Our OAB Team made up of eleven members and myself had a full day of meetings with seventeen Oregon State Senators and Representatives discussing the two main issues described below.
2019 Legislative Issues Addressed
SB 651 – EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENT
Oregon’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) serves as the first line of information dissemination in the event of both local and statewide emergencies. The system allows county and state emergency managers to broadcast messages to the public with critical messages. In the event of an emergency the EAS will likely be residents’ only method of accessing vital services. Radio and television broadcasters across the state of Oregon are the primary delivery system for safety and recovery information during time of emergency.
Most emergencies are local. When the digital system fails, state and local authorities will be dependent on this Legacy System, the series of encoders and decoders. While a few Oregon counties have encoder units, most do not. Placing an encoder unit in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of every county in the state will allow for a swift, local and accurate response to local and statewide emergencies when the CAP system is not functioning. Emergency Managers can use the encoders to transmit potentially lifesaving information to broadcasters, who have the ability and equipment to reach the target audience.
ASK: A one-time investment from the state of $1.9 million will ensure that in a critical emergency, county and state emergency managers will be able to broadcast vital information to residents.
Result of Meetings: This is an issue that the conversation was started last year and continued with meeting key agencies and legislators throughout year. This prepared us for a clearer discussion this week that is leading us to positive results.
Feedback: Senator Boquist from Dallas is a strong advocate for the bill. He believes we need to stress the “fear factor”. “It is not if something will happen, it is simply when it will happen.” He also thought that since Oregon is lagging behind other states, to push that as well. The Senator also recommended that we read Ted Koppel’s book Lights Out.
One of our teams was also able to stop by Betsy Johnson’s office, she was working away but left the packet behind and have the elevator pitch for Senate bill 651. We will follow-up with her.
Representative Greg Smith is a supporter of the bill and since he is the Co-Vice Chair with Ways and Means, he will do what he can to push it forward. He appreciated that we were asking for the counties, and that broadcasters have done their part to have the equipment in place.
Rep. Smith emphasized that we get back to him/his office around June 1st to make sure this gets in the budget from Ways and Means.
Senator Fred Girod said we should fill out a request for lottery dollars for the amount. He also indicated Lori (his wife) would help us fill out the form to make a request from Capital Construction. We will be contacting Amanda Beidel to get the request in soon. He also felt that it was great that we had the engineering and the business plan already done detailing how the money would be used, most asks he receives do not have that much in advance. Thank you to James Boyd, who put so much of this together. The Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) will review our request, but most likely it will be Senator Girod, Peter Courtney, Steiner Heyward and Betsy Johnson that will make the decision. Senator Bill Hansell completely understands the need and supports the passage of the bill. He was impressed that a business plan and the engineering had been figured out.
The meetings with Senator Courtney and Senator Hass were with staff. Details were reviewed with them.
As you can see in this report, the majority of the legislators that we met with, such as Rep Carl Wilson, Carla Piluso and Duane Stark, (Rep. Stark sits on the Ways and Means Committee), were very much in support of SB 651 and would be supporting the bill.
Senator Ginny Burdick was very engaged in the conversation and would like more information on the technology needed and which counties are currently ready. She asked about analog and digital systems (she thought analog was shut down). We will be following up with her this month. Senator Roblan, from Coos Bay, is supportive of the bill and understands the need for emergency information to be distributed by broadcasters. Senator Lew Fredrick from Portland understands the need and would support the bill.
Our meetings on SB-651 were positive and all agreed that the system needs to be upgraded. The concern is the dollars and would it fit in the budget.
HB 2931 – DEFINITION OF ‘NEWS MEDIA’ FOR PUBLIC MEETING ACCESS
Your partners at the OAB are good journalistic stewards, and take our responsibility to inform the public seriously. We recognize that bad actors do exist in the blogosphere and elsewhere, and local governments are rightfully concerned. Efforts to define ‘news media’ for the purposes of limiting attendance at executive sessions and public meetings need to be undertaken very carefully so as not to limit legitimate press access to meetings.
ASK: The OAB looks forward to continued discussions on the issue as all the legislators understand our concerns.
Result of Meetings: This issue is still being reviewed and discussed. There wasn’t anyone we met with who didn’t understand that our TV and radio journalist work under a set clear guideline of rules and filters as they gather information on news stories. This issue is a result of “citizen journalists” asking for the same access to meetings and not to be excluded or shut out.
We will continue to monitor and continue the conversation on this issue
My Ask: I am planning on building a list of TV and Radio News Directors who could be able to assist in comments and or testimony in session hearings.