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After emotional statements, Oregon House passes gun bill
The Oregon House has passed a bill, after emotional debate on both sides, that would mandate safe storage of firearms and ban them from the state Capitol

SALEM — The Oregon House on Thursday passed a bill, after emotional debate on both sides, that would mandate safe storage of firearms and ban them from the state Capitol.

The bill next goes to the Senate, which had passed a much narrower version of the bill before it was amended. Two separate gun bills had been watered down somewhat and then combined into one measure.

“It would be pretty impactful in (Oregon) as it is currently in the minority of states that has no law aimed at preventing unsupervised gun access by minors,” said Allison Anderman, senior counsel at Giffords, a gun safety advocacy group.

The bill is aimed at reducing the number of accidentally shootings by children who get ahold of guns, of suicides and of mass shootings. It requires firearms to be secured with a trigger or cable lock, in a locked container or in gun room. Among those who testified earlier was Paul Kemp, whose brother-in-law Steve Forsyth was killed with a stolen gun in a mass shooting at a Portland-area shopping mall in 2012.

The bill also authorizes the board of a public university, community college or school district to adopt a policy banning concealed handgun licensees from possessing firearms on school grounds.

The debate in Oregon over guns mirrors similar discussions being held nationwide, with little movement on gun control even as the number of mass shootings climbs again as the nation eases coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Republican lawmakers said the bill will deprive people the ability to protect themselves.

“This bill won’t save lives. It will make criminals out of our law-abiding citizens,” Rep. David Brock Smith, a Republican from Port Orford, said on the House floor.

But Rep. Rachel Prusak, a main sponsor of the bill, said: “The safe storage portion of this bill creates no crime. It does establish that a gun owner may share in the responsibility for civil damages as a result of their carelessness if an unsecured firearm is used to cause harm.”

Previously, the measure imposed strict liability on people who violate the statute and whose guns are used to injure or kill another person. Instead, it now imposes a negligence standard. It also previously would have allowed local governments to prohibit concealed handgun licensees to have guns on their properties. The new version does not allow that.

Rep. Dacia Grayber, a firefighter and paramedic, stood in support of the bill and described coming on the scene of shootings. Her first was the fatal accidental shooting of a child by a friend. They had found a gun under a bed while playing.

“We could not save him, and he died while his father howled the most unimaginable sounds in the next room,” Grayber said, her voice cracking with emotion. “This scene plays out in our state and our country time and time again. And colleagues, it does not have to.”

The bill passed the House with 34 votes in favor and 24 against. Democrats, who overwhelmingly favor the bill, have a majority in both the House and Senate.

Paving begins as Roberts Mountain expansion project nears conclusion

After more than two years of excavation work, crews with the Oregon Department of Transportation have begun paving on a 5 mile stretch of the $33 million Interstate 5 Roberts Mountain expansion project.

Traffic controls were put in place Sunday, allowing workers to split the northbound lanes of I-5 in order to get the paving done. Those traffic controls are in effect 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sunday through either Friday or Saturday, “depending on how much work needs to be done,” ODOT spokesperson Dan Latham said.

“The last two years we’ve been excavating, widening the roadway, putting our base paving in, but now we need to repave the rest of the travel lanes,” Latham said. “With six lanes to pave, it’s going to take a lot of work.”

The project, which began in February 2019, is designed to add a truck-specific travel lane on both the northbound and southbound sides of the freeway.

While night paving is taking place, the southbound lanes will be split into a far-left lane and a far-right lane while crews pave the center lane. Large trucks will be required to travel in the right lane only, while passenger vehicles can use either lane.

Latham said that traffic pattern is expected to last for a month, and that northbound traffic on Roberts Mountain can expect intermittent single-lane closures as crews lay down temporary striping, install new guardrails and pave the lanes.

Of the $33 million price tag, $30 million will come from the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. Kerr Contractors of Woodburn was awarded the contract after submitting a bid of $26 million in 2018.

Of the 5 miles of paving that were planned as part of the project, Latham said there are still about 3 miles to go.

Motorists are advised to drive with caution when traversing Roberts Mountain and yield to construction vehicles. A 55-mph speed limit is being enforced in the construction zone.

The project is anticipated to be completed some time in August, Latham said. The contract for the project expires in September.

Erica Mills, Kat Stone vie for Umpqua Community College board seat in May 18 election

Erica Mills and Kat Stone are in a race for the Umpqua Community College’s board of education zone 4, east central county, for the May 18 special election.

Steve Loosley, the board chair, is running unopposed for the zone 7 at-large position. The real estate developer has been on the board since being elected in 2017. He has a master’s degree in theology from Western Seminary, a Master of Business Administration from Stanford University and a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Oregon State University.

Guy Kennerly, board vice-chair, is running unopposed in the south central county’s zone 5. He has served on the board since 2017, is a small business owner and rancher.

Mills has held the zone 4 position since being elected in July 2019.

“I care deeply about this community, and I want to see it thrive,” Mills said. “I believe education is one of our most powerful tools of self-empowerment, and I want to ensure that our local residents have access to a local option for quality affordable education.”

She added that educating the community would build a stronger workforce, a strong economy and shared sense of purpose.

Mills holds a bachelor’s degree in public health from Oregon State University.

Stone has been elected to the Douglas County Transportation District Board twice and was appointed to the Roberts Creek Water District budget committee in 2017.

“I am a lifelong resident of Douglas County who went from mill worker to RN because of Umpqua Community College,” Stone said. “That provided opportunities that I had never before imagined I would have. So I want to give back some of what they gave me. I believe my experiences, including having been in other elected offices, makes me uniquely qualified to be on the UCC Board.”

She said one of the biggest issues the college is facing is declining enrollment, and subsequent loss of funding.

“Enrollment is the basis of the funding for the college, but it seems that the current board may have paid more attention to the financial value of the student to UCC instead of the value of UCC to the students and the general community,” Stone said.

Mills acknowledged that the college is faced with economic challenges and more competition.

“Today, post-secondary education is relatively easy to access, from a variety of schools across the globe — right from the comfort of your own living room,” she said. “UCC is challenged now with remaining relevant amidst steeper and stronger competition.”

She said the way to stay relevant is to work with local community members and build a workforce pipeline.

“Our local employers should be looking to UCC to deliver work-ready graduates who can provide meaningful contributions to our local economy,” Mills said. “UCC has the potential to build the engine to drive our local economy.”

In recent years, the community college has made several cuts to programs and staff, with finances and low enrollment frequently cited as the reasons for those adjustments.

Stone said she wants to make sure all options are exhausted before cuts are made to educational programs.

“We cannot afford to have short term savings create a long term problem for our college,” she said. “Cutting quality programs that need to be the mainstay of any community college is no model to follow to sustain UCC. It seems that the current board has focused on that basic business model that the only value of what we do is the money involved, but that is simply not true. Our real value is not the money we generate, it is the quality programs we offer and how they benefit our students.”

Stone and Mills both agreed that the college should focus on creating programs that will help the people and businesses in the community.

“Our best guard against further program and staffing cuts is to really listen to what our local community needs, and then deliver on it,” Mills said. “This will grow our most valuable in-demand programs, and allow us to streamline those that are less in demand.”

She also said the college should be creative about how to deliver the education and training in a cost-efficient way.

Stone also wanted to review extra curricular type programs.

“They should not replace educational and training programs that actually provide that upward mobility opportunity for our youth and others,” Stone said. “We also need to make sure that programs we promote do not adversely impact other aspects of life in the district. UCC needs to be a good neighbor and community partner. If we aren’t, we also put the financial well-being of UCC at risk.”

Mills said that for her it’s most important to ensure that the college helps support students to ensure they are successful. “The average student is in their late 20s, with a job and a family,” she said. “How can we better understand our students, their needs, and the barriers that prevent them from graduating?”

When asked how Umpqua Community College can improve on diversity, equity and inclusion, Mills said she prefers to look at what barriers people may experience.

“Removing barriers to education provides students access to our most valuable self-empowerment tools,” she said.

Ballots for the election should be arriving any day and are due by 8 p.m. May 18. They can be mailed or dropped off in any of the ballot boxes throughout the county.