5 Oregon Stories to Watch, February 21–27
We’re getting down to the wire in Salem with the short legislative session currently underway—it’s supposed to be just a chance to patch budget holes and pass emergency measures, but the definition of “patch” and “emergency,” as it turns out, is pretty fluid. We’ll be watching this week for which bills might actually make it out of committee and onto the floors of the House or Senate for a vote; meanwhile, in Portland, get ready for a debate about whether we should all be paying more to park on city streets.
Starts and Stops in Salem
With just two weeks to go in the legislative session (which by law has to wrap up on March 7), a number of bills have fallen by the wayside (sorry, universal basic income pilot program. Your time is apparently not now, here in Oregon.) But we’ve got our eyes on a handful of others that are still standing, and which could see decisive action this week, among them a proposal to make it easier to register to vote online, using only the last four digits of your Social Security number, which has made it through the House and now is in committee in the Senate; a bill that would ban police from making traffic stops based solely on low-level violations (a burned-out taillight, for example), which is parked in the Joint Ways and Means committee; a bill to allow those in Oregon who’ve been convicted by non-unanimous juries to seek a new trial (also in Joint Ways and Means); and Gov. Kate Brown’s final legacy gesture, a $200 million appropriation for job training programs, which is drawing bipartisan support and is also with Ways and Means. PSA: Follow the excellent bill-tracking coverage from the Oregon Capitol Chronicle for updates on these and other proposed legislation.
Lovely Rita’s Revenge
Because the folks at Portland City Hall clearly love controversy, next week they’ll open a new front in the category of stuff that locals can be mad at them about: Raising the price of parking on metered city streets and for parking permits. The hike is being proposed because the Portland Bureau of Transportation has miles and miles of deferred maintenance to attend to, and that gets expensive; the agency is currently operating at a deficit, and the pandemic hasn’t made it any easier. PBOT is expecting a whopping $88 million less in revenue than forecast, in part due to a loss in parking revenue. The upcharges would kick in by this summer; and prices could go up again in 2023, to have the cost of street parking reflect demand (and presumably nudge people to consider alternate forms of transportation, too.) The topic will come up at the Wednesday afternoon city council meeting; we imagine downtown business owners will be less than thrilled.
The Money Chase
Last week’s Oregon Supreme Court decision that New York Times columnist Nick Kristof was ineligible to seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination due to residency issues threw the governor’s race into a little bit of chaos. Kristof was a prodigious fundraiser, and though some of his donors were high-profile out-of-staters, many others were Oregonians, including the deep-pocketed United Food and Commercial Workers Union. With Kristof out of the race, we’ll be keeping a close eye this week on the Secretary of State’s campaign finance database, to see which candidates might be getting a second look from donors now that the field has shifted. Meanwhile, if you have a moment, Kristof's parting thoughts on the race and what comes next in Oregon, are worth a read.
A Protest Turns Deadly
Details are still thin on the ground about what exactly happened at a protest against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter this past Saturday in Northeast Portland. Here's what we do know: Things turned deadly, and by the time police arrived on scene, one woman was dead, and five more people were injured. The circumstances surrounding the violence are really unclear right now, but those attending the protest told Oregon Public Broadcasting that someone came out of a home nearby, confronted the demonstrators, and shot at them. Police have not confirmed this. In coming days, we should know more about what happened, and whether Saturday's tragic events will prompt more demonstrations in the days ahead.
With omicron-related hospital occupancy numbers plummeting even faster than expected (OHSU says we’re now on track for that target 400 hospitalization mark by March 20), Oregonians are starting to hit the town a bit more, and our flagship cultural organizations are beyond ready. Just two days ago, the Portland Art Museum opened what’s likely to be a blockbuster exhibit showcasing the work of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and their Mexican modernist contemporaries; meanwhile, the Oregon Ballet Theatre is premiering a suitably spine-tingling version of Dracula, complete with lots of aerial performances. To the ticket booth!