Republican legislators serving large portions of Oregon have tough time advancing their agenda

Oregon Capital Chronicle
and – February 15, 2022

Two weeks into Oregon’s legislative session, Democrats are moving forward with plans to pay overtime to  farmworkers, create job training programs targeted at people of color and protect school officials from being fired for following government mandates.

If Republicans instead controlled the Legislature, the past two weeks would instead have been dominated by talk of tax cuts, clipping Gov. Kate Brown’s power and giving parents more control over which school their children attend and what they learn.

Republicans have made the case that they represent large swaths of Oregon, and the inability to advance some legislation means people in those areas can be left out of legislative action. They remain a minority in the Legislature — and in voter registrations. Despite that, Republicans each session introduce legislation representing often rural and more conservative interests.

They hold 23 seats in the 60-person House and 11 in the 30-person Senate. They chair no committees but do serve as vice chairs of most.

“I think you’d see school choice options,” said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend and leader of the Senate GOP caucus. “I think you’d see our interest in making sure that schools stay open. I think you would see support for law enforcement as opposed to the soft-on-crime agenda that Governor Brown and the Democrats are pursuing.”

Most proposals that make it out of the Legislature are bipartisan, noncontroversial and relatively boring. So far this year, the House and Senate have voted to confirm that the state follows the same definition of “taxable income” as the federal government and extend a deadline for a report on the effect local government fees have on housing costs.

Shorter legislative sessions in even-numbered years also mean less debates over policy, because legislators have just 35 days in Salem. Many proposals that legislators and lobbyists spent months or years working died Monday because they hadn’t been advancing at a pace to meet legislative deadlines.

That includes nearly all of the nine bills Senate Republicans listed as their top legislative priorities, though Knopp said he isn’t worried. Republicans can still have their concerns addressed in the budget process, which isn’t subject to Monday’s deadline.

“Most of our agenda is the budget items that are important to our constituents and our communities,” Knopp said. “And so whether that’s law enforcement dollars or that’s dollars to thin [forests], that can all be done through the ways and means process, so, we’re not concerned at this point.”

And, he added, there are still ways to bring other proposals to the full Senate. Republicans can use procedural moves to force senators to vote on bringing their legislation up for debate. It rarely works, but it can bring attention to a proposal and create a campaign talking point.

Senate Republicans are seeking $60 million for Oregon State Police to investigate illegal marijuana farms and $50 million to pay for forest thinning. Knopp said he’s hopeful after Republicans succeeded in securing millions for drought relief and marijauna enforcement during a one-day special session in December, but he expects negotiations over the $1.5 billion the Legislature has to spend to continue for another two weeks.

If all else fails, he said, Republicans still have recourse: They can walk out, as they have at various points in each of the past three years, and bring the legislative session to a temporary or permanent halt.

“I’ve been very clear with the Democrat majority that our goal is to make sure that all Oregon voices are heard, and respected and included,” he said. “And if they’re not, I feel no constitutional obligations to stand around and allow Democrats to pass their liberal progressive agenda that our constituents don’t want.”

House Republican leader Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, has said her caucus will focus on budgetary issues and fixing existing laws, but has remained vague on what legislation party representatives hope to pass. She did not answer multiple calls or emails from the Capital Chronicle.

House GOP spokesman Andrew Fromm referred to a brief statement Breese-Iverson issued on Feb. 1, in which she wrote that her caucus would focus on “restoring education standards, holding state government accountable and enabling our law enforcement to do its job.

“We will push to remove roadblocks to health care access and preserve Oregon’s natural environment while protecting the way of life of communities relying on these resources,” it continued. “We will give Oregonians the freedom to recover financially from government-mandated shutdowns by fighting the state’s regulatory burdens and mandates.”

Her office didn’t answer whether legislation was introduced to accomplish those goals.

So far, House Republicans have maintained a united front against a plan to require farms to pay employees time-and-a-half after more than 40 hours of work in a week. Each day, at least one House Republican has spoken on the floor of the House about their belief that House Bill 4002 would create too great a financial burden on farmers and drive some out of business.

House Republicans have also insisted on reading many pieces of legislation aloud in their entirety, creating lengthy delays as a computer reads to a mostly empty chamber. Then-House Speaker Tina Kotek began using the robotic reading system over concerns about Covid exposure in 2021.

Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, is a farmer and represents a heavily agricultural area that includes Baker, Grant, Harney and Malheur counties. Along with opposing the agricultural overtime proposal, he’s pushing a $1 million increase for a state fund that reimburses farmers and ranchers for livestock lost to wolves. His House Bill 4127 received a public hearing, and the money could be added to the state budget.

Owens, who also serves on the Crane School Board, said he’s scrutinizing education measures, including one that would direct the state Education Department to mandate and provide training for new school board members. He said school board members need to understand public meetings laws and their responsibilities, but the state shouldn’t prescribe specific training.

“The bill as written is not palatable for myself or for my communities,” Owens said. “Once again, it looks like a top down approach, in order to mandate what type of educational requirements are needed. I support school boards getting mandatory training, but allow them to have a choice in how that training is going to occur.”

Rep. Lily Morgan, R-Grants Pass, said she is focused on ramping up enforcement on illegal cannabis operations, which are disproportionately affecting her part of the state in southern Oregon. That includes the increased funding for Oregon State Police spearheaded by Knopp, as well as a proposal to take on water theft occurring in illegal cannabis operations that is expected to move forward Monday.

She also supports a bipartisan measure that advanced Monday to require employees of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission to report suspected human trafficking on marijuana farms.

“There’s outright slavery and forced labor and human trafficking going on related to these drug trafficking organizations in Southern Oregon,” Morgan said.

Another of Morgan’s proposals, which is moving forward, would adjust the use of marijuana revenue to increase the share going to police and schools. Morgan said the money has been vital to funding behavioral health specialists and school resource officers in her district.

Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, R-Salem, said requiring school districts to post their curricula online was one of her top priorities this session. Proposals in the House and Senate to accomplish that floundered without debate.

She joined several other Republicans, and a few Democrats, in supporting proposals to exempt pharmacies from paying a new corporate activity tax that funds state education programs. Critics describe the tax as a hidden sales tax that most businesses pass on to consumers, but pharmacies don’t control drug prices and can’t charge consumers more for prescription drugs.

Because of that, Moore-Green said, the retail chain Bi-Mart closed its in-store pharmacies and several small rural pharmacies shut down.

Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, initially proposed a broader exemption that would also apply to diapers, baby formula and feminine hygiene products. He narrowed the focus to only prescription drugs after learning that it would take a lot of work to identify every eligible item, but he said he hopes to return in 2023 with more exemptions for personal care products.

“I’d like to have all of it, but in a short session, there’s not time,” he said.

Findley said Democrats in the House and the Senate were skeptical of the impact his proposal could have on funding for education, but he remains hopeful that they’ll adopt his proposal. Tax measures aren’t subject to the same deadline as other bills, and Findley’s was among the few Republican bills that received a hearing.

It’s harder to pass legislation from the minority party, he said, but he’s managed to do so each year. Findley said he doesn’t waste time thinking about what he would do if Republicans controlled the Legislature, but instead looks for good ideas and people who will work with him.

“It’s a waste of time to just sit around and daydream,” he said. “I don’t do that. If there’s a good piece of legislation, I’m gonna make a hard effort to try to pass it, and sometimes you make it and sometimes, you don’t.”

Rep. Mark Owens to serve on 4 committees in short session

ONTARIO — Committee assignments for Oregon House of Representatives for the 2022 legislative session were announced on Tuesday by Paul Hove, Speaker of the House.

District 60 Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, was appointed to four House policy committees. He will serve as the vice chairman of the Agriculture, Land Use, and Water Committee; as well as a member of committees on human services, education, and environmental and natural resources.

2022 marks Owens third legislative session.

Owens was appointed to the House District 60 seat in January of 2020 to replace Lynn Findley, who was appointed to the District 30 Senate position. The shuffling of seats was necessary as then-Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Vale, decided to leave his role as an Oregon lawmaker and run for the Second District Congressional seat left open by former U.S. Rep. Greg Walden.

Owens was then elected to his seat by voters in May of 2020.

House District 60 encompasses Baker, Grant, Harney and Malheur counties as well as a portion of Lake County.

The 2022 Legislature will convene on Feb. 1 and will be 35 days, as it is an even-numbered year.

Representative Owens introduces new legislation to limit Governor Brown’s emergency powers and restore balance in Oregon’s government

SALEM, Ore. – Representative Mark Owens (R-Crane) is introducing a bill during the 2022 Legislative Session that will restore the balance of power in Oregon’s government.

“This is really about transparency and a balance of power,” said Representative Owens. “Oregonians are growing tired of Governor Brown’s never-ending emergency and a rule-making process that they don’t understand. We need to introduce sensible limits to the power of the Governor’s office in our state.”

HJR 206, introduced by Representative Owens with bicameral support, would refer to the voters the option to vote to amend the Oregon Constitution to limit the Governor’s ability to declare an emergency or exercise powers under the declaration of emergency to only those granted by the law and for 30 days. This resolution would bring better balance to Oregon’s government which currently concentrates a large amount of authority in a single office.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in strict government mandates and regulations, dictating how people can live their lives, all directed by the Governor’s Office through the Oregon Health Authority. Oregonians have become discontent with rules like a permanent indoor mask mandate and want more transparency in the decision-making process.

“It’s time for accountability and fairness in how these decisions are made. One sole person should not have ultimate and unchecked authority when it comes to determining the rights and freedoms of Oregonians.”


Representative Owens announces he will seek re-election to House District 60 in 2022

For Immediate Release                                                                                                    
December 2, 2021

Representative Owens announces he will seek re-election to House District 60 in 2022

CRANE—Representative Mark Owens (R-Crane) announced today he will seek re-election to Oregon’s House District 60 in 2022. House District 60 encompasses all of Baker, Grant, Harney and Malheur counties and a majority of Lake County.

“My priorities are to be the voice of my constituents and to build relationships with my colleagues so we can get good work done for all Oregonians. We deserve to have a voice at the table and to be heard, and I am going to make sure that happens,” said Rep Owens. “There’s more work to be done to make sure eastern Oregon does not get left out, left behind, or overruled by the supermajority powers-that-be in Salem.”

During the 2021 legislative session, Rep. Owens served as Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Water, and on the House Education, Energy and Environment, and Human Services Committees.

“We need to create opportunities for our small businesses to thrive, implement smarter ag and natural resource policies, prioritize our kids’ future by expanding educational choice, and invest our state’s financial resources more wisely and effectively so we aren’t raising taxes on hardworking Oregonians every turn of the dime.”

Rep Owens, an alfalfa farmer, small business owners and former Harney County Commissioner, was appointed to the House seat in January 2020 and was sworn in three days before the February short legislative session. He was elected to the position in November 2020.

For more information, Oregonians are encouraged to visit


Owens touches on wide range of issues with constituents

JOHN DAY — State Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, answered questions and talked about various topics Wednesday, Nov. 10, at the Squeeze-In Restaurant and Deck with roughly a dozen Grant County residents.

Owens summarized the bills he introduced during the legislative session, his committee assignments, weighed in on the crowded gubernatorial race and touched on the proposed River Democracy Act, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.

Owens told the group that he introduced three education-based bills last session. He said each centered around school choice.

“I honestly feel that some competition even in education is good,” Owens said. Owens said while schools have good teachers and staff, sometimes a school is not a good fit for a student, and parents should have options. Owens said he would like to see a voucher system. A voucher program allows parents to receive funds to use toward the cost of private school.

According to one of the constituents, the concern around voucher programs is the overall quality of public education if students defect to private schools.Owens said he believes most families would likely keep their kids in public education. However, he said that should a district start losing students to private schools, it must figure out why kids leave.

Owens said if everybody were to receive the same amount of voucher, there might be higher private school enrollment numbers, but hopefully, public education would “step up.”

Grant County Commissioner Sam Palmer asked Owens about Senate Bill 774, which Gov. Kate Brown signed in August, suspending essential skills testing for high school graduation for the next three years. The essential skills graduation requirement was suspended during the pandemic to assist students who had a year of distance learning. However, the bill’s proponents took it beyond the pandemic.

Owens, who served as chair of his local school board, said the bill threw out the essential skills testing requirement until 2024 and formed a committee to review what type of competencies should be required.

Owens said he supported reviewing competency requirements and added that he does not support standardized testing.

According to Owens, the state should have varying high school diplomas in different areas, including career and technical education and accelerated learning.

“Not everybody’s fit for college,” Owens said, “but everybody should have the opportunity.”

Owens added that he did not vote for the bill because it did not replace the existing competency requirements with something else.

“I voted no because I thought it was a bad bill,” Owens said, “but I actually liked the premise. We need to look at education in the state of Oregon and how we can make sure every student has the opportunity to succeed.”

Looking ahead to next year’s elections, Owens said the chance of getting a moderate Republican elected governor is excellent. However, he noted that one party ruling for long periods is not good — no matter what party has a majority.

“We need to have checks and balances,” Owens said.

Owens said state Sen. Betsy Johnson, a moderate Democrat who will run for governor under no party’s banner in 2022, would be a viable candidate, noting her pro-life stance.

Owens also added that he would run for re-election to the Oregon House of Representatives in 2022.

Saying, “I’m not a political animal by nature,” Owens lamented the level of partisan polarization in politics today.

When he got to Salem, Owens said, he thought that policy would not go through a political lens. But, unfortunately, he added, the country and the state have come to the point where that is not the reality.

“We live in the best country in the world. We’re still going to live in the best country in the world two years, four years, even six years from now,” Owens said. “But get off social media and hug your family, and go talk to your neighbor.”