FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 25, 2021
Findley, Owens Call on Governor Brown to Halt, Reverse Mandatory Vaccines,
Provide Robust Religious and Medical Exemptions
Public employees, healthcare providers, educators speak out about significant negative impacts to
rural hospitals, schools, and public services
VALE, Ore—Senator Lynn Findley (R-Vale) and Representative Mark Owens (R-Crane) called on Governor Brown today to halt and reverse the recent COVID-19 mandate requiring all health care and education sector workers, as well as some public services and state level employees, to get the COVID-19 vaccine in order to keep their jobs, and to implement robust medical and religious exemptions immediately.
“The newest mandates requiring vaccination for employment go too far—nobody should be forced to make a medical decision under threat of losing one’s job,” said Representative Owens. “Tens of thousands of hard-working Oregonians will be unfairly forced to choose between a medical procedure and the ability to provide for their families.”
“The impacts these vaccination mandates will have on rural schools, health care providers and hospitals, prisons, public safety, and social and public services will be severe,” added Sen. Findley. “These mandates will result in more harm than good and will have an opposite effect than desired.”
During the 2021 general session, Rep. Owens introduced and Sen. Findley co-sponsored HB 3407 to protect Oregonians’ right to privacy and ban vaccine passports to access credit, insurance, education, facilities, medical services, housing or accommodations, travel, entry into this state, employment or purchase goods or services. The bill never left committee or received a hearing.
“The mandate will not result in significantly more vaccinated health care workers, but rather will drive them out of our organizations to other states or out of health care all together. That one decision to mandate vaccines has done more to put our rural health system at risk than any other threat I have faced in my 30 years of working in hospitals,” said Dan Grigg, CEO, Harney County Health District.
“I’ve dedicated over 36 years to being on the frontlines to keep Oregonians healthy because I truly care. To know I’m being forced to quit a career I love or give up my rights to make my own medical decisions is wrong, and it will put our already overwhelmed health care systems further underwater,” said Ramona Tweed, a pharmacy technician from Jefferson County. “It’s a really scary and heartbreaking time for our state.”
Earlier today, Sen. Findley and Rep. Owens sent a letter to Gov. Brown calling for a reversal of the mandate and immediate implementation of robust medical and religious exemptions. In addition, Rep Owens contacted Oregon Legislative Counsel last week with multiple questions on how these exemptions would work if they are in fact implemented.
At time of this release, the questions remain unanswered.
“As emergency status is prolonged and mandates roll out, critically absent is the process for individuals to self-attest for medical and religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine. If this cannot be allowed in Oregon healthcare workers, Eastern Oregon will lose the only longstanding provider for some 2500 Oregon Health Plan dental patients in Harney County,” said Dr. Matthew Bauer of Burns Dental Group. “Due to our unique location, we are also the Dental Home for multiple patients in Harney and Grant Counties and parts of Northern Nevada – that would go away as well. Furthermore, this healthcare entity creates jobs that provide a living wage for 16 families who participate with their dollars in our fragile local economy – with less employees the 43 year-old Burns Dental Group would be kaput.”
Public and union employees have voiced their concerns about the serious impacts on public safety and services.
Casey Johnson, President, IAFF Local 922 Baker City Professional Firefighters, provided testimony to the Baker City Council on August 24 stating that under this mandate, they stand to lose 25% up to 50% of career professionals in the fire service and 90% of their volunteers, including vaccinated firefighters and EMS professionals.
In a letter received from Jess Tolman, Fire and EMS Chief for the Vale Fire and Ambulance, he outlines that 16 out of 22 members of Vale Fire and Ambulance will resign from their jobs if the mandate is enforced, effectively closing their department – an ambulance service responsible for 2,500 square miles with some communities more than two hours apart.
“If this mandate continues to be enforced, we will have no choice but to close the department down. This will greatly impact the community that relies on us to care for time sensitive emergencies. We ask that Governor Brown lift these mandates so we can continue to provide lifesaving care here in Malheur County,” stated Chief Tolman.
Jordan Valley School Superintendent Rusty Bengoa shared, “Out of the 25 total school staff at the Jordan Valley School District, including teachers, para-pros, office personnel, administrators, bus drivers, and coaches, 21 have stated they will not get the Covid-19 vaccine. That is 84% of the staff in Jordan Valley. If this happens there is no way that the school district can sustain that loss to personnel. It is already extremely difficult just to replace one teacher when a position opens. The Jordan Valley School District will have no other option but to close if this requirement stands. That will leave 65 students who live 46 miles from the closest town, which is actually in Idaho, and 70 miles from its closest Oregon neighboring town, with no access to a school.”
“This is not a debate about the reality and dangers of COVID-19 or the Delta variant, or the efficacy of the vaccine,” said Rep Owens. “This is about a gross overreach of authority that is legally, ethically, and morally wrong. The decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal and private conversation and choice between the individual and their healthcare provider.”
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For Immediate Release
June 24, 2012
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.
# # #
Date: May 4, 2021
Contact: Andrew Fromm
Republicans attempted to pull bill with Democrat and Republican sponsors out of committee to House floor
SALEM, Ore. – Today, Oregon House Legislators voted to consider a bill on the House floor that would give the Legislature oversight on Governor Kate Brown’s emergency powers and sole authority over the COVID-19 response.
Republicans moved to pull HB 2243 out of committee directly to the House floor for a vote.
The motion did not receive the required number of votes to pass. All Republican members voted in favor to make the Governor accountable to the Legislature. 28 Democrats voted against the motion, maintaining the Governor’s sole authority over COVID-19 and unchecked ability to shut down businesses.
The decision is in response to the Governor’s announcement last week to unilaterally extend her own emergency powers again, granting her the ability to issue shutdowns without involving another governing body.
County commissioners have repeatedly asked the Governor to be more targeted in her decisions. Currently, the statewide threshold for “extreme risk” designation disregards the fact that hospital cases of COVID-19 are decreasing in some counties where businesses must now close.
“The Legislature is in Session and we have a duty to engage,” House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) previously said. “Oregonians deserve a balance of power between their separate branches of government again.”
HB 2243 (chief sponsors Rep. Wilde, Lewis, regular sponsors Rep. Cate, Evans, Hayden, Leif, Levy, Moore-Green, Morgan, Owens, Post, Reschke, Wallan, Wright) – Requires that declarations and extensions of states of emergency under certain statutes be accompanied by written explanations.
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Bill to renew scholarship funding comes after Rep. Owens and Rep. Bonham’s request that Governor Brown fulfill the program’s funding for kids and families
SALEM, Ore. – In 2020, students who relied on the Oregon Promise Scholarship to pay for college lost out on these critical funds due to budget cuts. Now an amendment from Representative Mark Owens (R-Crane) would restore the promise of scholarship funding if the student requests it under certain guidelines.
The amendment follows a letter sent from Rep. Owens, Representative Daniel Bonham (R-Dalles) and Senator Lynn P. Findley (R-Vale) to the Governor, asking that Oregon keep the promise made to these kids and families by reinstating the scholarship.
In 2020, more than 2,000 students made plans based on this funding. 1,400 were listed as pending, while 1,070 were awarded the scholarship only to have it revoked. A -5 amendment would establish a special eligibility window for the 2,470 total students.
“Oregon made a promise to these students when we told them they could attend college with support,” said Rep. Owens. “When this promise was broken in 2020, it dashed the dreams of these families who were depending on the scholarship to give their child new opportunities. I’m committed to making this right, and this amendment keeps the promise we made.”
“I’m pleased that we are able to reinstate this program for young students aspiring to earn their college degree,” said Rep. Bonham. “In the summer, we called on the Governor to make good on the commitment made with the Oregon Promise Scholarship because we knew how much it meant to the families that were counting on it.”
HB 2093-5 was passed unanimously out of the House Committee on Education with bipartisan support. It now heads to Ways and Means.
OREGON HOUSE REPUBLICAN CAUCUS
For Immediate Release
Date: April 2, 2021
Contact: Andrew Fromm
Of more than 100 bills in the House Committee on Education, legislation from Rep. Owens and Rep. Alonso León is one of only two bills related to COVID-19’s negative impact on K-12 education
SALEM, Ore. – Despite the enormous disruption COVID-19 has had on Oregon’s education system, only two bills in the House Committee on Education address the negative effects of COVID-19 on students.
Representative Mark Owens (R-Crane) and Representative Teresa Alonso León (D- Woodburn) are chief sponsors of HB 2962, which would direct a formal evaluation of students’ education needs resulting from COVID-19 closures, a step towards identifying how students can recover from gaps in learning.
“It is critical we identify and address the serious gap in education our students have experienced during the last 12 months because of COVID-19 and government-mandated stay-at-home orders,” said Rep. Owens, who also serves as a member of the Crane School Board. “There is much more we should be doing as lawmakers to address this critical issue for Oregon students, and it is great to see the bipartisan support for this proposal that will hopefully lead to others.”
“We should not be hiding from the truth that virtual learning has seriously harmed our kids’ educational development,” added House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby.) “After Oregon’s education officials announced plans to abandon standardized testing that would measure learning gaps, we need proposals like this more than ever.”
Negative academic effects from distance learning still have not been adequately measured in Oregon, and plans to do so have been delayed.
Even 2020 high school graduation rates are misleading since the Oregon Department of Education drastically altered its graduation standards. As recently as 2017, Oregon had the second-worst graduation rate in the country. The full impact of virtual learning on graduation rates is still not clear.
Miguel Cardona, the Secretary of Education selected by President Joe Biden, affirmed the need for evaluations nationwide when saying that student data obtained from standardized tests is important to help education officials create policy and target resources where they are most needed. “We have to make sure we laser-focused on addressing inequities that have existed for years. … Every bit of data helps,” added Cardona during a legislative conference.
Oregon remains the second to last state for reopened schools according to a tracker from Burbio, a website that aggregates school government, library and community event information and consists of more than 80,000 K-12 school calendars from all fifty states.
Numerous studies have been conducted which indicate a correlation between native mental health impacts for children due to closed schools:
“Beginning in April 2020 the proportion of children’s mental health-related ED visits among all pediatric ED visits increased and remained elevated through October. Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health-related visits for children aged 5-11 and 12-17 years increased 24 percent and 31 percent respectively.” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 13, 2020.
Additionally, most states in the country have been reopening after a variety of studies point to safe conditions that would allow willing students to attend school in-person with minimal COVID-19 risks:
The CDC guidance, under President Biden, recommends that schools can reopen with successfully implemented mitigation strategies.
“Our data indicate that schools can reopen safely if they develop and adhere to specific SARS-CoV-2 prevention policies.” – American Academy of Pediatrics, January 6, 2021.
“…we see no indication that in-person school reopenings have increased COVID-19 hospitalizations in the counties below 36-44 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 per week. Neither the levels nor the trends change in any direction when schools open in [counties below 36-44 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 per week], even as far as 6 weeks after schools reopened. In fact, we often see precise estimates suggesting declines in hospitalizations in these low-baseline COVID-19 counties…” – National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH), Tulane University, January 4, 2021.
HB 3350 is a second bill that addresses COVID-19’s impact on education.