By Representative David Gomberg, House District 10
Dear Neighbors and Friends,
Just before six on Saturday morning, my phone lit up with texts and ringing voice messages. I was being called to a Lincoln County “coordinator” meeting to prepare for a distant tsunami projected to arrive on the Oregon coast two hours later.
On the call, we heard from county and city responders, the Coast Guard, State Parks, and local fire departments. The response was coordinated and well organized to move people off our beaches, get them out of our marinas, and to inform, but not unnecessarily frighten, the public.
The entire West Coast, including coastal Oregon, came under a tsunami advisory after an undersea volcano erupted in spectacular fashion near the Pacific nation of Tonga. Locally, people received text messages and automated phone calls (you can learn more about emergency alerts and sign up at https://oralert.gov/ ). Responders patrolled the beaches and our ports. Neighbors, family and friends reached out to each other in what should now be a well-practiced routine.
A second coordinator call at ten reviewed the situation and our performance.
Distant tsunamis generally have a lesser affect and more warning time than near-shore events. The National Weather Service expected waves of 1 to 3 feet. As of early afternoon, the largest Oregon coast wave reported by the agency was a 1.5-foot swell observed at Port Orford.
By late afternoon, the warning was lifted. Awkwardly, more people may have actually come to the beach because there was a warning. Plenty of people, seeing the news, flocked to see the waves. But fortunately, there were no injuries and little damage.
I am grateful to the first responders and everyone who worked to alert residents and guests, and to keep them safe. In the coming weeks, I’ve asked the legislative committee charged with emergency response, to review how Oregon reacted and if the entire coast handled this situation as well as I believe Lincoln County did.
Saturday morning was a literal and figurative wake-up-call. It was a minor event. But it was a major reminder that natural disturbances are possible and that we need to be aware and prepared.
Oregon has experienced a recent cycle of emergencies and disasters, including floods, drought, wildfires, ice storms, excessive heat, and a pandemic. If the recent disasters that have impacted our state have taught us anything, it’s that being prepared can make a big difference. Each Oregon resident should proactively prepare to be self-sufficient for at least two weeks during a disaster.
There was sad news again this week that Federal regulators have charged Oregon Health & Science University with breaking animal welfare laws. Several animals were injured and one died of starvation as part of a hearing loss study which included food rationing.
I have long been critical of the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) where animals are used for medical research. This latest failure is the fourth critical violation in two years and the 17th violation in four years. There are eight primate research centers in the US. Ours has logged four times more violations than any other.
Violations include incidents in which two lab monkeys were scalded to death after accidentally being placed in a high-temperature cage washer, while another primate was injured after being caught in a drain cover and two were euthanized after developing brain infections due to delayed veterinary care following experiments. In another incident, animals died of dehydration when they were left without water.
In 2018, I asked to see the research rooms with my legislative staff. Inside we found stacks of small, 3-by-3-foot cages. Residents, we were told, stayed in those cages, inside those windowless rooms, for up to three years. Most were then “destroyed” as part of the research or following a project’s conclusion. Center administrators told me that about 500 primates are killed annually in “terminal protocols” examining aging, AIDS, depression, infectious diseases, substance abuse and obesity.
In one experiment, pregnant monkeys were fed special diets. Their babies were later separated and deliberately frightened to test their response to stress. In a 2010 project, $750,000 was spent on similar research where technicians used a Mr. Potato Head doll to frighten infants. (Watch the video here.) Results were inconclusive so the experiment was repeated.
An analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Office details that the Center receives over $50 million annually in federal grants and funds. In response to the many violations, I have asked the Oregon Secretary of State to audit ONPRC. I’m told since no state dollars are used for research, the state cannot review these programs. I’ve met with our congressional delegation as recently as this month to discuss federal funding of flawed animal research in Oregon. And finally, I’ve submitted information requests regarding the case where small cages were wheeled into a sterilizing machine but technicians failed to notice 40 pound primates in those cages and two were scalded to death.
I sent that formal public information request to OSHU on July 21, 2021. On September 27, I was told the cost of these materials would be over $1000. We were then told payment must be provided in advance. On December 6, we reached out to confirm a check had been received. And on December 20, we received an email stating “The work on this request has been initiated and updates will be provided to you on a weekly/monthly basis as information is retrieved from OHSU departments.” That was the last written communication.
Some of you may ask why I’m not spending time on other issues. I am. But this is just one example of the need for better performance, better accountability, and better prioritization of how your money is being spent.
Oregon Health Sciences University provides wonderful medical services. Their sub-unit on primate research is a black mark on their record. Millions of grant dollars flow into ONPRC every year for redundant studies that are often not human-relevant. Reasonable people may disagree on whether medical tests on animals are ethical or appropriate. But we certainly should agree that we simply aren’t doing that work well here in Oregon.
I wanted to share a quick update on the Oregon Legislature’s wildfire recovery efforts. As many of you know, I call Otis home. In 2020, when wildfires roared across our district, too many in our community lost houses, were displaced, and suffered setback after setback in their efforts to rebuild their lives during an unprecedented pandemic.
In response, we worked hard to pass legislation that would make a difference in the lives of those affected. We cut reconstruction taxes, told insurance companies to give folks more time to rebuild, and put millions of dollars into housing, shelter, and aid for displaced individuals and families.
Our work on wildfire recovery is far from over. It’s not enough to simply rebuild and move on – and rebuilding is never a simple process. If you or a loved one were impacted by the wildfires, visit wildfire.oregon.gov to learn more about relief and resources.
At the risk of repeating myself, the new year represents an opportunity for everyone to examine their emergency preparedness plans and make sure each of us is two-week ready. To learn more, please visit: https://www.oregon.gov/…/hazar…/Pages/2-Weeks-Ready.aspx
Here’s a video we shot on my own street last week.
Through much of 2020, Oregon struggled to balance the impacts of the pandemic and our economy. And thousands of Oregonians struggled to pay bills while waiting for an overwhelmed unemployment compensation system to sort out problems and backlogs.
We had an unprecedented number of claims, an unprecedented number of new laws and rules, and an unprecedented number of new employees, many working remotely. I argued at the time that it was also an opportunity for an unprecedented number of mistakes.
Because I co-chair the committee overseeing the Employment Department’s budget, I met frequently with the Director. Oregon had declined to publicly provide any data about possible fraud losses. The Department, which has an unusual and broad exemption from state public records law, said it feared that releasing any information about its fraud losses could invite online thieves to target the state. I received confidential updates regularly.
Information has now been publicly released. The new report contains only basic information, which the department said would be of no use to thieves. It tallies $24 million in suspected or proven fraud out of $7.4 billion in total benefits paid during 2020.
Oregon’s losses appear to have been a tiny fraction of fraud reported in most other states. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates total unemployment fraud losses at more than $50 billion across the 50 states. California puts its fraud total somewhere north of $20 billion, roughly 11% of all jobless benefits it paid during the pandemic. A report in Michigan pegs its losses at $8.5 billion. A state audit in Ohio said its losses from fraud and erroneous payments totaled $3.8 billion.
At the same time, Oregon has recovered more than $1 million in fraudulent payments from 2020, according to the Employment Department. The agency said four people have been convicted in unemployment fraud cases, and three more are pending. The Department says it has identified 19 other cases of suspected fraud it expects to refer for future prosecution and is working to find others.
Long-time readers of these Weekly Updates know that I am one of the leading advocates in the Capitol for effectively collecting overpayments, delinquent debt, fines, and unpaid taxes. A meeting last week on the budget for the Board of Tax Practitioners provided another example. Listen in here.
- Identify issues or barriers to equitable and fair tax collection.
- Provide expeditious service to taxpayers whose tax-related problems are not resolved through ordinary channels including contact with customer service, legislators, or the Director’s Office.
- Receive and evaluate complaints of improper, abusive, or inefficient service by agency employees.
- Identify systemic issues and make recommendations to address them.
- Have the authority to issue taxpayer assistance orders to compel the agency to act in an individual taxpayer’s case.
If you have questions, concerns, or complaints, you can reach the Taxpayer Advocate Office by emailing email@example.com or calling 503-945-8700. You can subscribe to the Taxpayer Advocate email news update list on the advocate’s page of the Department of Revenue website.
The Oregon Department of Revenue and IRS will begin accepting e-file tax returns on January 24. The deadline to file this year is April 18. Returns will be processed in the order they are received. However, as in years past, the Department won’t issue personal tax refunds until mid-February.
To get tax forms, check the status of your refund, or make tax payments, visit www.oregon.gov/dor or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can call 800-356-4222 toll-free from an Oregon prefix (English or Spanish) or 503-378-4988 in Salem and outside Oregon. For TTY (hearing- or speech-impaired), Revenue will accept all relay calls.
I wanted to close with a reminder that today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in honor of the iconic civil rights leader assassinated in 1968. Doctor King is remembered as a fierce advocate of racial and economic justice, voting rights, equitable housing, healthcare, fair labor laws, unions, guaranteed jobs and income. The day was first observed in 1986 after President Ronald Reagan made it a federal holiday and marks King’s birthday, which was January 15.
I was a young student when we received news that Doctor King was dead. I remember the day well. But it was so hard to put the news in context, with JFK shot just four years earlier and then Robert Kennedy two months later.
In the intervening years, we have learned so much about equity, systemic racism, reform, and the challenge of non-violent change that King so well advocated. We have made progress. And certainly, we still have much left to do.
Martin Luther King III, who is a bit closer to my own age, said that one day we will be able to live every word of his father’s dream. “He always was challenging us to be the best nation we could be.”
address: 900 Court St NE, H-480, Salem, OR, 97301