Governor Appoints New Secretary of State, Department of Education Director
Requiems continue for the recently adjourned 2023 Oregon legislative session as Governor Kotek combs through 350 bills passed after the Senate GOP walkout ended. Kotek has signed 250 bills into law but signaled she hasn’t ruled out vetoes, including for the measure legalizing self-service gas statewide. She invited Oregonians to comment on pending bills on her website.
Kotek waited until legislative adjournment to appoint LaVonne Griffin-Valade, a retired government auditor, as Secretary of State and nominate Charlene Williams, a veteran educator and administrator, to head the Department of Education. Williams will serve as interim director until her appointment is confirmed by the Senate.
Legislative advocates are counting their wins and losses, especially from the walkout that forced lawmakers to set aside measures for lack of time such as a proposed ban on flavored tobacco products or caused them to lose track and forget to extend funding for legal assistance to crime victims.
The governor failed to get one of her priority housing bills because of local government opposition. Trial lawyers were unable to secure passage of a measure to allow insurance companies to be sued for unfair settlement claims. Technology companies dodged the bullet of being required to use green energy for their data centers.
Homeowners will be able to erase racial discrimination language from their deeds. Measure 110 was tweaked to provide more incentive for direct drug users to seek treatment for addiction. And Republican lawmakers saw some of their funding requests evaporate from the Christmas Tree bill, presumably as a response to the walkout. An unheralded measure will provide funding so every Oregon child up to 5 years old will be eligible to receive a free book a month from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.
The May 16 election for school board seats and a variety of other local elected positions produced a surprising winner. Former President Donald Trump won a seat on the Hubbard Rural Fire Protection District board. Trump and four others earned the same number of write-in votes. Trump won the seat based on a roll of the dice. Local officials doubted he would claim the victory.
Oregon’s New Secretary of State
LaVonne Griffin-Valade, a former auditor for Multnomah County and the City of Portland before retiring to become a writer, will be sworn in today as the replacement for Shemia Fagan who resigned under the shadow of ethical concerns over her moonlighting for a cannabis company.
Kotek said it was important to appoint someone with the background to oversee the politically charged 2024 election. “LaVonne Griffin-Valade has the professional background and ethical judgment to rise above politics and lead the important work of the agency forward,” Kotek said in a statement. “This role demands accountability and transparency, especially at this moment, and I am eager to see her leadership restore faith in the Secretary of State’s office.”
A spokesperson said Kotek didn’t require Griffin-Valade to commit for or against running for the office in 2024. In a statement, Griffin-Valade said, “I have the experience to bring back credibility, accountability, transparency and trust to the Secretary of State’s office. It’s never been more important to have a leader who will focus on rebuilding the public’s trust in the Secretary of State’s office, and that is exactly what I will aim to do every day.”
Oregon’s First Black Education Chief
Dr. Charlene Williams, who has been a community college math teacher, high school principal and public school administrator, will become Oregon’s first Black director for the Department of Education. “Dr. Williams is strategic, thoughtful, hard-working and exactly the leader our state education system needs at this moment,” Kotek said in announcing the appointment.
“I’ve seen first-hand how a positive student-teacher relationship can set a child on a successful path for the rest of their life,” Williams said in a news release. “First and foremost, my goal will be to support students in every corner of the state so that they have the same chance to succeed. I recognize the significance of my appointment to this role and the immense amount of work we have ahead of us. I’m looking forward to building partnerships with students, educators and families across Oregon that advance equity and student success.”
Williams’ LinkedIn page says of herself, “I am a wife, mother, teacher, leader, author and lifelong learner. My aim is to help educators eliminate opportunity and outcome disparities so each student is able to thrive.”
Kotek Reviews Slew of Bills
As reported by the Oregon Capital Chronicle, Kotek has 350 bills left to review and 30 days after the end of the session to sign or veto them. Without either, a bill becomes law without her signature. Kotek said she hasn’t identified any bills she’s planning to veto. “We are just sitting down with bills,” Kotek said. “A lot happened. My team reads every bill. I read every bill. I don’t have any ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ at this point.”
Racist Deed Language Erasure – HB 3294
The bill allows homeowners to ask county clerks to remove discriminatory language in their property deeds. The legislation was introduced by freshman Rep. Danial Nguyen, D-Lake Oswego, in response to a request from local homeowners.
Measure 110 Loophole Closed – HB 2645
In response to rising overdoses, HB 2645 adds fentanyl, the drug blamed for many overdoses, to the penalty list included in the voter-approved ballot measure aimed focusing on addiction treatment instead of jail time. Fentanyl penalties will parallel existing penalties for heroin, cocaine and meth.
Crime Victim Nonprofit Loses Funding
In what appears to be an oversight in the hectic final days of the session, continued funding wasn’t approved for the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center that provides free legal assistance to crime victims. No one involved in the legislature had a reason for the discontinued funding. Founded in 2009, the Center has five attorneys on staff and last year worked with more than 300 crime victims, many of whom were referred by district attorneys or community groups.
Oregon Omnibus Climate Bill
The Climate Resilience Package was a compilation of more than a dozen bills with a focus on community resiliency, adaptation and reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions in the building sector. It provides for a $90 million state investment designed to attract up to $1 billion in federal dollars in future years. Bills in the package range from installing 500,000 heat pumps across the state by 2030 to rebates for purchasing medium and heavy-duty electric trucks. They also include energy efficiency retrofits for residential and commercial buildings and a bill creating a one-stop shop within the Department of Energy for clean energy federal rebates.
Requiring energy-intensive data centers to power their facilities with 80 percent clean energy or lose part of their property tax breaks wasn’t included because of intensive lobbying by tech companies and electric utilities. House Bill 2009 extended the enterprise zone program without enacting those restrictions. It does require local governments to give advance notice of new enterprise zone programs and requires companies to negotiate with school districts to cover revenue lost through property tax deals.
Primate Center Accountability
Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved House Bill 2904 that requires OHSU, which operates the Oregon Primate Center, to report injuries and deaths of primates that resulted in a citation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which inspects the center. Primate Center records indicate 17 primate deaths due to negligence between 2005 and 2020. “Reasonable people can disagree on whether using animals for medical research is scientifically valid or ethical,” Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis. “But we have to agree that it’s not being done very well here in Oregon. There must be accountability, and if leadership can’t fix the problems, there has to be intervention.”
Reviews of Final Legislative Days
The Final Day
Legislative Referrals for 2024 Election