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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured the I-5 Columbia River Bridge and predicted a replacement is going to happen.

Buttigieg Encouraging, Hathi Cites Priorities and Woods Targets Deepfake Ads

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg swung by Vancouver and predicted the I-5 Columbia River Bridge replacement “is going to happen”.

In one of her first public appearances since arriving January 16, new Oregon Health Authority Director Sejal Hathi said she looks forward to working for a governor willing to make “bold decisions”.

Oregon lawmakers have joined their counterparts in other states attempting to regulate AI-generated deepfake political ads before the May and November elections.

I-5 Bridge
As part of a swing through Washington, Buttigieg told reporters at a stop in Vancouver the need for a replacement of the I-5 Columbia River Bridge is well-documented. “You can see how it is showing its age and how catastrophically disruptive it would be if that bridge was unavailable even for one day,” he said. “I think you would feel the effects across the country.”

Buttigieg’s visit comes after the Department of Transportation provided $600 million to continue work on a bridge replacement plan. While federal funding for a new bridge seems in the cards, Buttigieg stopped short of pledging federal funds to cover higher cost estimates. Washington and Oregon have both pledged to pitch in $1 billion for the bridge replacement. Buttigieg huddled with Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek and other local officials.

“This project has been big on our radar from day one,” he told OPB. “But just because we know a project is important doesn’t mean it always happens. These are very competitive programs, even with all the new funding” from the Infrastructure Investment Act.

Buttigieg did comment on the project’s job-creation potential. “We’re excited that we’re creating so many jobs that it’s difficult to find workers,” Buttigieg said. “But that’s also a huge challenge.”

One of his local stops was at a career and technical education school, where Buttigieg talked with students studying construction. For the bridge replacement to happen, he said “so much depends on these young people – and everybody across the trades.”

New OHA Director
Dr. Hathi, 33, an internist with experience in public health, told Dave Miller of OPB’s Think Out Loud that she took the job at OHA because of Oregon’s reputation as a trailblazer on health care and Governor Kotek’s commitment to make bold decisions. Hathi also said it helped to have a job closer to where she grew up in Northern California and earned her medical degree at Stanford.

She said her three priorities at OHA are achieving health equity, responding to the state’s behavioral health crisis and continuing to expand access to comprehensive, affordable health care. Hathi said those priorities could be expanded based on what she learns from a planned listening tour throughout the state.

Hathi deferred to state lawmakers on how Measure 110 should be modified, promising to implement changes that are approved. Legislative Democrats and Republicans are reportedly considering a unique misdemeanor charge for possession of small amounts of illicit drugs that could be tied to diverting drug users to treatment.

Hathi said the fraught rollout of Measure 110, a pioneering effort to treat addiction as a public health issue rather than a crime, wasn’t surprising. However, she pointed to often overlooked successes such as a $300 million investment in treatment facilities and housing, which led to a 100 percent increase in substance use disorder treatment and a 300 percent increase in supportive housing.

Miller asked Hathi, who was a senior policy advisor for public health in the Biden White House during the COVID-19 pandemic, what lessons she took from that experience. She said public health guidance in communications can be improved so they are “easy to understand, pragmatic and helpful”. Hathi also said information should be shared as new fast-changing findings are made.

Miller also asked how long Hathi expected to stay at OHA. She referenced two terms, presumably how long Kotek could be governor. She also said she and her husband have purchased a home and plan to start their family here.

“It’s important for Oregon to keep up with the times.”

Regulation of AI in Political Ads
Senator Aaron Woods, D-Wilsonville, introduced Senate Bill 1571 that would require a disclosure if artificial intelligence is used to depict a voice or image in a campaign ad. The bill, like similar ones under consideration in more than 30 states, aims to unmask deepfakes that can portray a candidate saying something they never said.

“It’s important for Oregon to keep up with the times,” said Woods, a retired Xerox executive. “The bill will build awareness.” The legislation has bipartisan support. Deepfakes surfaced in robocalls with a voice sounding like President Biden and a television ad mimicking Donald Trump’s voice. The Federal Communications Commission has already banned AI in robocalls.

As reported by OPB, an amendment to the bill would define “synthetic media” as an image, audio recording or video of a person that “has been intentionally manipulated with the use of artificial intelligence techniques or similar digital technology” and which gives voters a false impression of events.

Campaigns using synthetic media would be required to disclose it. Violations could result in a lawsuit from the Oregon Secretary of State and a maximum $10,000 fine. The bill includes exemptions for media organizations that report on campaign ads that feature AI.