July 3, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Assessing session’s local effect
Aug 07, 2011
Assessing session’s local effect
By Lauren Dake / The Bulletin
Published: July 03. 2011 4:00AM PST
From the start, a historic session
There was a House split evenly between the parties and a close margin in the Senate. There was Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is serving his third term, a first for an Oregon governor. And there was a $3.5 billion revenue shortfall. But both parties said there was a level of cooperation this session not seen in the Legislature for many years. Overall, more than 3,000 bills were introduced; more than 900 of those were passed, and the governor has signed more than 500 into law.
Local lawmakers say they were able to push key legislative priorities through both chambers. So far, the bills below — pushed forward by Jason Conger, Gene Whisnant, John Huffman and Mike McLane in the House and Chris Telfer in the Senate — have passed both legislative chambers; some have already been signed into law, while the all-Republican delegation expects the governor to sign the others in the coming weeks. In a few instances, all of Central Oregon’s legislators banded together, notably in supporting a bond for the Oregon State University-Cascades Campus and a renewal of the Deschutes Water Mitigation Program.
Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend
• HB 3627: Authorizes a $2.29 million bond to help OSU-Cascades buy a building to house its graduate programs. All Central Oregon lawmakers sponsored this bill and threw their legislative weight behind its passage, and Conger, Bend’s freshman representative, declared the bill’s passage his No. 1 priority this session.
• HB 3017: Extends Oregon’s enterprise zone program, which was set to expire in 2013. Instead, the program will last until at least 2025. Local officials have given credit to the enterprise zones for helping to attract Facebook to Prineville and T-Mobile to Redmond.
• HB 3591: Gives local businesses and citiessome leeway over Federal Clean Water Act regulations. The bill is meant to give more time to meet the stricter regulations and help offset negative economic impacts.
Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver
• HB 3623: Aims to protect the Deschutes River and ensure there is enough water in the basin to protect fish and provide for future growth. The current program would have ended in 2014; this will extend it until 2029. Early on, Whisnant declared it as his “take home” bill, his big priority.
• HB 3684: Requires the Oregon Department of Transportation to issue a “Keep Kids Safe” license plate. Revenue generated by sales would go to local Commission on Children and Families. This was the third session Whisnant tried to get this bill through both chambers.
• HB 3361: Ensures that all cluster mailboxes are accessible to people with disabilities.
Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles
• HB 3358: Allows counties battling noxious weeds to apply for funding to help.
• HB 3359:Allows five small rural schools to keep housing foreign exchange students in dorms and to receive state funding. All of the schools depend on the funding to keep their doors open. The bill gives them two more years to figure out an alternative funding source.
• HB 2210: This bill allows ODOT money to be sent directly to counties that provide driver’s education courses, in the instances when school districts can’t offer the class.
Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend
• SB 204: Creates a “Central Oregon Health Council.” It allows the area to continue working together, with both public and private entities, to integrate the region’s health care.
• SB 795: This bill requires the Oregon Transportation Commission and the Land Conservation and Development Commission to study the economic impact of the state’s transportation planning rule, which requires cities and developers to identify funds to pay for roads before development begins. The Central Oregon Cities Organization made it a priority this session to push for changes to the rule, saying it has stymied growth.
• SB 989 and 990: The redistricting bills. Every decade, based on census numbers, the Legislature attempts to redraw legislative districts. Telfer was the co-chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee and played a key role in coming up with both new state and congressional districts that both parties could agree on — for the first time in decades.
Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte
Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, was the only freshman legislator named to the powerful budget-writing committee. His key role this session, he said, was to focus on the budget. And when the OSU-Cascades and water mitigation bills came to the Ways and Means Committee, he advocated for their passage. He also supported various other pieces of legislation, including a bill that keeps concealed handgun license information private.
Key legislation: how they voted
A push from local legislators
3 noteworthy pieces of legislation: how they voted
Central Oregon’s delegation:
• Sen. Chris Telfer, R-District 27 (portion of Deschutes County)
• Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-District 28 (Crook County, portion of Deschutes County)
• Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-District 30 (Jefferson County, portion of Deschutes County)
• Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-District 53 (portion of Deschutes County)
• Rep. John Huffman, R-District 59 (portion of Jefferson County)
• Rep. Jason Conger, R-District 54 (portion of Deschutes County)
• Rep. Mike McLane, R-District 55 (Crook County, portion of Deschutes County)
Health care transformation
A priority for Gov. John Kitzhaber was House Bill 3650, which attempts to overhaul the state’s Medicaid system, known as the Oregon Health Plan. The idea is to create coordinated care organizations and focus on people with chronic conditions, keeping them out of hospitals and emergency rooms. The state is betting that this will save $240 million in 2012-13.
Oregon Education Investment Board
Senate Bill 909, already signed into law, will create the Oregon Education Investment Board, a panel whose 13 members will be appointed by the governor. The board will work to create policies that foster a seamless zero-through-20 education system. Eventually, it will oversee all levels of education, from birth to graduate school. It passed with several other ed reform bills.
State and federal redistricting
Once every 10 years, the Legislature takes a crack at creating new districts. This session is the first time in decades lawmakers agreed on both state and congressional districts, avoiding kicking the process to Secretary of State Kate Brown or to the courts, which is costly to taxpayers. The new lines officially become law in January 2013, affecting candidates seeking office in 2012.
SALEM — Not until the last day of session — when both legislative chambers passed a bill authorizing a bond for Oregon State University-Cascades Campus — did Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, stop tempering his excitement.
Even the day before, when the bill’s passage looked certain, he remained “cautiously optimistic.”
But walking off the House floor not long after the vote, the freshman lawmaker was grinning.
“I feel pretty good,” he said.
In a session where the all-Republican Central Oregon delegation shared half the power of the House and a slight minority in the Senate, Central Oregon lawmakers said the session was good for the region.
In the past five months, there were instances in which the lawmakers banded together to push legislation. There were also times when they vocally opposed one another’s stance, particularly when it came to redistricting.
Lawmakers passed legislation that will make changes in the Medicaid program. A series of education reform bills passed after tense negotiations. And tribal police officers were given more authority to arrest people off the reservation.
Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, declared early on that he would throw his weight behind passing a bill to renew the Deschutes Water Mitigation Program. It was, he said, his take-home bill. The goal of the program is to balance the river’s flows with the ability to draw from it for development. Environmental groups initially expressed concerns about the bill. Only after Whisnant agreed to extend the program until 2029 instead of indefinitely did the groups sign on, which helped its passage through both chambers.
But Whisnant couldn’t convince the environmental groups when it came to legislation to allow a development of 925 homes east of Caldera Springs on property known as Pine Forest. The bill would have allowed the Sunriver Resort Limited Partnership to develop land to the south, bypassing state and local land use laws. In return, about $3 million would go toward fixing the area’s septic-caused nitrate problem.
Conger said he was disappointed lawmakers didn’t do more to rein in state costs. He spoke publicly to lawmakers on several occasions about changing the state’s Public Employees Retirement System. He did see his No. 1 priority bill make it through both chambers, a $2.29 million capital construction bond authorized by the state to help pay for a new building at the OSU branch campus. And though he expressed disappointment in the lack of job-generating bills this session, he was instrumental in pushing legislation to extend the enterprise zone program. The bill was one that those at Economic Development for Central Oregon were rooting for; they credit the enterprise program with helping Facebook locate in Prineville.
For Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend, a co-chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, reaching a bipartisan agreement on redistricting was a high point. It marked the first time in decades the two parties have been able to redraw the state legislative lines. The final map, she said, is much better for Central Oregon than what was initially proposed by her Democratic counterparts. The group also agreed on new congressional districts.
Telfer helped push — and got an overhaul of — the state’s energy tax credits, including the notable Business Energy Tax Credit. She helped pave the way for the Central Oregon Health Council to continue to work on lowering the region’s health care costs. The council, a partnership of private and public sector people, will aim to keep those with chronic health problems get care in non-emergency settings.
Early in the session, Telfer supported a bill that would have let local school districts opt out of a statewide-mandated health insurance program. Bend-La Pine Schools said the chance to opt out could save it millions. In the end, the bill could not get the support.
Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, backed a bill through some Democratic opposition that will help five rural schools continue to receive funding for housing international students in dorms. The funding will last for at least two more years. He got approval to set up a program to help counties fight noxious weeds. Another of his bills will ensure that counties receive compensation for offering students driver-education courses.
One bill he pushed hard was for changes to the state’s transportation planning rule, which requires developers to identify funds to pay for roads before development begins. Local cities have voiced concern the rule stymies development. A task force to look at the rule was set up this session, but it wasn’t the change Huffman was hoping for. It’s one of those issues he’ll keep pushing, he said.
Early on, the Republican Party seemed to be grooming Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, to be the budget guy. McLane is the only freshman on the powerful budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. At first, he said, he was disappointed, hoping to focus more on policy. But with lawmakers facing a $3.5 billion revenue shortfall, he soon changed his mind. McLane was part of high-level negotiations that helped pass the series of education reform bills. When two Central Oregon priority bills, the OSU-Cascades bill and the Deschutes Water Mitigation renewal bill, hit his committee, he lobbied for passage.
Lauren Dake can be reached at 541-419-8074 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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