 110. Recovery advocates say more time is needed to prove the value of addiction services. Local government representatives say the diverted money is needed to boost law enforcement, including in Southern Oregon to combat illegal cannabis farming.

Set-Aside for Literacy Training – HB 3198
The legislation would carve out $1 billion per year of corporate taxes to train teachers and principals how best to teach reading and support school districts as they buy and implement new research-backed, phonics-centric curricula. The goal is to overcome Oregon’s 39 percent rate of third-grader reading proficiency. Advocates contend there is no requirement for Oregon school districts to rely on reading curricula supported by brain research.

Funds to Support Local Journalism – HB 2605
Recent local newspaper closures prompted introduction of legislation to give emergency grants and other support to local journalists and newsrooms. It also would create a workgroup to analyze how to prevent local news deserts and deliver a report next year.

Oregon Pizza Costs a Lot of Dough
Marketwatch, a pizza delivery app, conducted a study that found a large cheese pizza in Oregon averages $26.94, the highest in the nation. The national average is $17.81, according to the study. The best pizza bargain can be found in Oklahoma at $12.70 per pie. Portland has earned a reputation as one of the top pizza places in America.