The Oregon Legislature passed the midway point of the 2018 session Thursday, but much of the action in the Capitol took place away from the House and Senate floors.
Foster care funding: Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday asked the Legislature to approve $14.5 million in immediate funding to hire about 200 more caseworkers for the understaffed Department of Human Services child welfare program. The move occurs after a scathing audit by the secretary of state that found an overstretched staff was subject to intimidation from managers. The new staff would be used for “front line” work such as visits to homes where children have been placed. In addition to the audit, Brown’s handling of the foster care situation was criticized in a Feb. 5 news conference by Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, who is running for governor. Buehler had called for a $50 million infusion of funds for a “rapid-improvement” team. Brown said she would ask for additional funding in the next state budget to keep the added positions in place.
Helt in: Bend-La Pine school board member Cheri Helt has officially filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office to run for the 54th House District seat Buehler is giving up to run for governor. Helt had announced her candidacy in late January and created a campaign finance committee but did not file for office until Tuesday. To date, Helt has raised just under $32,000 for the race. Bend City Councilor Nathan Boddie, a Democrat, is the only other registered candidate. He has raised just under $25,000. Candidates have until March 6 to register for the May 15 primary.
No action: The House Rules Committee held a two-hour hearing on possible amendments to a proposed carbon pollution cap-and-invest program but adjourned without a work session, leaving the bill in committee. House Democrats are considering a plan to approve legislation this year to introduce a carbon cap on the top 100 polluters in the state by 2021. Under the proposal, the pollution credit market mechanism would be determined in 2019. Republican House leadership wants the entire concept shelved until next year.
Resignation review: Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, have asked the Oregon Law Commission to review how lawmakers might more swiftly be removed from office. The issue was brought up again by the resignation of Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, who was accused of sexual harassment. Kruse agreed to step down from the Senate but was able to set his own timetable for his departure. While agreeing to stay away from the Capitol in the meantime, Kruse said his resignation would not be official until March 15, which allows him to collect pay and the $109 daily stipend paid to legislators while the Legislature is in session. In a letter released Thursday afternoon, Kotek and Courtney asked the Oregon Law Commission to review state policies and laws to ensure the Capitol is a harassment-free workplace.
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