Image for Ups and Downs of Kotek’s First 100 Days
Governor Kotek has scored an impressive set of legislative achievements in her first 100 days in office, but she still has the lowest favorability poll numbers among all 50 governors.

Senator Frederick Gains Influence on I-5 Bridge Replacement

Governor Kotek reached her 100-day mark as Oregon’s chief executive with solid legislative achievements but puny poll results. She won passage of funding for her emergency homelessness executive order and shepherded Oregon’s CHIPS Act to bolster the state’s chances of attracting more advanced manufacturing jobs.

Despite that, public perception has not been kind. According to a recent poll, Kotek has the least popular support of any governor in the country. And now she and key budget-writers sharpy disagree with her request to dip into new to state rainy day fund contributions to invest in literacy, affordable housing and behavioral health.

Kotek also dissed the legislative proposal to commit $1 billion in state bonding over the next four biennia for the I-5 Columbia River Bridge replacement. She wants to reserve state bonding capacity for affordable housing investments.

Portland Democratic Senator Lew Frederick was named interim co-chair of the Joint Transportation Committee. He replaces Troutdale Democratic Senator Chris Gorsek who is recovering from major surgery. The switch gives Frederick a key position to influence the direction and funding of I-5 bridge replacements, which runs through Senate district.

House Bill 2098 was introduced as a placeholder and amended to provide $1 billion for the bridge project. The amendments also sets an overall project cap at $6.3 billion, with contributions by the federal government and $1 billion from the Washington legislature. There will be a hearing this week on the amended measure.

Week 14 of the 2023 legislative session included a self-imposed deadline for legislators to submit priority bills and projects to the Ways and Means co-chairs, who hope to narrow the focus on a smaller universe of priorities in coming weeks. As the deadline approached, legislators engaged in horse-trading to keep bills and projects alive. The exercise went from a narrow funnel to the equivalent of a salad spinner when the co-chairs allowed exceptions for committee chairs and others to place bills on a separate priority list. Final budget decisions will be based off the May revenue forecast made public May 17

Meanwhile, the Ways and Means Committee continued its roadshow hearings in Roseburg, Ontario and Salem. To the relief of many, the House Health Care Committee announced an end to its Tuesday night hearings.

Dems Propose Constitutional Amendment – SJR 33
Legislative Democrats want Oregon voters to decide on a constitutional amendment in the 2024 general election guaranteeing the right to same-sex marriage, abortion and gender-affirming care. The amendment would repeal language in the Oregon Constitution since 2004 that states, “only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or legally recognized as a marriage.”  That provision has not been enforced since a federal judge ruled in 2004 it was unconstitutional.

Open Primary Initiative
Supporters of open primaries are circulating Petition 2024-16 that would apply to all state and federal offices except president and vice president, and would allow all candidates to appear on the ballot “regardless of whether the candidate is or is not affiliated with a political party.” It also would allow all voters to choose any candidate for each office, which would permit a voter in the primary  election to cast ballots for a Republican congressional candidate, Democratic nominee for gubernatorial candidate and a non-aligned candidate for a legislative seat.

Public Defender – SB 1093, SB 337
Senate Bill 1093 would require the presiding judge of each judicial district to develop an unrepresented defendant crisis plan and send it to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission by September 1. Larger judicial districts with a population of more than 100,000 would need to appoint a crisis team to oversee the plan. Senate 337 would reshape Oregon’s public defense system by increasing compensation for defense lawyers and putting trial-level public defenders on the state government payroll to supplement the work that is contracted out. The Public Defense Services Commission, which oversees the public defenders’ office, would hire the trial attorneys. Under the bill, at least 20 percent of public defenders would need to be employed by the commission by 2031. By 2035, at least 3o percent of trial-level public defenders would need to be employed by the state.

State School Oversight Scaled Back – SB 1045
School advocates brought enough pressure to scale back legislation, introduced at the request of Governor Kotek and in response to an audit by the  Secretary of State, to give the Department of Education more latitude to monitor Oregon’s 181 public school district. The retooled bill, which be heard by Senate Rules, would only expand the state’s oversight powers when there are violations of rules and regulations that apply to students in a “protected class”. “This gets at the most crucial issue, when a district is violating the civil rights of a protected class under state laws,” said Jim Green, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association. “This gives the Oregon Department of Education the ability to step in and say, ‘You need to stop.’”

Prison Education Funding Boost – SB 270
The Senate passed Senate 270 aimed at making higher education classes and programs more accessible for prison inmates, a move intended to boost their odds of success after their release. The bill passed with a bipartisan 23-5 vote. The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 269 last week that would require the Oregon Department of Corrections and Higher Education Coordinating Commission to work more closely on policies and strategies to educate adults in custody. Both bills now go to the House.

Medically Assisted Suicide – HB 2279
House Bill 2279 would lift the 25-year-old Death with Dignity Act’s requirement that physicians only prescribe life-ending medications to Oregon residents. If passed, Oregon would become the second state to do so, after Vermont, which is close to passing a similar bill. The legislation follows a settled lawsuit that claimed the residency requirement violated patient rights. After the lawsuit, the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Medical Board agreed not to enforce the residency restriction. HB 2279 passed the House on a mostly partisan vote. In total, 2,454 people have died after ingesting end-of-life medications under the state’s law since it was approved by Oregon voters in 1997.

Abortion Pill Access
Oregon secured 22,500 doses of the abortion drug mifepristone to help ensure patients have access for at least three years, according to Governor Kotek’s office. The purchase comes as the issue of removing the abortion pill from market is ricocheting in federal court. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected any decision and sent the issue, which involves the adequacy of testing the pill, back to lower courts to untangle.