ONTARIO — As schools get ready to welcome back students for in-person learning, state agencies will be hosting statewide town halls this week, with the first geared toward eastern Oregon.
In response to a letter from state Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and Rep. Mark Owens, R-Harney County, seeking clarification on the mask mandate for Oregon schools, state education and health officials are hosting three virtual town halls this week.
The Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority urge the public to join a Facebook Live town hall event. The page to watch the events is at https://bit.ly/MaskingSchools.
The town halls are all open to the public, but the first has been specifically arranged for eastern Oregonians in Findley’s Senate District 30 and Owen’s House District 60, and is on Monday from 7-8 p.m. local time.
Participants will be invited to share questions during the event and can also submit questions ahead of time by using the following Google Form: https://forms.gle/qVShjXGupwrHnvix9.
Two additional town hall sessions will be held for a statewide audience, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, with the latter of these for the Spanish-speaking community. Both begin at 7 p.m. local time.
“While our request was that these be held in-person, we see this as one small step to opening a much-needed dialogue about these requirements and to hear from Oregonians about the impacts the mandates will have on students, schools and families in preparation for the 2021-2022 school year,” reads an announcement from Findley’s office.
Findley, Owens push back on masks in schools; urge meetings in each county Argus Observer,
ONTARIO — The two state lawmakers whose areas include Malheur County have sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown pushing back on her mandate for masking for students in kindergarten through 12th grade this fall.
Her mandate was issued late last week and directed Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education to create mask policies for the coming school year.
In their opening statement, Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and Rep. Mark Owens, R-Harney, said, “As legislators, we remain consistent in our positions that our local school districts, in conjunction with local public health authorities continue to have the best pulse on their communities and should ultimately be the arbiters of mask policies and mandates.”
The lawmakers requested that Brown make public the specific data she used to mandate a state-wide, schools-wide policy, in light of the fact that Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist had said that there is not enough evidence that schools or students are responsible for community spread.
They also requested that officials in the governor’s office and ODE hold in-person town halls and listening sessions in every county to explain the new rules.
“These actions need to be made public and official, and these statewide entities have the responsibility to make these decisions known to our school districts,” the letter states, adding working virtually behind closed doors will not cut it.
Also, Findley and Owens said there need to be clear and precise metrics for when the school mask policy will be lifted.
Honorable Governor Kate Brown
900 Court St. NE, Room 254
Salem, OR 97301
As legislators, we remain consistent in our positions that our local school districts in conjunction with local public health authorities continue to have the best pulse on their communities and should ultimately be the arbiters of mask policies and mandates.
With that, and in full support of our school districts, public health authorities, parents and ultimately and most importantly our students, we have the following requests.
First, scientific data specific to Oregon necessitating the statewide, schools-wide, grade-wide mask mandate needs to be made public and accessible immediately. Dr. Dean Sidelinger communicated to legislators during a conference call on Monday, August 2 that there is no scientific evidence that schools or children grades K-12 are responsible for community spread. If that is the case and yet the mask mandate is still being instituted, the data needs to be made available to the public – not just legislators or administrators – so we are all operating with transparency and understanding of the science and data.
Second, officials within the Governor’s Office and Oregon Department of Education (ODE) hold a series of public, in-person town halls and listening sessions throughout our counties immediately over the course of the next several weeks. Our teachers, school employees and parents deserve the right to fully understand the rules and the very serious implications (see addendum Exhibit A Slide 14 “Penalties” from an “un-official” meeting held by COSA-OASE on Monday, August 2). These actions need to be made public and official, and these statewide entities have the responsibility to make these decisions known to our school districts. Behind virtual screens, behind closed doors and without enabled participation will not cut it for such significant policy-making determinations.
Third, we need clear and precise metrics for when the statewide mask policy may be lifted. We assume if there is enough data to trigger crossing a threat-threshold to implement these requirements, that there then must also be data showing when we would be under the threat. When will our schools know they’ve met the targets for safety? What are the markers for progress or regression? What’s the viable off-ramp? What other factors will contribute to these determinations? When will your office share these metrics with the public?
We all agree our students cannot suffer another year without in-person instruction. We also agree the health and safety of Oregonians must be a top priority. We now need to agree that building public trust through transparency and providing information before regulation will be key to slowing and eventually stopping the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.
Thank you for your swift and thorough response.
Senator Lynn Findley Representative Mark Owens
Senate District 30 House District 60
House Bill 2842 creates a home repair grant program at the Oregon Health Authority aimed at low-income renters and homeowners to receive energy efficiency upgrades, smoke filtration and home hardening, and other critical housing fixes and upgrades.
SALEM, OR – Today the Oregon House voted to advance a bipartisan bill aimed at supporting low-income Oregonians across the state in receiving home repairs that will drive down energy costs, improve wildfire resilience, and protect the health of residents from mold, smoke, and polluted air.
House Bill 2842, known as the Healthy Homes bill, will seed a new Healthy Homes Repair Fund at the Oregon Health Authority with $10 million that will be granted out to housing authorities, local governments, Tribal Nations, coordinated care organizations, and nonprofit organizations to support home repairs that improve the health, safety, and energy efficiency of housing stock for low-income Oregonians.
“House Bill 2842 is focused on the intersection of housing and health care,” said Rep. Pam Marsh (D-Southern Jackson County), a chief sponsor of the bill. “Housing is a social determinant of health, as fire-displaced families seeking refuge in motels, cars, or substandard housing demonstrate. This bill will ensure that as we incentivize construction of new housing that our current housing stock is maintained and upgraded to provide safe, healthy and affordable housing for decades to come.”
“Everyone deserves a home that is healthy and safe, but too many Oregonians live in housing that is aging and energy inefficient, has structural problems, and contributes to health disparities,” said Rep. Mark Owens (R-Crane). “This is particularly problematic in our rural communities, and housing quality is one of the contributing factors to high energy burden in Eastern Oregon districts like mine. By passing this legislation, we are taking important steps to improve the quality of life for Oregonians.”
“Weatherizing our homes not only protects us from the elements, but also reduces our energy bills and creates jobs in home retrofitting,” said bill supporter Lisa Muñoz in Hood River, Program Director for Comunidades and a life-long resident of the Columbia River Gorge. “Our community members who have suffered due to contracting COVID-19 and those who are permanently affected by lung and breathing issues such as asthma should not have to worry about wildfire smoke in their homes. These home upgrades will help provide a refuge as wildfire smoke becomes a seasonal companion.”
House Bill 2842 establishes a grant program to provide funding for repair and rehabilitation of homes owned by low income households or to landlords seeking to repair rental units occupied by low income households. Repairs can include energy efficiency improvements, health and safety upgrades including radon, lead or mold abatement, installation of smoke filtration or air purification systems, structural improvements, seismic upgrades or other repairs.
The program will be administered by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) via grants issued to eligible entities such as local governments, housing authorities, nonprofit organizations, Tribes, and coordinated care organizations. The bill encourages OHA to gather data and refine the program over time, and establishes an Interagency Task Force on Healthy Homes to collect and review data on the program in coordination with other relevant state agencies.
HB 2842 passed 56-2, and now moves to the Senate for further consideration.
For Immediate Release
Date: June 8, 2021
Contact: Stacy Cayce
Rep Owens introduces bill to protect Oregonians’ right to privacy, ban implementation of discriminatory vaccine passports
SALEM, Ore. – On Monday, Representative Mark Owens (R-Crane) introduced House Bill 3407 to ban the implementation of vaccine passports in Oregon and protect the privacy and rights of Oregonians.
“Requiring proof of vaccinations via a vaccine passport program is wrong and it opens the door to myriad problems,” said Rep. Owens. “It’s a violation of our privacy and our freedoms, it’s discriminatory, and it shows the Governor doesn’t believe Oregonians can be trusted.”
The legislation would prevent any public body – state, local or special government body – from issuing a requirement for proof of vaccination through a vaccine passport from COVID-19 or variants of COVID-19.
“Let me be clear—this is not an argument over COVID-19 or the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s about Oregonians’ rights. I believe the choice to get a vaccine is a personal, private medical decision that should be made between an individual and their medical provider, and that Oregonians should be free to make that choice for themselves,” said Owens.
In addition, in order to prevent discriminatory actions and repercussions, it would prohibit a person or public body from being able to legally require an individual to state or document vaccine status against COVID-19 to access credit, insurance, education, facilities, medical services, housing or accommodations, travel, entry into this state, employment or purchase goods or services.
It would also prohibit these entities from being legally able to require an individual to wear a face covering if the individual does not wish to disclose vaccine status. The bill applies only to the COVID-19 vaccinations and would not change any current laws with regards to immunizations for other restrictable diseases for schools and children’s facilities.
House Bill 3407 is requested in partnership with Eastern Oregon Counties Association and would go into effect immediately upon passage. At the time of press, the legislation has 12 Chief Co-Sponsors including House and Senate members and bipartisan support in the House.
Starting Friday, Malheur County will join 18 other counties in a backslide of risk levels associated with the spread of COVID-19, according to an announcement from Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday afternoon. Of those counties, 15 are moving from “high risk” into “extreme risk.” The change is due to data from April 18-24, and will be effective through May 6.
Malheur County was moved to the lowest of the four risk levels on April 9. Prior to that, it had been in the “moderate risk” level since Feb. 26; and before that it had been in “extreme risk” restrictions since Nov. 18, 2020.
‘Enough is enough’
Dissatisfied with the announcement, local lawmakers penned a letter immediately to Brown and Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen.
Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, who represents Senate District 30, and Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, who represents House District 60 began their letter to Brown and Allen saying, “Respectfully, enough is enough.”
The lawmakers say that the science and data do not support the decision and that “our businesses are being unfairly and unreasonably targeted.” Furthermore, they say $20 million of support for counties will not “adequately address the needs nor does it get to solving the roots of this problem. “
The letter paints a brief picture of business and community hardships — including permanent business closures, tens of thousands of unemployed Oregonians, lost revenues and bankruptcies — that have resulted from the shutdowns.
“We have followed the stringent protocols … There is no data showing small businesses, restaurants and bars, gyms and fitness facilities are responsible for high transmission rates — in fact, it is just the opposite.
The lawmakers say the inconsistency in measuring metrics is “alarming and certainly prevents the ability to fully understand the circumstances by which decisions are being made.” Additionally, they say the rollout of vaccines has been “disorganized, disorderly and delayed.
“Frankly, our small businesses are not the problem. They should not be penalized again or further; it is not their responsibility to shoulder the burden of COVID-19,” the letter reads, and concludes by asking Brown and Allen to reconsider the change.
Comments from the Malheur County Health Department were unavailable by press time.
Restrictions ramp back up
Many of the restrictions that were relaxed in the lowest risk category will now be strengthened again, per guidance from the Oregon Health Authority and Brown.
Examples of the changes that begin on Friday include a decrease in at-home gathering sizes, from 10 people down to eight indoors, and from 12 people down to 10 outdoors. The maximum number of households at those gatherings also decreases from four to three.
Other changes are related to indoor and outdoor capacity, include those for eating and drinking establishments (including having to close at 11 p.m., an hour earlier), recreational and fitness, outdoor entertainment, state institutions, and facilities such as funeral homes, mortuaries and cemeteries, with the latter four having to reduce from 75% to 50% capacity or 150 people, whichever is smaller; and for outdoor events will now be down from 350 to 250 people and the capacity limits for faith-based institutions remains a suggestion only.
It also reestablishes the cap on numbers which was gone in the “lower risk” category. For restaurants and bars, the capacity is not to exceed 50% or 100 people, whichever is smaller, with a limit of six people per table; the outdoor capacity remains at eight people per table.
Full contact sports are still allowed, however, for outdoor entertainment, the occupancy is reduced from 50% to 25%.
Visitation will still be allowed inside and outside longterm care facilities.
In an effort to speed up the return to normal business operations, county COVID-19 data will be evaluated weekly for at least the next three weeks, according to Brown. Any updates to county risk levels next week will be announced on May 4 and take effect on May 7.