Nearing the Home Stretch

The past week in Salem was relatively uneventful, but as it may be the second- or third-to-last week in session, every hour counts.

The “Grand Jury recording” bills, SB 496 and SB 505, are still in the Ways & Means Committee and have not yet been assigned to a subcommittee. ORCOPS’ lobbyists had been readying for a fight in the Public Safety Subcommittee, but this late in session the measures are likely to go instead to the politically powerful Capital Construction Subcommittee (which, despite the name, can hear any bill). We’ve been speaking with Ways & Means members to discuss the bills and their fiscal impact, especially as pertains to the release of public employee transcripts. Although no official fiscal impact statement has been released, sources say it will be around $10 million, so we are doing everything we can to push the message that this money could be much better spent elsewhere. Lately, our sources have stated that the Committee may forgo dipping into the State budget in favor of foisting those costs onto local governments — which would have an even more direct impact on local law enforcement budgets! We’ve been coordinating with the District Attorneys, who are similarly opposed. We’re also getting the message out to the cities and counties that $10 million could be better spent on programs and projects they are actually asking for. We’ve been helped by a great Op-Ed from Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis that appeared in The Oregonian earlier this week.

Senate Bill 712, which provides hours of service credit for vesting purposes and retirement credit to members who receive worker’s compensation disability payments and subsequently are reemployed by any participating public employer, passed out of Ways & Means with a “do-pass” recommendation. ORCOPS has supported this bill from its first hearing and we’ve consistently touched in with legislators to make sure they understand how important a bill like this is for our members.

As you may have recently read in The Oregonian, it appears that both significant revenue discussions as well as regressive PERS “reforms” are off the table in Salem … at least for now. The idea of trading benefit-cutting PERS “reforms” for a new statewide corporate tax increase was gestated prior to session. But now it seems that those conversations have stalled out with Republicans seemingly unwilling to budge on revenue, and the Democrats holding the line on PERS. In lieu of a proposed tax increase worth $890 million this biennium (which would have required a three-fifths “supermajority” that included Republican support), the Legislature is now looking at instead rolling back $200 million worth of business tax breaks from 2013 (eliminating tax cuts generally does not require a supermajority, although there is disagreement on this particular proposal). But without the need for Republican support on a tax proposal, Democratic leadership is unwilling to focus on PERS “reforms.” Although there is a short legislative session in February of 2018, it appears that both sides of the aisle intent to mothball these discussions—at least in a practical sense—until 2019.

Over the past few months, ORCOPS has met with dozens of legislators in both chambers and of both political persuasions to talk about the various proposals that have been floated. As the only member of the “PERS Coalition” that represents local law enforcement, ORCOPS made headway on both sides of the aisle. We’ve discussed how the “reform” ideas that have been floated not only consistently risk endangering our ability to attract and retain officers, but unfairly pushes a lot of additional financial burden on newer officers. We have also continued to push and testify to the principle that “a deal is a deal,” and when coming from the representatives for members of their local law enforcement, this has gone over well. This was especially helpful with Rep. Buehler (R – Bend) and Sen. Knopp (R – Bend), when discussing how PERS “reforms” would affect the members of Bend Police Department, who have recently joined our coalition. They both expressed their desire to better connect with their local law enforcement in the interim. ORCOPS discussed ways that PERS liabilities could be cut (by $3 billion or more) through more efficient management practices that won’t affect benefits.

To be clear, although at the moment PERS “reform” seems to be off the table, there are still 17 days left in the session and we will stay vigilant of any new developments. Just because all deals are off the table today, doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a last-minute bargain that we need to address in short order. For now, we will continue to work on taking the Grand Jury recordation bill off the table, run traps on any chance of PERS “reform” or other bad bills resurrecting, and watch for any last-minute amendments that would impact ORCOPS.

An Open Letter from Matt Ferguson, President – Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff’s Association

Dear elected officials,

I write to you as the elected president of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the exclusive labor representative of law enforcement deputies and sergeants working at the sheriff’s office. I serve the citizens and visitors of Multnomah County and support the men and women who police the cities inside this county. I have the honor of representing the men and women of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association.

Recently I have had people point out that I look “tired.” The fact is. I am tired. I am exhausted. I believe I speak for all the men and women who wear a uniform when I say that serving as a police officer has become one of the most undervalued and dehumanizing careers in our community, if not the nation.

The city of Portland just advertised for a new Police Chief. In the job posting the City all but claims there is factual evidence that all police are engaged in systemic racism. Officers have been forced to stand by and watch, while protesters destroy the city and endanger the people we are sworn to protect. Those same officers are pelted with bricks and human excrement, all the while being directed not to take action, or being lambasted when we do.

The Sheriff’s office just sustained a budget cut to law enforcement services. This cut comes on the heels of one of the most horrific acts of violence committed on public transportation.

I feel for the citizens of Multnomah County, who plea for a safer, livable community. The citizens and the officers who serve them deserve better. I want the citizens to know that despite being exhausted, the deputies and officers will be there for them in their time of need.

Increasingly, officers are confronted with hostile crowds who interfere with our efforts to police the community. Currently we struggle with how to retain good officers. How we can recruit new officers when faced with this kind of adversity for merely doing one’s job?

Please watch the attached link to a recent incident where a MCSO deputy and Gresham sergeant try to conduct a traffic stop. Ask yourself, could you perform the duties of your job given the same circumstances? I’m sure you can understand how difficult it is to remain professional and provide the level of service expected, under these adverse conditions. Having public support from our elected officials would mean a lot to the officers facing the exceedingly hostile working conditions we face each day.


Deputy Matt Ferguson
President Deputy Sheriff’s Association

Last Minute Maneuvers

This past week in Salem we’ve seen a lot of maneuvering (both attempted and successful) around Legislative “endgame” negotiations for issues having to deal with revenue, infrastructure, and PERS. The Legislature’s policy committees are functionally shut down, so the only committees still working are Rules, Revenue, and the budget-writing Ways & Means Committee. ORCOPS is working with legislators and stakeholders to defend against bad legislation, hold tough on PERS, and try to put together a few good wins.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held an informational hearing on officer-involved domestic violence. Each session, Portland attorney Jason Kafoury brings forward a legislative concept designed to mandate specific one-size-fits-all requirements regarding local officer-involved DV policies. This week, his testimony to the committee on the concept (no bill was under consideration) was mostly complaints about the lack of progress. He specifically noted that the “politically powerful” police unions have blocked the legislation time and again, and erroneously suggested that the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office specifically had not adopted any officer-involved DV policies (which is false). ORCOPS was the only line officer organization in the hearing room ready to rebut, but in the interest of time only the lobbyist for the Chiefs’ Association spoke about the work being done in this area at the local level.

The big issue still on the table is PERS “reforms.” Recently, a measure was floated (you may have read about it in the Oregonian) that would ask public employees to begin covering more of their retirement benefits. ORCOPS is not supporting this measure. Our friends at AFSCME (which also is not supporting the measure), did a good job of summarizing it:

“The idea is that over the next several years there would be a shift on to employees to cover more of their retirement. That shift will come from a percentage shift from members’ individual accountants that they receive in addition to your pension, called the IAP. In basic terms starting July 2018, 1% of the money going into an employee’s IAP would be redirected and go into a fund that would cover the employer’s PERS rate. Then in the 2019-2020 budget cycle another 1% would be diverted. After that, it would depend how much the rate employers have to pay to cover the cost of PERS.  f the rate increases another 2% then that is on the employers.  Any increases above that would be split 50/50 with members but never more than a total of 4% out of the IAP and never more than 1% a year. In addition, if the employer rates for the normal cost of PERS drops then members would get money back into their IAP.”

There are several problems with this proposal. First, while the idea is presumably to free up additional funds for public employers to spend on services, it balances that on the backs of public employees — many, if not all of whom decided to become public employees with certain understandings about their pension system. ORCOPS believes that to renegotiate terms going forward is tantamount to cutting into benefits already earned. At the current moment, the bill does not seem poised to move: the Democrats in control of the Legislature are demanding significant revenue concessions from the Republicans (the Democrats do not have the three-fifths supermajority needed to increase taxes on their own) before moving the concept, but Republican leaders have already called the plan “PERS Reform Lite” and indicated that this is not sufficient to draw their attention. However, we remain concerned that it may become part of a larger package, and we remain vigilant. That vigilance takes the form of coordinating our outreach efforts with the other public employee groups and meeting with leadership and legislators to express our opposition to balancing the budget on the backs of workers. ORCOPS had productive discussions with the Bend delegation this past week, Senator Tim Knopp (R) and Representative Knute Buehler (R). We discussed a desire for the legislature to focus on finding efficiencies in the PERS system that could cut into costs and liabilities without touching benefits, such as investment division restructuring supported by the State Treasurer that could save $3 billion in liabilities. Governor Brown has recently assembled a task force charged with finding ways to reduce PERS liabilities by $5 billion, and is expected to make recommendations in November.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Tina Kotek (D – Portland) and Senator Mark Hass (D – Beaverton) have introduced a tax plan that will be aired to a joint taxation committee. The plan is expected to raise $900 million in the next biennium through progressive increases in business tax rates. The business community may yet support the plan if it is coupled with PERS “reforms” (see the above paragraph on why we are staying vigilant). With only several weeks left in session (the Legislature must adjourn by July 10 unless a supermajority allows a continuation), some are wondering if a “special session” will need to be called this Fall.

As the session winds down, ORCOPS remains focused and consistent as we advocate for Law Enforcement on the policy issues that impact the lives of our officers in Oregon.

Daryl Turner, President
Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs

Legislature Winding Down

With the legislature winding down in Salem, many bills are beginning to get resolved one way or another. Friday June 2 was the deadline for moving most bills out of their policy committees, so we saw a flurry of activity last week.

The “Deception Detection” bill, HB 2545, had a public hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. This bill would have provided for deception tests other than polygraphs in Oregon’s regulatory scheme. ORCOPS worked with sponsors to ensure that the bill was amended in order to prevent the use of non-polygraph tests (such as pupil dilation analysis) to be used for pre-employment screening of law enforcement officers. Once in Senate Judiciary, chair Prozanski (D – Eugene) announced that he felt the bill was not ready to pass and that he would continue to work on it in the interim period.

House Bill 3242, which requires that custodial interviews with minors are recorded, was passed out of the same committee on Tuesday, over the objection of ORCOPS as well as the Chiefs and Sheriffs associations. However, the measure was at least amended per suggestions from ORCOPS to apply only to minors suspected of certain crimes, only to law enforcement departments of a certain size, and to allow for interviews to still be admitted into evidence if not recorded (but with a jury instruction that it was not recorded).

Senate Bills 505 and 496, which would require recordation of grand jury proceedings, are still in the Ways & Means Committee (and thereby not subject to session scheduling deadlines). ORCOPS is eagerly awaiting a hearing to be scheduled so as to oppose the measures (which still each have a stipulation that recordings of grand juries targeting law enforcement officers are made public record), although we would in fact prefer the measures not to be heard at all. The drop-dead deadline for all bills is July 10. A big issue around these measures is the added costs of creating a new class of public records and recording infrastructure. While a final Fiscal Impact Statement has not yet been issued, the rumor is now that the measures are looking at price tags of more than $10 million *each*, which would be untenable in this constrained budget environment. ORCOPS has been advocating funding for east count gang enforcement, which would be in front of the same subcommittee, and we would much rather those dollars get spent there.

The PERS Coalition has continued to meet and is discussing continued responses to PERS “reform” efforts. ORCOPS has been attending and scheduling meetings with various legislators in order to dampen efforts to cut into benefits. With the Governor’s recent assembly of a task force to work on pension costs, and some legislators’ insistence that PERS “reforms” be a part of this session’s endgame, this issue is as relevant as ever. However, the Governor has kept the task force’s mission relatively broad (decrease the unfunded liabilities by $5 billion) without specifying a particular course of action. This allows the Governor, and the Legislature, the flexibility to either target benefits or simply pursue passive reforms that would not affect benefits (such as restructuring the investment administration model). It will therefore be incredibly important for PERS Coalition members and ORCOPS (the only representation of local law enforcement officers in the coalition) to continuously persuade Legislators and the task force to focus on the latter.

Stay safe out there this this week!

Daryl Turner, President