Apr 28, 2021 | News
Leslie Thompson Argus Observer
Read original article on Argus Observer
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.
Apr 13, 2021 | Press Releases
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.
Apr 2, 2021 | Press Releases
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.
Feb 16, 2021 | Editorials, News, Opinion Pieces
By Representative Mark Owens
The Oregon Way Blog | February 16, 2021
Three days before the short legislative session began in 2020, I was sworn in as State Representative for House District 60. I took an oath to protect our Constitution and represent my constituents, and made clear my priority was to build relationships—authentic, genuine, bipartisan relationships. On my to-do list: meet everyone in the building, get to know them as people—not just legislators, and work together on serious issues, regardless of their party or district number.
That quickly became challenging. Within weeks of the 2020 session starting, legislative negotiations came to a halt, legislators parted ways to their districts, and the session ended in a tense and terse manner. Shortly thereafter, the Coronavirus pandemic came to Oregon in full swing, closing the state, shuttering our businesses and schools, and sending us home to serve and lead the state from our living rooms during the most difficult time our state has ever faced.
One year in, not much has changed. Sure, we’ve adapted and learned new methods to connect and developed innovative ways to get some work done, but not nearly enough and certainly not enough to connect nor legislate well.
While serving Eastern Oregon, with limited travel to Salem, I’ve not yet had the opportunity to fully connect with my colleagues, even on an official level. As I started the 2021 session, a year into being a State Representative, I requested a meeting with the Chair of one of our committees to discuss our policy agenda for the session. Ten minutes into the conversation, this colleague asked who I was—was I parent? A teacher? A constituent? No. I was a fellow State Representative and had been for over a year.
Our inability to connect puts a cap on our ability to govern. Good public policy requires public involvement. Great public policy requires personal relationships.
Remote meetings are not conducive to personal relationships. You can’t read body language through a screen or get to know someone in 15 minutes over the phone. But the session goes on. We’re scheduled for 12-hour days at our computers in virtual meetings or on video conference calls. And, despite the fact that some of us have never met before in person, we’re collectively charged with determining the best policies for the future of our state and the people who depend on us to get it right.
Personal relationships are especially important to collaborating across party lines. That’s why bipartisanship becomes even more difficult in these circumstances. If and when we do get a chance to break away from virtual committees or statewide conference calls that time is spent with our Caucus or Caucus members working in silos to see how we’ll handle the next twist and turn. There’s literally no time in the day to reach out to the other side. It’s not on purpose and it’s not political—it’s just the only system we have right now.
We literally can’t reach across the aisle and even though I truly believe the majority of us want to build those relationships and we try, inevitably we’re interrupted and invariably, there’s another 15-minute meeting waiting for us at the top of the hour.
Bipartisanship now hinges on the strength of our Internet connection and our willingness to spend even more time on a computer. Simply put, though bipartisan was never easy—it’s become a heck of a lot harder. I long for the days when I can walk the halls with my colleagues, pop into their office, bring them a coffee, and hash out a pragmatic response to an issue we’re facing. As I said great public policy requires personal relationships – not only with other officials, but also with the public. In addition to our own challenges of working together as legislators, are the challenges of working with the public. The building is closed to the public for the time being, and while it’s touted somewhat fairly that virtual platforms mean increased access for those Oregonians who couldn’t normally drive the distance or afford time off work to testify, that’s only when the virtual platform actually works, and that Oregonian actually has sufficient Internet.
All this adds up to substantial barriers to creating great public policy. We now function in a world of black boxes, misused mute buttons, fake backgrounds, sometimes with faces and mostly with names or phone numbers on a screen, and that’s if the technology is working for everyone that day. What we’ve increased in virtual efficiency, we’ve lost in interpersonal relationships. What we’ve gained in the ability to quickly connect, we’ve lost in depth of those connections.
All hope isn’t lost, and it isn’t all bad. Great public policy is still possible, but requires greater intentionality in reaching other Oregonians. Over the last ten months, me and two other legislators have held bi-monthly or monthly live virtual town halls that have reached thousands of Oregonians, far exceeding what would have been possible had we been hosting them in-person. I know several of my constituents have been able to utilize technology to testify and engage with legislative committees in ways they hadn’t before. Hopefully, these extra measures will not be required for too much longer. Safety precautions have been implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19 and it’s slowing. We’re hoping the Capitol can open to the public sometime later this spring. These are all good things.
We’ve learned a lot over the course of navigating this pandemic. Importantly, I think we’ve learned we previously undervalued the power of personal relationships and underestimated the need for them in authentic policy making. We assume legislating is a rigid duty, one of paper-pushing and legal debate, meeting agendas and complex amendments, pushing the red or green buttons when it’s time to vote. Certainly, those are elements, but public policy is much more than that. The real heart of legislating comes in building trust, having conversations, and working together to put Oregon on the best path forward.
When “Zoom times” end, we will have an opportunity to also end the idea that our Caucuses are the extent of our Capitol community. Consider this an open invitation to host a town hall (virtual or personal) with any member of the State Legislature when “normal times” resume. We, as legislators, need to mirror to Oregonians what personal relationships in politics look like. If we can work together as friends, we can serve as role models to a state that deserves people to come before politics.
Representative Mark Owens is the Republican State Representative for Oregon’s House District 60 which includes all of Baker, Grant, Harney, and Malheur Counties and parts of Lake County. Mark is a local farmer, small business owner, Crane School Board Member, recent Harney County Commissioner, and husband and father. During the 2021 Legislative Session, Mark serves as Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Water, and on the House Education, Energy and Environment, and Human Services Committees.
Nov 13, 2020 | Press Releases
Oregon State Representative Mark Owens
House District 60
Rep. Mark Owens’ Statement on Governor Brown’s Statewide Two-Week Freeze
CRANE—Representative Mark Owens (R-Crane) issued the following statement in response to Governor Brown’s Two-Week Freeze:
“Governor Brown’s one-size-fits-all approach to shutting down our state is far too extreme. Our eastern and rural Oregon communities in House District 60 will suffer to the point of no return. I am fully committed to stopping the spread of COVID-19, but these extreme regulations do not match the metrics.
Once again, our local elected leaders, public health authorities and businesses were not invited to the table to have a conversation about COVID-19 in our communities. Furthermore, evidence is lacking to support the arbitrary, targeted closures and restricted activities of certain businesses over others. Our businesses across Oregon will not survive another shutdown and thousands of Oregonians will lose their jobs, again, right before the holidays.
The secondary impacts of preventing the spread of COVID are significant and cannot be ignored; we’ve seen a devastating increase in suicide especially among youth and young adults, drug and alcohol use, and domestic and sexual violence. Our elderly family members have gone months without visitors or family and are dying alone.
I implore the Governor to reconsider this one-size-fits-all freeze, and speak with our businesses, local leaders and authorities to find a different path forward before it is too late for our families, communities, and our state.”
Rep. Owens also referenced agreement with a statement made by Jason Brandt, President & CEO for the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association (ORLA), in a letter to Governor Brown:
“Businesses throughout Oregon have proven that they can make the operational changes necessary to keep their employees and their customers safe, even during this unprecedented pandemic. What we need now is a plan to address the root of the problem without causing additional harm to Oregonians throughout the state,” said Brandt.
ORLA’s statement can be read here: https://www.oregonrla.org/blog/indoor-and-outdoor-dining-shutdown-will-permanently-close-restaurants.