You are the owner of this page.
A3 A3
State-and-regional
Oregon lawmakers, lobbyists get sexual harassment training

SALEM (AP) — The intense national focus on sexual misconduct came to Oregon's capital this week, when lawmakers were given a training session on harassment and how to report it.

For the first time, the training was also offered to executive branch employees, lobbyists and others who work in the Capitol, said Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat. Previously, it was required for legislators and legislative employees.

To accommodate the larger crowd, the training was conducted on Tuesday inside the main ballroom of the Salem Convention Center. The training was provided by lawyers for the Legislature and its director of human resources.

Sen. Arnie Roblan, a Democrat from the coastal city of Coos Bay, said through a spokeswoman that "these trainings are critical, especially for new members and/or staff."

Oregon is one of at least 27 states in the U.S. that requires lawmakers from both chambers in legislatures to undergo sexual harassment training. Oregon's policy on sexual harassment is highlighted by the National Conference of State Legislatures as an example of a strong one, along with those of Alabama, Hawaii, Colorado and Maryland. A legislative subcommittee in Alaska is looking at Oregon as a model as it considers how to rewrite that state's guidelines.

"Oregon has a lot of elements that we consider a strong policy should have," said Jonathan Griffin, a policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Oregon Legislature is considering making it even stronger.

Oregon's policy describes an informal reporting process, and a formal one. Retaliation for making complaints is prohibited.

"An appointing authority or supervisor shall take appropriate action to prevent, promptly correct and report harassment about which the appointing authority or supervisor knew or, with the exercise of reasonable care, should have known," the policy says.

An independent third party will review the policies and may suggest changes, said Aaron Fiedler, communications director for the House Majority Office. That review is awaiting the outcome of an investigation of Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Republican from the logging town of Roseburg, who has been accused by two female senators of hugging too closely, and of other inappropriate touching.

"We anticipate we will learn a lot from what happens with that process," Fiedler said.

Kruse, the only Oregon lawmaker to be accused, has denied inappropriate conduct. Courtney removed the senator from the committees he sits on due to the accusations.

Courtney said it's important for the training to be held regularly. In Oregon, it is annual.

"As I said in my opening remarks ... practice and repetition help athletes perform at a higher level on game day. The best teams don't take days off," Courtney said in an email. "In the same way, we provide this training every year. It helps members of the Capitol community treat each other and the public with respect."

Rep. Julie Parrish, a Republican representing a district near Portland, said the session this year had a bigger focus on how to report harassment.

"I think most of what they provide is common sense," Parrish said.

Tuesday's session also discussed how to avoid harassment situations and provided several examples of types of behavior that should be avoided, said Sen. Ginny Burdick, a Democrat from Portland.

Some lawmakers, though, believe the sessions are too repetitive.

"I've talked to others who complained that we get the same thing year after year and they never change the PowerPoint slides. So I wasn't alone in that assessment," said Rep. Jeff Barker, a Democrat from Aloha, a community near Portland.

The PowerPoint presentation addresses identifying workplace harassment and discrimination, how to report incidents, and the illegality of retaliating against someone who complains.

Courtney said he wants feedback so the training sessions can be improved.

Among those attending was Sen. Sara Gelser, a Democrat from the college town of Corvallis who was one of the women who filed a complaint against Kruse.

People "should be empowered to speak up," Gelser said on Twitter. "But victims should not be shamed or punished for not sharing their story when they don't feel safe. Ending abuse is responsibility of abusers and employers — not victims."


State-and-regional
Cannon Beach rejects tax agreement with Airbnb

CANNON BEACH (AP) — Bucking a growing trend, the Cannon Beach City Council decided not to pursue a voluntary tax agreement with Airbnb in which the vacation rental giant would have paid the city a quarterly lump sum of lodging taxes.

The responsibility for paying the tax is with the property manager of a vacation rental. With more and more transactions happening online, cities often have difficulty keeping track of whether rentals that use Airbnb are registered and paying their fair share.

To help address that concern, Airbnb has contracted with more than 360 jurisdictions around the world in voluntary tax agreements, which promise to pay cities 100 percent of the lodging tax owed, including from vacation rentals not registered with the city, under the condition that the vacation rental owners remain anonymous. If the agreement were in place last year, 150 rentals the company has on record would have paid $110,000 to Cannon Beach.

Unlike other lodging intermediaries like Travelocity or Expedia, Airbnb only pays lodging taxes directly to cities through these volunteer agreements. Seaside entered into an agreement with Airbnb last summer, joining more than 20 other cities and counties in Oregon.

While the possibility of receiving previously untapped revenue was attractive, city councilors ultimately took issue with the lack of transparency, which would make it impossible for the city's finance director Laurie Sawrey to track whether Airbnb is accurately reporting all of its revenue.

Sawrey said the agreement would also restrict her ability to audit Airbnb to only once every four years, impeding the city from enforcing other codes related to safety.

"In Cannon Beach, auditing is a practice we've always employed. Our last audit showed inconsistencies with gross rents, and we were able to change an ordinance to address it," Sawrey said. "The ability to audit is also a council priority."

Airbnb spokeswoman Laura Rillos said these agreements make it easier for hosts to comply with local tax laws, help create an even playing field for short-term rentals and hotels and streamline the tax collection process while allowing for audits.

"We remain willing to discuss the possibility of an agreement with the city of Cannon Beach, so the city can receive the full economic benefits of short-term rentals," Rillos said.

Definitions

The state passed legislation in 2013 that requires intermediaries to pay lodging taxes directly to cities.

Wendy Johnson, an intergovernmental relations associate with the League of Oregon Cities, said the conflict comes from the fact Airbnb does not identify as an intermediary, and therefore argues it doesn't have to adhere to the requirements.

"We've explained that the agreements are one option for tax payment. The league will continue to pursue legislation that all entities should be treated the same," Johnson said.

Differences in language about whether Airbnb is responsible for local and state lodging taxes is what the league is hoping to resolve during the upcoming legislative session. Because there is no specific state statute, Johnson said Airbnb is claiming federal internet privacy protections as justification for keeping clients anonymous.

"Right now, some cities are getting paid, some aren't. But they aren't paying you unless you get an agreement. We think all intermediaries should be treated the same," Johnson said.

Cities have had mixed experiences with entering these types of agreements, she said. Larger cities, which have a hard time tracking unregistered rentals, have used agreements to avoid the risk of losing revenue in a time where most are facing shortfalls. But smaller towns, like Cannon Beach, often have better luck working with local property owners who pay taxes directly.

Not being able to audit these vacation rentals also makes it nearly impossible to enforce codes that help regulate safety and the saturation of rentals in the midst of countrywide housing crisis, Johnson said.

Skepticism

Cannon Beach has joined an emerging skepticism about these agreements in the past year. Astoria has been hesitant to allow Airbnb to collect lodging taxes on the city's behalf, even as city staff struggle to enforce city rules and collect all the taxes owed. At a work session in December, staff brought up concerns about not knowing who is operating these types of vacation rentals.

Hoteliers like Cynthia and Stephen Malkowski of the Arch Cape Inn came out against Seaside's agreement because of what they saw as unfair treatment.

Jason Brandt, president and CEO of the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, said he dissuades cities from entering these agreements. There should be an equal playing field in the marketplace, and that all lodging should be held to the same standard to ensure cities have accurate information, he added.

"We consider ourselves a partner with cities to make sure revenue is collected so cities can promote tourism," Brandt said.

Accountability

Seaside, however, saw the agreement as a way to collect money the city otherwise would have never received, said Public Information Officer Jon Rahl.

"Previously, if you booked a room through Airbnb, you'd get a notice of a state lodging tax, but no notice of the local. You were just paying $1.80 on a $100 rental," Rahl said. "It was really left up to the host to collect the local tax separately and charge the person after the fact or take it out of their own pockets."

Along with the agreement, Rahl said the city also decided to invest in STR Helper, a type of software that tracks homes listed on Airbnb and reports which homes don't necessarily match up with list of licensed rentals.

Cannon Beach city councilors decided to explore the possibility of investing in similar software, in the hopes that if the city can identify noncompliant rentals it can also succeed in receiving payment directly.

"This would mitigate the problem of not knowing who these people are. We get more from this program than from Airbnb," City Councilor Mike Benefield said.