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Slant 3-3-2016

The insurance industry won what could be a temporary victory in the short session of the Oregon Legislature when a bill to increase the 29-year-old cap on damages on wrongful death lawsuits died quietly without a Senate vote. Two Lane county senators, Lee Beyer and Chris Edwards, said they would not support the change even though their caucus and governor did support it. The bill had passed the House easily. The present cap on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases is $500,000, passed in 1987 and never adjusted for cost-of-living increases. The fight is sure to continue in the longer 2017 session.

• The Legislature’s bill to raise the minimum wage incrementally in Oregon will soon be the law of the land, sucking energy from the two citizen initiative campaigns seeking to make a higher minimum wage mandatory statewide. Raise the Wage ended its campaign this week, but 15 Now Oregon is still active. Rep. Val Hoyle is calling SB 1532 a “victory for Oregon workers,” and it is, but the more immediate higher wage proposed by 15 Now Oregon would have more benefit to workers and our economy than the phased-in compromise hashed out in Salem. Fears and alarms persist about raising the minimum wage, but opponents ignore history: Previous raises have not had a significant impact on small businesses or youth employment. We adjust and move on. Let’s not forget that 89 percent of minimum wage workers nationwide are age 20 or older and 56 percent of them are women, many of them struggling to raise families and relying on public assistance.

A disturbing bill with bipartisan support is working its way through the Legislature. HB 4079, which would open the door to expanding urban growth boundaries (UGBs) in Oregon, has had a public hearing and has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee with a do-pass recommendation. HB 4079 has been called “a major threat” to land-use planning by the Oregon Conservation Network. The bill would allow “expansion onto farm, forest and natural lands,” says OCN, if some undefined percentage of the 50-acre expansion is zoned for affordable housing, such as mobile home parks. It’s a purposefully vague bill open to interpretation, and it could easily be manipulated by land speculators. There’s no need to expand our UGBs for affordable housing, even if that were the true intent of the legislation. And of course developing on the outskirts carries a heavy burden on taxpayers who will inevitably subsidize expensive infrastructure and services. 

• On a related note, we asked Sen. Lee Beyer of Springfield why he introduced SB 1573, a bill that would require cities to annex land without a public vote if landowners petition for annexation (see Slant Feb. 18). He finally got back to us after three weeks. He admits the bill’s language originated with the Oregon Home Builders Association and other related groups. Oddly enough, he tells us he “strongly believes” that “communities have a right to determine the development pattern of their community.” But he goes on to say, “The time for voicing growth concerns and voting on those plans should be on the comprehensive plan, not as an afterthought.” This seriously flawed pro-sprawl bill would take away discretion cities and citizens have on when and where to expand into their UGBs. The bill might die in committee this year, but we expect it to be back in 2017.

 • Two big deals for journalism this week. One was Spotlight, the movie about The Boston Globe taking on the Catholic church, winning the Oscar for best picture. The second was the announcement that Win McCormack, liberal editor and publisher who lives in Portland and New York, has bought New Republic. It seems likely that he will bring the venerable old magazine back. McCormack is a prominent Democratic fundraiser and donor in Portland. Two cheers for investigative journalism.