Oregon interim-Gov. Kate Brown’s recent actions speak louder than her hollow rhetoric on the subject of transparency.
When she signed a bill on April 10 that made some public-sector unions more secret, she added at least 55,000 home healthcare workers to Oregon’s growing list of special interest groups already exempted from public disclosure laws.
Last December, the Freedom Foundation submitted a public records request to the state of Oregon for a list of all home healthcare providers so we could inform them of their newly affirmed constitutional rights under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn ruling to opt out of paying union dues and fees.
Oregon’s Department of Human Services (DHS) responded with a letter informing us, “Your request is in process, and it is currently with the Department of Justice for a quick review prior to our response. I expect that review to be completed next week, and I will get back to you at that time.”
We weren’t holding our breath. This is a government agency, and “next week” is code for, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
Not surprisingly, the next response was received well after the following week. But at least we got a definitive answer—no.
Gene Evans, DHS public affairs director, wrote, “HB 3707 (he meant HB 3037) has now been signed by the governor and is effective upon her signature. The new law modifies existing exemptions from required disclosure under Oregon’s Public Records Law. Specifically, the new law prohibits the disclosure of certain personal information of homecare workers, operators of childcare facilities, exempt family childcare providers and operators of adult foster homes and those who have submitted voluntary information in confidence to a public body in response to a public records request.”
Evans wasted no time. Brown’s signature on HB 3037 was still drying as he wrote the denial email.
The legislative action was obviously in response to the Freedom Foundation’s public records request. Legislation was introduced two months after our request was submitted, and the bill was signed the same day we received the denial from Evans.
Before you dismiss the timing of the legislative action as a simple coincidence, it’s worth noting that SEIU 503 is well aware of the Freedom Foundation’s efforts to inform members of their constitutional rights. A few weeks earlier, SEIU 503’s online newsletter reported “Washington: Koch-funded Freedom Foundation engaging in active campaign to encourage union workers to drop their union membership and contribute to a campaign to institute “right to work.” The group recently filed a lawsuit against SEIU 925 to limit union power.”
Public-sector unions already had way too much influence on Oregon politics as it was, and it looks like nothing is going to change for the better under the new administration.
December 17, 2014, Original request
February 27, 2015, Email stating “completed next week, and I will get back to you at that time”.
April 10, 2015 Records Request Denial