Bill would grant immunity to people who seek help in drug overdose

January 24, 2015 in Featured, Jennifer in the news, What's Happening

Law might have protected woman who called for help in Sunriver marijuana gummies case

By Taylor W. Anderson / The Bulletin / @taylorwanderson

A proposed law that would grant immunity to people who seek medical help for someone having an adverse reaction to drugs likely would have applied in the case of a Seattle woman who was cited for marijuana possession in Sunriver after her friend had a bad reaction to marijuana gummies this week.

A 51-year-old woman gave her 37-year-old friend berry-shaped candies that were infused with marijuana. The woman knowingly ate the candies, then had an adverse reaction after eating three. Both women were from Washington, where pot is legal for recreational consumption.

The older woman called 911 early Monday from Sunriver Resort and was subsequently charged with possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. A bill filed in the Oregon Legislature by Portland Rep. Jennifer Williamson likely would have protected the woman from charges.

“We want to take all the barriers away from somebody seeking medical help who is in trouble and actively overdosing,” she said.

The immunity law would apply in cases in which the person who called for help possessed illegal drugs, whether pot or a highly addictive opiate. The immunity would apply in cases where the person who called was on parole or probation.

similar law protecting underage drinkers who seek help took effect in Oregon on Jan. 1.

“This is, I think, the natural outgrowth of that. Especially (when) marijuana becomes legal, because we’ll have underagers using marijuana as well,” Williamson said.

Sunriver Police Chief Marc Mills told The Bulletin his department used discretion when deciding to cite the 51-year-old woman.

Police could have cited the younger woman with possession as well but decided not to, Mills said.

He said he supports Williamson’s idea, but, “The law is currently the law. Nobody is telling us to ignore it. As long as the law is in place, we will enforce it.”

Mills said he wasn’t seeking the attention the case has gathered, but he does welcome the conversations that are occurring before possession of an ounce in public and a half-pound at home becomes legal July 1 in Oregon.

Oregon’s rural and urban communities are split on how to approach marijuana until then. The Bulletin found four district attorneys would drop all pending and future marijuana-related cases. Eleven said they’d continue to enforce. Many said prosecuting pot wasn’t a top priority.

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said he’d address it on a case-by-case basis, joining seven other district attorneys. This case will likely come across Hummel’s desk next week, he said.

Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, pointed to the incident when she promised a cautious approach to marijuana-infused edibles, which will become legal under the law passed in November.

Burdick will co-chair the Joint Committee on Ballot Measure 91 Implementation when lawmakers convene Feb. 2. She said Thursday she wasn’t willing to allow edibles to become legal until lawmakers tinker with packaging and labeling requirements in the law to avoid incidents similar to the one in Sunriver and to keep them out of kids’ mouths.

“On the other side of the equation, there are people who rely on medical marijuana who can’t smoke or don’t want to smoke who need some form of edible form,” Burdick said.

Burdick said she hadn’t read Williamson’s bill but said the concept sounded like one she would support.

As committee co-chair, Burdick will be one of the most influential lawmakers this session regarding the new marijuana law.

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,

Oregon law falls short on grand jury records

January 15, 2015 in Featured, Jennifer in the news, What's Happening

By Jeff Kruse  and Jennifer Williamson

For The Register-Guard

Americans may have heard more about grand juries in the last 30 days than in the last 30 years.

In the wake of the recent Michael Brown and Eric Garner decisions, we’ve been reminded by the media that grand jury proceedings are secret — unless a judge orders that a transcript of the testimony be made public.

 Oregon law falls short on grand jury recordsWe’ve heard over and over that during grand jury proceedings only prosecutors — not the judge or the accused — are present in the room, introduce the evidence, and select and examine witnesses.

We’ve been told that grand juries determine whether criminal charges, often subject to mandatory minimum sentences, should be brought against an accused person.

But here’s something that many Ore­gonians may not know: We are one of only three states in the nation that still rely on handwritten notes created by a grand juror instead of a verbatim recording of the grand jury proceedings.

Transparency in government is the Oregon way. We record and stream online every committee hearing of the Ore­gon Legislature. Every word uttered on the floor of the Oregon House and Senate is recorded for any citizen to review. Similarly, our courtrooms have recording devices, cameras and/or stenographers to document everything that happens in each and every trial. Our criminal statutes require mutual pretrial exchange of discovery between the accused and the state of each parties’ evidence and witnesses.

We should be proud of all that. But when it comes to accuracy and transparency in grand jury proceedings, Oregon is failing.

We still rely on nonverbatim handwritten “minutes” of grand jury sworn testimony taken by one of the jurors. These notes can be inaccurate, incomplete, hard to read or just plain wrong. Then if a witness’s testimony before the grand jury is called into question, a former grand juror must be hauled back into court to read the notes, often resulting in a delay in the proceedings and an inexact account of what actually was said under oath.

We’ve all been reminded in the last few weeks that grand juries have a lot of power.

The lack of accurate record-keeping and verbatim recordings of grand juries means that we risk distrust in our criminal justice system and further erosion of public confidence in the grand jury system right here in Oregon.

Without an ability for the parties — and, when appropriate, the public — to see an accurate record of grand jury proceedings, high-profile controversial cases can become more highly charged.

The Legislature has a responsibility to solve this problem. That’s why we are introducing a bill in this year’s legislative session to update Oregon’s criminal statutes to align with the federal system and most other states by mandating a verbatim record of all grand jury proceedings.

This simple but important change will allow us to protect citizens’ rights and increase trust in our criminal justice system. Mandating verbatim recordings of grand juries is the national norm for a reason: It guards against abuse and ensures that the rights of the accused and crime victims are fully protected. Liberals and conservatives can agree that we all lose when we allow government to exercise its power in secrecy, with no transparency, oversight or accountability.

The confidentiality of grand juries will always be protected, and Oregon will still require a judicial order to release verbatim recordings under special circumstances. But secrecy is not — and never should be — a cloak for abuse of power. The secrecy of grand juries exists to protect defendants, witnesses, victims and the accused, whose innocence must be presumed until guilt is established. Secrecy is not an excuse for inaccuracy or incomplete records. Secrecy does not exist to provide a shield from accountability.

Inaccuracy in recording the sworn testimony of grand jury witnesses leads to distrust in our criminal justice proceedings, fosters an environment for abuse, and could lead to unjust prosecutions or failure to bring guilty offenders to justice. Oregonians deserve better than that. That’s why we need to update our law.

Source: The Register Guard

Pendleton Lawmakers Try To Keep Blue Mountain Hospital Open

September 19, 2013 in Featured, Jennifer in the news

 by Christopher David Gray

Sept. 18, 2013 — The Oregon Health Authority has laid out the timetable to legislators for the closure of the Blue Mountain Recovery Center, even as Pendleton lawmakers strive to keep Eastern Oregon’s mental hospital open.

“The train’s already left the station,” Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, told The Lund Report. “We got to find the sidetrack somehow.”

Blue Mountain is set to stop taking patients next month and close for good Dec. 31. The hospital has a long track record, opening in 1948.

Pamela Martin, the director of the Addictions and Mental Health Division, said half of Blue Mountain’s 60 patients will be ready for discharge, but any civilly committed patients who need further treatment will be transferred to two mothballed 26-bed wings in the new Oregon State Hospital in Salem.

Those hospital wings are scheduled to open in November, with patients transferred over the following month. They were built the same time as the new hospital but have sat empty for lack of funding in the previous budget.

After Blue Mountain stops taking patients, new civilly committed patients will be sent to either Salem or the Oregon State Hospital in Portland, but there is already a waiting list to get into state psychiatric hospitals. The Legislature has budgeted money for a new hospital in Junction City, near Eugene, but it won’t open until 2015 at the earliest.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the full Joint Committee on Ways & Means, lawmakers accepted Martin’s report, but talk stirred of potentially keeping the hospital open and staffed until next spring so it could be turned into a geriatric hospital for the Department of Corrections.

The prison hospital idea was pitched by Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, who said it would be wise to keep the facility in place with its skilled workforce because the Department of Corrections needs to increase hospital capacity with an aging population, driven by mandatory prison sentences.

Her idea was immediately grasped by Jenson and his Pendleton Senate counterpart, Sen. Bill Hansell, as well as Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem:

“It’s a piece of the puzzle that needs to be worked on to come to fruition,” Winters said.

If the hospital closes, Jenson and Hansell are concerned that the professional staff, particularly the nurses, would be cut to the wind and leave Eastern Oregon. Recruiting newcomers to move to Pendleton could be difficult with the state suffering a nursing shortage. Jenson reminded his colleagues that even the Oregon State Hospital in Salem has had trouble filling all its positions with qualified applicants. “If we lose the workforce, we’re going to have to restart,” said Hansell, who also learned that most workers would prefer to remain in Pendleton, according to the Service Employees International Union.

In place of Blue Mountain Hospital, three new residential mental health facilities, each with five beds, are being built in Pendleton. One will serve as an acute crisis unit while the other two will act as transitional residential treatment homes, one for adolescents and the other for adults.

“Every effort will be made to place people from Eastern Oregon in those two facilities,” Martin told legislators.

Some Blue Mountain employees will find work in the new units, but with only 15 beds and less intensive care, the new residential treatment units will only employ a fraction of the people if the hospital closes. Others could find work in Salem. And some of the staff has already left voluntarily, requiring the state to hire temporary employees.

“One of the major barriers is the physical quality of the [Pendleton] hospital,” said Martin, who toured the 65-year-old facility after assuming her leadership position in May. “It’s outlived its natural life span.”

Martin said that it costs about $1 million a month to operate Blue Mountain, but the two new mothballed units in Salem will cost only $700,000 a month to run, she added, comparing them to empty floors of a hotel.

If Blue Mountain Hospital were renovated, it would cost an estimated $11 million, and it’s uncertain if the hospital has significant asbestos insulation or lead pipes, which would increase costs exponentially.

Jenson rebuffed the asbestos concern, noting that most of the facilities have undergone substantial renovations in the past 25 years. “If there’s a lot of asbestos in the building for these patients, maybe we have a good class-action lawsuit waiting for us,” Jenson quipped. Before it was razed, the state had been fined by the federal government previously for asbestos in the old Salem state mental hospital.

Martin expects to report back to legislators with detailed information about the impacts of the closure on Pendleton, as well as the potential for its reuse as a prison hospital. But that could be too late to delay closure of Blue Mountain Hospital. Lawmakers may not be back in Salem until nearly Thanksgiving, just weeks before the last patients are moved across the Cascades.

Source: The Lund Report

Nine Legislators Named 2013 Health Center Heroes by OPCA

September 3, 2013 in Featured, Jennifer in the news, What's Happening

Portland, Ore., Aug. 6, 2013 - The Oregon Primary Care Association (OPCA) is honoring nine policymakers for their outstanding support of community health centers.

 OPCA will award its second annual Health Center Hero Awards to:

  • Five Portland-area legislators:
    • Oregon Senators Laurie Monnes Anderson and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward
    • Oregon Representatives Mitch Greenlick, Alissa Keny-Guyer & Jennifer Williamson
  • Oregon Representatives Peter Buckley, Nancy Nathanson, Val Hoyle & Jim Thompson

 Awards presentations planned to date:

  • Sen. Steiner Hayward and Rep. Greenlick - August 7 from 10 – 11 a.m. atCentral City Concern’s Old Town Recovery Center/Old Town Clinic, 33 NW Broadway, 3rd floor, Portland
  • Sen. Monnes Anderson - August 22 at 9 a.m. at Wallace Medical Concern, 124 NE 181st Ave., Portland
  • Rep. Keny-Guyer - October 1 from 10 – 11 a.m. at Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic’s Rosewood Family Health Center, 8935 S.E. Powell Blvd., Portland

 The remaining awards will be presented at times to be determined over the next two months.

 OPCA is recognizing Sen. Steiner Hayward for her long commitment to primary care.  She focuses on improving access to care for all Oregonians, particularly the uninsured.  Rep. Greenlick provided exceptional oversight of Oregon’s health care transformation process during the 2013 legislative session and remains a champion of the work of community health centers.

 Sen. Monnes Anderson supported key health care legislation during the 2013 session, including the OPCA-sponsored “care continuity” bill, HB 2132.  Reps. Keny-Guyer, Buckley and Thompson earned awards for strongly advocating access to culturally competent care.

 OPCA is recognizing Rep. Williamson for her focus on access to health care for all Oregonians, with an emphasis on Portland’s homeless population. Rep. Nathanson promoted accountability and transparency in health care reform, and Rep. Hoyle showed exceptional leadership in raising the profile of health care and health policy in her caucus.

About OPCA:

The Oregon Primary Care Association is a nonprofit membership organization of 31 community health centers operating through more than 200 sites across the state.  OPCA advocates on behalf of health centers at the state and federal levels and provides technical assistance and training to its members.  Our mission is to lead the transformation of primary care to achieve health equity for all.  For more information, see

Williamson called ‘Freshman of the Year’ in Willamette Week Legislator Ratings

August 22, 2013 in Featured, Jennifer in the news, What's Happening

Williamson, 39, a smiley first-termer, has ably replaced Mary Nolan, who resigned her seat for an unsuccessful run for Portland City Council. A former First Amendment lawyer, Williamson spent a couple of sessions in Salem lobbying before running for office. That familiarity with the capitol is worth a lot in a culture proud of its traditions. As a rookie, Williamson chaired theJoint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety. “You’ve usually got to be here for 10 years to get that kind of assignment,” says an observer. “Freshman of the year,” says one of many admirers.

Oregon voters could get say on adding Equal Rights Amendment to state constitution

June 12, 2013 in Jennifer in the news

SALEM — The Oregon Legislature may give voters the chance to amend the Oregon Constitution to include an Equal Rights Amendment for women.

House Joint Resolution 35 would refer the issue to voters on the May 2014 ballot. It’s scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the House Rules Committee. Proponents say it would solidify protections against gender discrimination.

“When you have your rights expressed in the Constitution, they’re as secure as they can be,” said Leanne Littrell DiLorenzo, the president of, which requested the legislation.

Others say the amendment isn’t necessary and that elevating gender equality into the Oregon Constitution might make it appear more important than banning discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and other categories.

A state Supreme Court ruling already ensures strong gender equality protections, said David Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. A national Equal Rights Amendment is needed because the federal government treats sex discrimination differently than racial and other forms of discrimination, he said, but that’s not the case under state law.

The ACLU is remaining neutral on the state resolution after opposing two similar proposals introduced earlier this session. Fidanque said he’s not sure the state amendment would do anything new.

“We have argued that it’s not necessary from the standpoint of the law and the constitution,” he said. “It will provide insurance in case the Oregon Supreme Court ever changes its interpretation” of the constitution.

The state Constitution has not been amended since its passage in the 1850s to expressly protect the equality of the sexes, argues Littrell DiLorenzo.

It’s the same state Constitution that “wouldn’t let women vote. Women couldn’t own property, and women couldn’t work the same number of hours (as men),” she said. “What we’re trying to do is to secure equality between the sexes, established in the Constitution.”

July 6 2013 1598 300x200 Oregon voters could get say on adding Equal Rights Amendment to state constitution

Representative Jennifer Williamson,2013.

The campaign to pass a state amendment coincides with a revived national campaign to pass a federal Equal Rights Amendment. That amendment, approved by Congress in 1972, never went into effect because it fell three states short of the minimum 38 states that needed to ratify it.

In Oregon, similar legislation introduced earlier this session attracted broad support from Democrats and Republicans.

“The Oregon Constitution is very protective of individual rights, much more than the federal constitution,” said Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, who has a Ms. Poster advocating for women’s rights on her office wall. Williamson supports an Oregon amendment, which she said would be “a safeguard to ensure that Oregon’s higher standard of protection continues.”

Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, said an Oregon Equal Rights Amendment is important in light of ongoing equity issues, such as the wage gap for women.

“There are folks who say we’re already there, but we’re not there,” said Parrish, who sponsored a similar resolution earlier this session. “As a mom, I’ve got three boys, and what I’ve said before is that I want my boys to grow up and understand that women can do anything, and the little girl they sit next to in class could be their wife, their friend, their boss. It’s important to memorialize that.”

By Yuxing Zheng, The Oregonian

June 11, 2013 at  7:10 PM,

updated June 11, 2013 at 11:06 PM

Oregon House votes to ease burden on hair and makeup artists

June 12, 2013 in Featured, Jennifer in the news

 Rep. Williamson sponsored bill to help Oregon entrepreneurs succeed in Oregon’s growing entertainment industries. Read the rest of this entry →

Freshman legislator Jennifer Williamson reports to constituents on current session

May 31, 2013 in Events, Jennifer in the news

Committee assignments in Oregon Legislature don’t rock the boat

December 25, 2012 in Jennifer in the news, What's Happening

By Christian Gaston, The Oregonian on December 21, 2012 at 5:45 PM, updated December 21, 2012 at 6:00 PM


Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, incoming house speaker, announced committee appointments for the 2013 Legislative Session. Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian

Leadership in the Oregon Legislature announced committee appointments in the House and Senate late Friday, with few surprises in either chamber.

While Democrats will be in a majority in both chambers, a shift from after the 2010 election when the House was tied 30-30, Democratic leadership retained Republicans on influential Ways and Means, Revenue and Rules committees.

Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland, incoming House speaker, said at the end of last week’s special session that she was looking forward to bipartisanship in the coming session, during which Democrats will enjoy a 34-26 majority.

There are Democratic majorities on all committees in the House, but Republicans still hold some prominent positions.

Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, will co-chair the Ways and Means subcommittee on General Government and Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, will co-chair the subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development.

In a press release announcing the committee appointments, Kotek offered a similar sentiment.

“There are thoughtful, well-respected legislators on both sides of the aisle who have important ideas to offer,” Kotek said. “Committees are designed in a way that will allow us to best tackle the challenges facing the state.”

While there are a score of freshman legislators in the House and a leadership shift, the makeup of the Senate hasn’t changed much. Senate President Peter Courtney made small tweaks to committee appointments.

Other highlights from the appointments include:

  • Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, will replace outgoing Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, on the senate Rules Committee.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, and Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, were appointed to Ways and Means. Steiner Hayward was appointed to fill the vacant senate seat of U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici late last year. Hansell was elected to the Senate in November.
  • Freshman Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, will serve on Ways and Means.
  • Freshman Rep. Ben Unger, D-Hillsboro, will co-chair the Natural Resources subcommittee of Ways and Means.
  • The makeup of the Senate Finance and Revenue committee changed significantly following the retirement of Sen. Frank Morse, R-Corvallis, who had worked closely with committee chairwoman Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, on tax issues. Three new members will join the committee this session: Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, Brian Boquist, R-Dallas and Larry George, R-Sherwood.

The Legislature will convene Jan. 14-16 for organizational meetings, with lawmakers returning to Salem Feb. 4, when the legislative session really gets under way.

Single Payer, Other Health Issues, Divide Candidates for House District 36

April 16, 2012 in Jennifer in the news, What's Happening

Of the two candidates, Sharon Meieran has the support of the healthcare industry, while Jennifer Williamson has a more diverse list of contributors
By:Amanda Waldroupe

April 16, 2012—Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish the policy beliefs of one Portland liberal running for office from another, but when it comes to healthcare, it’s relatively easy to drawn lines in the sand between Sharon Meieran and Jennifer Williamson.

They’re competing to win the upcoming May 15 Democratic primary for House District 36, which includes parts of downtown and southwest Portland. Rep. Mary Nolan (D-Portland), who currently holds that seat, is running against Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz for Portland City Council.

Whoever wins the primary is likely to become the new legislator since the district is a reliably safe Democratic seat even though there’s a Republican in the running.

An emergency room doctor at Portland Adventist Health Center, Meieran was motivated to run for the House seat by “what [she] sees on the front lines everyday,” and is also president of the Oregon College of Emergency Physicians and a member of the Oregon Medical Association’s Legislative Committee.

On the job, she’s seen people showing up in the emergency room with untreated mental and substance abuse issues, homelessness, and other problems that effect their health, and believes she lends “a unique perspective at a unique time,” given the transformation of Oregon’s healthcare system.

Williamson, on the other hand, wants to make certain that Oregon continues investing in programs and services that offer opportunities. She’s worked as a lobbyist for Portland State University and more recently for Komen Oregon.

A fourth generation Oregonian, she and her five siblings were the first in their family to attend college, and attributes that, in part, to financial aid from the state. “The state invested in us,” she said. “Kids and families don’t have that opportunity anymore.

Where Meieran and Williamson differ most starkly is whether a single payer system—which would provide universal healthcare to every Oregonian — could be successfully implemented.

“Single payer makes the most sense,” said Williamson because it assures that everyone will have health coverage and save the state money. Creating a single payer system would also generate healthcare jobs and minimize labor disputes.

Williamson’s heard from teachers who’ve foregone pay increases over the last three years because of rising healthcare costs, yet another reason, she said, for a single payer system.

If elected, Williamson’s eager to work with Rep. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) to introduce single payer legislation, and is also planning a trip to Vermont to learn how that state has been able to create a single payer system.

Nevertheless, she realizes that she’ll face a tough battle winning over her colleagues. “It’s a hard industry {healthcare industry} to come up against. People aren’t ready to take it on.”

From her perspective, Meieran calls a single payer system “the ideal type” of healthcare system, but doesn’t believe it’s possible to achieve in Oregon. “It’s not practical or feasible…from an economic standpoint, provider standpoint, and every aspects of the delivery system.”

In two to four years, it might be more realistic to think about such a system. “At some point we can get there,” said Merieran, but didn’t explain what that meant.

The candidates also differed slightly on the Legislature’s role in coordinated care organizations, which will begin integrating physical and mental healthcare for 650,000 people on the Oregon Health Plan in August and could become the delivery system for the state’s school teachers and public employees.

“This is the beginning of the process,” said Meieran, who doesn’t believe the Legislature should monitor CCO development, but believes it’s essential to provide preventive services and fund school-based centers.

From Williamson’s perspective, CCOs “have to be held accountable. This is the system we’re saying we need in the state.”

She thinks the Legislature should hold hearings and either change the rules or draft new legislation to make certain CCOs live up to their expectations while emphasizing prevention and integrating mental health.

“I’m really focused on budget issues,” she said. “It goes back to the general proposition that when we invest dollars, we do it in the smartest way possible.”

The myriad of problems currently faced by the healthcare system is “about healthcare finance,” she said. “It’s a budget issue, and figuring out the best investments for the best outcomes.”

Merieran Campaign Supported by Healthcare Industry

It’s obvious from the campaign contributions that Meieran is favored by the healthcare industry. According to ORESTAR, she’s received contributions from dozens of healthcare organizations, including Douglas County Independent Practice Association (DCIPA, which gave $1,500) and Doctors for Healthy Communities ($1,500).

The political action committees of the Oregon Medical Association, Oregon Healthcare Association and Oregon Hospital Association, also each gave her $2,500. Other notable contributors include Regence Oregon and Chuck Hofmann, whose term on the Oregon Health Policy Board recently ended.

Williamson, on the other hand, has a more diverse list of contributors, including the Oregon Business Association, Oregon Nurses PAC (which gave $5,000), Oregon AFSCME, the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Planned Parenthood and numerous individual lawyers (Williamson has a law degree from the University of Oregon).

Meieran said her contributions won’t affect her judgment or policy decisions as a legislator. Williamson disagrees. “That idea that it doesn’t matter is wrong,” she said.