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Legislators brief Gresham leaders

Education will be a big topic for East Multnomah County legislators in the short February legislative session, local business and civic leaders learned in a briefing Wednesday.

The Oregon legislature will meet for 35 days starting Feb. 1. Each legislator can introduce two bills. Every legislative committee also gets three bills in the session, the legislators explained.

Four topics have generated plenty of interest for the upcoming session and will likely be addressed in bills coming out of the various committees, the legislators said. The hot button issues are housing, energy policy and improving the foster care system.

Proposed increases in the minimum wage, which was a big topic of discussion for the local leaders and business people at the briefing, will also get a lot of attention next month in Salem. (See the article on the front page of this edition of The Outlook).

Housing shortages, affordability and homelessness, especially in the Portland metro area, have garnered concern among legislators and the public. Lawmakers are looking at issues such as a moratorium on no-cause evictions and zoning changes.

Gov. Kate Brown and others have advocated for increasing renewable energy sources in the state.

Flaws in the state's foster care system have been making headlines in the last few months and multiple proposals have surfaced to improve foster care.

Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, Rep. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, Rep. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, and Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, spoke — and listened — at a breakfast meeting of the East Metro Economic Alliance on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

Johnson plans to introduce a bill to make Oregon Promise successful, he said. Oregon Promise offers reduced-to-free tuition for many students attending Oregon community colleges, starting with those graduating from high school or getting a GED in spring 2016.

About 7,000 students have already applied for Oregon Promise statewide, he said. We want to make sure all 17 community colleges are ready and that we offer the “type of wraparound support services...so students don't fall through the cracks.”

Frederick plans on promoting a bill that will fund cultural competency education for teachers and administrators in schools. Frederick said this issue is particularly important to East Multnomah County schools, which are dealing with ever-increasing diversity.

“This is not new,” Frederick said, but the issue needs to be addressed consistently and funding is needed for ongoing educator training.

One of Gorsek's bills will extend the time landlords must give tenants for a no-cause eviction to 90 days from the current 30 days.

Frederick also plans a bill that would give folks spending time in jail ways to more easily pay their court fees, which can balloon to thousands of dollars as they serve their sentences.

“This seems counterproductive,” he said, while suggesting community service as a way to erase the debt.

Dembrow will push a bill that will give the Bureau of Labor and Industries more funding so that it can investigate and enforce wage complaints.

Johnson also plans to introduce legislation to clarify a ski resort's liability for folks who get hurt while skiing or doing other activities. His district includes heavily-used recreation areas on and around Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.

“We want to get the language updated. What is the skier's responsibility...what is the resort's responsibility?”

Monnes Anderson will push a bill that will make it simpler to prosecute child abusers. “It is easier to prosecute someone who has committed animal abuse then human abuse,” she said.