e-lert No. 4 ¥
Feb. 28, 2014
Edited by Don Loving, Oregon AFSCME Communications Director
The 2014 "short session" of the Oregon
Legislature may be winding down, but we've had some big victories this past
week! Our so-called "Corrections Gun Bill" passed the Senate on Thursday, then
passed the House today (Friday), so it's on its way to the governor. On
Wednesday, members of Local 1246 got their long-awaited "day in court," so to
speak, to present legislators the low-down on a variety of issues they face in
the state-operated IDD group homes. Several members participated in one way or
another, including longtime activist Gordon Lorsung (pictured right) who
testified before the committee. March 9 is the constitutional deadline for this
session to adjourn, but it may happen by the end of next week.
This week's highlights ...
DOC GUN BILL ON THE WAY
TO KITZHABER — AFSCME's
"Corrections Gun Bill" appears to be on its way to becoming law, as the Oregon
Senate passed the measure 28-1 on Feb. 27, with state Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) the lone "nay" vote. The Senate version
included a minor amendment, which meant the Oregon House needed to concur. That
happened this (Friday) morning, on a vote count of 58-1, with tighter gun
control advocate Rep. Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie) the only one opposed. The
bill is now on its way to Gov. John Kitzhaber; Kitzhaber has indicated he will sign the bill.
The measure, HB 4035, allows Oregon state correctional officers the
ability to bring firearms onto DOC property and keep them locked in their cars.
It's a personal safety issue for AFSCME Corrections members, who frequently
travel long distances to and from work at Oregon's many far-flung rural
prisons. The Department of Corrections fought AFSCME the entire way on the
measure, telling lawmakers it "needed more time to study" the issue.
"This is a huge win as the
Department tried to kill it at every step," said Oregon AFSCME Executive
Director Ken Allen. "Our
legislative team did a great job with member-leaders getting this passed."
The issue was brought to a
head with the November 2011 murder of Buddy Herron, a Local
3361 (Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution) member who was killed on his way
to work in November 2011 when he stopped to help an apparent stranded motorist.
That motorist was a 19-year-old already with a long criminal record who
panicked when he saw Herron's badge and uniform.
The Senate amendment added
language allowing for the measure "if the Department of Corrections has not
provided a secure and locked location for storing firearms owned by corrections
officers," which currently the DOC does not. Longtime AFSCME Corrections
lobbyist Mary Botkin said the
union did not oppose that amendment.
As passed, HB 4035 allows
COs to keep guns in their vehicles on DOC property with three caveats:
- The officer must be at the DOC building in
his/her official capacity;
- The officer must have a valid Oregon concealed
weapons permit; and
- The firearm must be secured and locked in a
trunk, glove compartment, center console or other lockable container.
You can read the full text
of the bill at https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2014R1/Measures/Text/HB4035/B-Engrossed
"So, who would've thought
Mary Botkin would be the only person to pass a gun bill this session?" teased
state Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend).
State Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha), a former Portland Police Officer, dropped
HB 4035 at AFSCME's request and ushered the bill through the House. He also
testified for the bill in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Botkin
says Barker has promised to move the amended version for concurrence on the
AFSCME attempted to move a
similar bill through the 2013 session, but was stymied when the leadership of
both chambers decided no gun bills of any kind would be heard last year.
"This has been a long and
frustrating fight, but it proves if you have the moxie and persistence, you can
get things done," said Botkin. "This is a great victory for our officers, and
AFSCME is proud to have fought this fight successfully on behalf of our
* * *
DOC BUDGET GAP NARROWED — More good news for our Corrections members:
Botkin has succeeded in closing the Department's budget hole from over $90
million to $14 million for now,
which she reluctantly claims is a manageable number.
"Am I happy? No, people know
me better than that," says Botkin. "But in the long view, we have numbers we
can work with, and there is no threat of a prison closure. No one wanted to say
it out loud, but when they were talking about $80 million, $90 million, $100
million, the only way you can get
there with a number that big is to start closing institutions."
Botkin is still concerned
about on-the-job safety and staffing issues within the institutions. The DOC
told lawmakers it will help bridge the gap by continuing to work on reducing
overtime and leaving vacancies unfilled.
"I need to know if there are
security risks out there that we can prove due to continuous
vacancies or understaffing," said Botkin. "For example, we hear that one
officer is being required to watch two housing units. The DOC says that's only
happening occasionally in unusual circumstances, whereas I'm 'hearing' it's more
permanent than that. But if it is, I need documentation. I need our members to
be diligent in reporting to their staff reps these kinds of situations. I have
assurances from several legislators that, down the road, there could be more
money if we can prove our understaffing concerns. So please, everyone keep that
* * *
LOCAL 1246 TAKES CENTER
STAGE — Oregon AFSCME Local
1246, which represents employees in the state-operated IDD group homes, had a
chance to directly outline on-the-job issues to legislators Feb. 26 during a
30-minute presentation before the House Health Care Committee. Local 1246's
presentation was shepherded by Council 75 Political Coordinator Ralph
Groener and Oregon AFSCME Staff
Representative Randy Ridderbusch.
As of Jan. 3, the state has
changed the name of the State-Operated Community Program (SOCP) to the
Stabilization and Crisis Unit (SACU), and the agency name change itself
signifies the root of many problems. The nature and behaviors of the clients
currently being placed in the SACU homes has changed dramatically within the
SOCP was developed in the
early 1990s and was kick-started forward in 2000, when the old Fairview
Training Center, Oregon's large South Salem campus for what were then known as
MR/DD clients was shut down. Most former Fairview clients went to private
community group homes, but the 150 clients that were the most medically fragile
or presented the most aggressive behavorial issues were mandated to
state-operated homes under the SOCP. Over time, many of the former difficult
Fairview clients became more docile with age and have been moved to private
group homes, while many of the medically fragile clients from Fairview have
"In their place today are
younger, stronger, more aggressive clients," said Local 1246's Trina Brink, a Behavioral Specialist in one of the Portland
group homes. "When one of these difficult clients acts out, it can take five
staff to restrain him — which leaves other clients unattended during that
time. These situations make it impossible for us to meet the benchmarks for
therapeutic care and keep all of the clients on track."
Gordon Lorsung, a Behavioral Specialist in another Portland-based
home, walked legislators through a series of Google Earth and similar photos,
showing the homes' proximity to schools and, frequently, the distance from
emergency responders when there are issues. Lorsung also relayed an recent
incident where a client "escaped" into the community, police were called but
refused to intercede when the client cornered herself in a neighborhood bamboo
jungle. "These clients are not our jurisdiction, you go get her," he was told.
He did, and came out bleeding in several places from being struck by the client
with bamboo swatches.
"As I came out, one of the
officers yelled, 'Put cuffs on her,' which of course we aren't allowed to do,"
said Lorsung. "As she continued to fight and almost broke free again, an
officer did eventually aid me and did put her in handcuffs until we were able
to sedate her."
While clients don't get away
from the homes often, Local 1246 President Matt Orser testified that Lorsung's anecdote was all too
typical when it comes to restraining clients. Members are restricted to
outdated OIS (Oregon Intervention System) techniques that simply don't work
with these new types of aggressive clients, testified Orser, who is an OIS
trainer for SACU. As a result, staff members are the recipients of frequent
on-the-job injuries. Orser invited his Local 1246 colleagues in the audience to
stand; they did, each adorned with blue-and-white tape signifying injuries they
had received from clients.
"Yet if we fight back or use
any technique other than OIS protocols — which don't work with these new
clients — we can be written up for abuse and lose our job," said Orser.
"We have clients who grew up on the street and learned how to fight. Look at
these people behind me — do they look like street fighters?"
AFSCME contends that "abuse"
and "neglect" laws need to be re-examined. Current interpretations of the laws
are stacked against the line staff workers. A "conviction" of either
charge — no matter how
minor, no matter what the extenuating circumstances — can lead to a
worker being literally blacklisted on a statewide database. At the least, says
Orser, the law needs to be updated to acknowledge levels of neglect and abuse,
i.e. Abuse 1, Neglect 2, etc. Such designations would clarify incidental events
from more serious issues.
The union is hoping for an
interim legislative work group to study these and other issues and report back
to the 2015 full legislative session with proposed legislation for change.
* * *
WORKERS' COMP BILL MOVES — An important measure for injured workers
should hit the Senate floor soon. HB 4104 mandates expedited pre-authorization of workers' compensation claims
when there's a disagreement between agencies and insurance companies.
"This has been a big issue
for our members, especially at places such as Oregon State Hospital and the
state-operated group homes, where our folks are frequently injured on-the-job
by clients," said Botkin. "But in many cases, they have not been getting prompt
and appropriate medical care and treatment through the worker's comp system.
This has led to more and more employees bypassing the system and not filing
claims, going instead to their own health care provider."
Botkin notes that when
injured workers don't file claims, it skews the reports of on-the-job injuries,
underreporting them, making it harder to convince legislators there's a
problem. It also adds to the cost of health care.
"I fully understand why
people do it — they're hurt and they want treatment," said Botkin. "What
HB 4104 will do is say if workers' comp hasn't accepted a claim in a timely
fashion, health care providers must do so, and they can argue it out with
workers' comp after the fact rather than hold up treatment authorization."
HB 4104 has passed its
Senate committee with a "do pass" recommendation and should reach the Senate
floor early next week. It passed the House by a 43-14 on Feb. 14.
* * *
KUDOS TO WHISNANT — We reported last week that HB 4036, the measure that would have mandated certain
assault situations at the Oregon State Hospital be prosecuted as felonies
rather than treated as misdemeanors was stalled, given its complexities and the
short session timeframe. It's an important bill to members of Local 3295, which
represents registered nurses at the state hospital.
The bill is still stalled,
but not due to a lack of effort from Rep. Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver), who tried to revive the bill in the
House Rules Committee on Feb. 27.
"We want to thank Rep.
Whisnant for his efforts," said Botkin. "He did everything he could to get the
bill pulled out and moving. That's difficult to do when you're in the minority
party, and ultimately he was unsuccessful, but we much appreciate the effort.
It does show that our policy of working with people who work with us,
regardless of party affiliation, works to our advantage."
AFSCME is dedicated to
proposing news OSH legislation at the full 2015 session.
* * *
LONGER, SHORTER? — There is a bill floating around that would
add 10 days to each even-numbered year session, but subtract 10 from odd years.
It doesn't appear to have the legs to pass this session. 2014 is only the
second such "short session." Voters passed Ballot Measure 71 in 2010, which moved the state away from biannual
sessions only along with frequent "emergency" gatherings. Now, lawmakers meet
for 160 calendar days in odd-numbered years, and for 35 calendar days in
even-numbered years. The proposal would change those parameters to 150 and 45
days, respectively. Council 75 Political Director Joe Baessler, Botkin and Groener all agree it appears lawmakers
should be done by Friday of next week (March 7).
* * *
SHAMELESS PLUGS — We end this e-lert with a reminder that we would certainly like you,
our activist members, to be sure and download
our mobile app and "Like" our Facebook
page. Both are great ways to keep informed about the happenings within your
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