Argus Observer | March 24, 2022
ONTARIO — “I was elected to stand and fight, not run and hide. And while I think it’s a terrible bill and spoke against it, I stood and fought, as I believe that’s my job.” This was the response of Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, to a question posed about House Bill 4002 during a question-and-answer session at a virtual town hall on March 17. The question from a constituent was why the Senate didn’t walk out of the 2022 legislative session to prevent the passage of the bill, which created overtime pay for farm workers.
Findley clarified that when he and colleagues walked out three years ago over the cap and trade, it wasn’t because they didn’t like the legislation. It was because the “majority party changed the rules and fixed the vote.”
Another town hall attendee thanked Findley for “standing and fighting.”
As passed, House Bill 4002 will see the workweek that triggers overtime pay for farm workers stagger down over five years. In 2023-24 it will be 55 hours, in 25-26 it will be 48 and by 2027 it will be 40 hours.
In a nutshell, the bill impacts anybody “growing anything out of the ground”; offers a tax incentive; and allows some exemptions for salary paid positions and for livestock and dairy operations, according to Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles.
He said those working to push the bill through didn’t understand that for some crops, the entire harvest time might be only eight to nine weeks, and that the work could not be accomplished in an 8-hour work day.
Bonham cited a “massive labor coalition, which consisted only of about 10% farmworkers,” as another reason the bill was able to pass. And he decried the tax incentives, saying they are “the greatest in the beginning when there is the least amount of burden, and least in the end when there is the greatest amount of burden.”
Findley and Reps. Bonham and Mark Owens, R-Crane, provided updates on this and other details of the 2022 Oregon Legislature during a virtual town hall for their constituents on March 17.
Findley and Owens respectively represent Sen. District 30 and House District 60, which both encompass Malheur County.
Nearly 200 attended the town hall. More highlights follow.
Regional water management?
When it comes to water, Owens notes that Oregon is in an 800- to 1,200-year historic drought that has left the Lake County watershed without water. Saying it is “going to be a horrific year for ranchers and farmers” there, he noted that lawmakers did not take up water policy in the recent session.
Owens said it is important for communities to have data to understand whether they can meet their current water demand as well as future demand.
He proposes a regional approach to water management, saying the state needs to be set up to assist but not oversee it. It has been up to the Oregon Water Resources Department to allocate water. While Owens previously agreed with this arrangement, he said his position has now changed.
“If the state cannot determine, they shouldn’t make that decision,” he said. “We’ve got to stop the blood flow before we can try to revive the body.”
Owens said for the 2022 session, the House Education Committee was “the most controversial” that he served in.
While House Bill 4029 did not pass the session, it will likely be back in 2023. The basic description of the bill was not a bad thing, Owens said, as it required board members to know more about public meeting law, rules and details related to the budget. However, “it became cumbersome,” and would put “an enormous” amount of work on the chairperson or vice-chairperson “that doesn’t work in small communities.”
Owens said they got a lot of emails against Senate Bill 1521, but that it ultimately passed down party lines. Under that bill, a board can neither fire a superintendent for following local, state and federal laws, nor can it fire a superintendent for no cause without 12-months notice.
Owens says the bill has liability issues and might “put administrators in a horrific spot,” noting that it added a lot of things that did not have the force of law.
Findley, Owens and Bonham all touched on how the short session did not set out to address its original purpose. This is to meet for no more than 35 days in even years to address processes, timeframes and errors and small policy issues, according to Findley.
The senator, noting there were “good, bad and really, really bad components of the session,” said he would have liked to see the session end on day five.
“It would have been much less painful.”
Bonham said during the 35-day session, they had limited hearings to weigh large considerations. One of those was in regards to the situation in southern Oregon where cartels are running illegal marijuana grows. Another was the farm worker overtime pay bill, which work had being done on for more than a year and which “didn’t get enough airtime in terms of engagement in community sessions.”
Owens noted that the intent of the short session was never codified and, as such, the only way to get it back would be through a bill or an initiative petition of the people, urging citizens to stay involved.
“We can’t be your voice without hearing from you,” Owens reminded town hall attendees. “If there is a problem you want to be involved in fixing, give us a call. Let us work with you and see where it goes.”
For those uncertain of where to start, the lawmakers touted Bonham’s podcast. Mainstreet Politics with Daniel Bonham podcast is available on Apple at https://apple.co/3DaeBkM. In this podcast, the Oregon lawmaker discusses a variety of topics, including how to engage, who should engage, where to engage and the best place to begin. Those who don’t want to be involved are still encouraged to contact lawmakers. Bonham said “all it takes to draft a bill is state a problem and draft a solution.”