Findley, Owens meet with local residents at Baker City town hall

By Ian Crawford | Baker City Herald | September 27, 2023

Baker County’s two state legislators — Sen. Lynn Findley and Rep. Mark Owens — met with local residents during a town hall Monday afternoon, Sept. 25 at the OTEC office in Baker City.

Findley, a Republican from Vale, talked about the legislative session that ended in June.

“I’m happy to say that, in the six sessions I’ve been in the legislature, this was the most contentious,” Findley said. “We took the supermajority away so they couldn’t pass tax increases, but they made a run at everything else you can think of.”

Democrats were one position short of a supermajority in both the Senate and the House.

Findley, who has represented Baker County since 2020, also talked about the decision he and several other Republican senators made to stay away from the Capitol late in the session to deprive the Democrats of a quorum to conduct business.

Oregon voters passed Measure 113 in the November 2022 election which states that legislators who accrue 10 or more unexcused absences are not eligible to run for reelection in the next election.

Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade concluded that the senators, including Findley, are prohibited from seeking another term due to Measure 113.

Findley and four other senators have challenged Griffin-Valade’s decision in court, and the matter is pending.

“When I denied quorum, I knew very well that Measure 113 as it went through at the last general election said if you deny quorum over 10 times you’re ineligible to run for the next time,” Findley said. “Well, my oath of office is more important to me than being a state senator.”

Findley told the Baker City audience Monday that he participated in the walkout because many bills failed to meet a readability score, equivalent to an eighth grade reading level, as required by an obscure state law.

“When I was made aware of that we said ‘well, let’s find out what these measures add up to,’” Findley said.

He said five bills failed the test.

“Me and five of my colleagues said that’s not good enough, the law says it’s supposed to be readable, they’re gonna be readable or we’re not going to listen to them,” Findley said. “So we denied quorum for 53 days, just because all they had to do was fix the readability scale. I didn’t like the bills, I was always going to vote against the bills, and I did.”

Owens, a Republican from Crane, said during Monday’s town hall that “denying quorum isn’t a strategy, it’s a tactic, that tactic gets you into the conversation in order to modify the bills that come in, so I’m thankful senator Findley did that.”

Republicans in the House didn’t participate in the walkout.

Ultimately, Findley said Republicans negotiated changes to a controversial bill, House Bill 2002, that protects providers who perform abortions or gender-affirming health care from prosecution or civil liability, and to House Bill 2005, which adopts the federal definition of so-called ghost guns made with untraceable parts.

Findley also touted his work on Senate Bill 498, which doubled property inheritance exemptions and is intended to make it easier for family farms and ranches to remain in family ownership. The bill allows up to $15 million of farm, fishing and forest property to be excluded from the value of estates that pay the estate tax. Findley also promoted Senate Bill 955, which is intended to reduce the rate of rural suicide, particularly among farmers and ranchers.

He and Owens also expressed support for state school funding, which was increased for the current biennium.

“Fully funded education to the tune of 10.3 billion dollars, huge amount of money,” Owens said. “That’s good, one thing with education, in my mind, is we got to figure out how to make education better in Oregon, figure out how to get a little competition in education.”

Findley and Owens told the Baker City audience that they will resist efforts to divert money from Oregon’s income tax “kicker” refunds away from taxpayers.

Hearing from citizens

People attending Monday’s town hall posed several questions to Findley and Owens.

Interest in trains took two angles, with the first discussion revolving around the quiet zone projects and a parent expressing concern about harm to young children due the noise from horns.

A local group has sought to get a quiet zone designated in Baker City, in which freight trains, about 24 per day, would sound their horns only in emergencies at the discretion of the engineer and conductor.

Findley said he applauded the efforts, but noted that the process is through the Federal Railroad Administration.

In terms of potentially returning passenger rail service to Baker County for the first time since 1997, Findley said he supports those efforts.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality was discussed at some length, and in particular the agency’s current project to write a plan designed to reduce the amount of E. coli bacteria in streams in the Powder Basin, which encompasses most of Baker County.

Local residents, including Doni Bruland, the county’s natural resources director, have contested the DEQ’s claim that farms and ranches are responsible for 90% of the bacteria.

Findley and Owens said they’ve meet with the DEQ director recently regarding the local concerns about the project, known as Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

Owens noted that 13 state agencies deal with water issues.

“We’ve been working to get them to coordinate there among themselves at the state level.”

In response to concerns about highway maintenance, including snowplowing and painting fog lines, Findley, who is a member of the legislature’s transportation committee, said some of the work the state promised through a funding bill in 2017 hasn’t happened.

A new bill is being proposed for 2025, he said.

“I will tell you the theme of that one’s going to be, how do we keep the lights on at ODOT,” Findley said.

The lawmakers also discussed the controversial fire risk maps the Oregon Department of Forestry released in the summer of 2022, then withdrew after complaints that the maps were inaccurate.

Findley said the next draft of the map is due in about two weeks.

“They drew lines out there that should never have been drawn,” Findley said. “We need that map, in the urban interface to assess wildfire risk, to allocate resources appropriately. We need that tool, what they gave us is not that tool.”

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 markowensfororegon.com.

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2020 legislative session comes to abrupt ending; local lawmakers react to leaders’ decision

ONTARIO — With Democrats and Republicans at loggerheads over Senate Bill 1530, the cap and trade bill to reduce greenhouse gases, the Oregon Legislature’s short session ground to a halt Thursday afternoon as Republicans continued to deny both houses a quorum.

As the Senate neared a vote on the bill, Senate Republicans — with the exception of one — walked out to prevent the vote, followed by the House Republicans.

Democratic leaders hounded the Republicans for “not showing up for work,” with Senate President Peter Courtney calling the walkout “anarchy,” and saying if they are not going to serve, they should not run.

Republicans offered to return Sunday to help pass bills of their choosing, mainly budget bills, to conclude the session. However, Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek rejected that, with Kotek saying that all bills passed out of committee deserved to be voted on.

“This session is over,” Courtney said, as he adjourned Thursday’s afternoon session, saying the Senate will reconvene at the “call of the chair.”

“This session is functionally over,” Kotek said, as she adjourned the House, adding the House would reconvene at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, the scheduled time for adjournment for the short session.

‘Tactics used on our side are not long-term strategies’

“I am shocked at the Speaker’s decision to end the session prematurely, said House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, in statement. “We still had time to pass necessary funding, time to address the needs of Oregonians across the state, but Democratic leaders chose to sacrifice these budget bills and shared priorities in the name of their no-compromise approach to cap-and-trade.”

District 60 Rep. Mark Owens, along with Drazan, and their Republican colleagues decided to join the Senate GOP in a walkout on Feb. 25 over the cap and trade initiative. Both State Representatives and Senators expressed a hope to get back to the session before it adjourned, however wanted Democrats — the supermajority — to refer the carbon reduction bill to voters. But that promise never came.

“I am very disappointed in the outcome of the short session,” Owens said in a phone interview this morning. “The Democrats took one bill and made all Oregonians lose in pushing that forward.”

The session was always about one bill for the supermajority he said, but there were several budgetary items to be addressed. The hope was to get back in the Capital on the final day of session on Sunday.

“We were willing to come in but once again, they decided to hold Oregon hostage and all of Oregon will suffer as a result of that action,” Owens said.

“Gov. [Kate] Brown made it evident yesterday that she plans to take executive action to combat her climate change crisis,” he said, adding that while she has the authority to take such action, he didn’t know how implementable it was.

The partisan politics struck a chord with Owens this session, increasing his desire to focus on them.

“My strong desire is to rebuild relationships,” he said. “The tactics used on our side are not long-term strategies with which to govern Oregon. We have to make sure our constituent base knows that the walkout is a very serious position. I hope never to have to do it again.”

District 30 State Sen. Lynn Findley defended the Senate Republicans, saying he has been working, not just at the Capital, keeping in contact with his constituents.

“About 90 percent of e-mails I have received are in support of what the Republicans are doing,” he said.

Thursday, before the Legislature was adjourned, Findley said he was hopeful the Legislature would back into session on Sunday.

Republicans lobbied to have a bill put on the ballot for a vote of the people, but that was also rejected by the majority Democrats.

The House Rules Committee met Thursday afternoon to hear from Republicans who had been subpoenaed to explain their absences. When no Republican lawmaker showed up the committee adjourned after hearing from legislative council.

Planning changes

Owens said the Democrats are planning a “three-prong approach” to keep a walkout from being effective again: They will refer the matter to Oregon voters to change the constitution reducing the two-thirds needed to pass bills to a simple majority; they will change the terminology so that in a long session only days when a quorum is present count as a session day so that no party can “run the clock out”; and, Owens said, the other approach will be to assess fines on any lawmakers that have unexcused absences, with a certain number of those absences leading to a lawmaker’s release from office.

The Senate Rules Committee approved Senate Joint Resolution 201 which would end the two-thirds majority requirement for a quorum in either house and go to a simple majority with an amendment to the Oregon Constitution, which would require a vote of the people.

Oregon is only one of our states that requires a two-thirds majority of lawmakers to be present for a quorum, according to comments made the during the committees ‘ work session by Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, who chairs the committee.

Courtney and Kotek said they will convene a meeting the Emergency Board to deal major budget items such as flood relief for Umatilla County.

Rep. Owens wants to get back to Capital

Leslie Thompson | The Argus Observer | Feb 28, 2020

ONTARIO — District 60 Rep. Mark Owens and his Republican colleagues are ready to get back to work, he says.

During a Monday night caucus, following a walkout of GOP members of the Senate, Owens says they decided that “solidarity was good” and joined the senators, who walked out on Monday.

“We did not show up after that,” he said during a phone interview on Thursday afternoon.

However, with the session set to adjourn March 8, “every member of the House really desires to get back in that building,” Owens said. “A lot of bills are very positive that we’d like to work through.”

The push to reduce Oregon’s carbon emissions, known as the cap and trade initiative, is working its way through the current short legislative session in Salem in Senate Bill 1530 and House Bill 4171.

The GOP lawmakers are urging Democrats, which are in the supermajority, to refer the issue to the voters, Owens said.

Owens said his “hope” and “desire” would to be back in Salem today, having left Oregon per instructions given to all House members.

This is because when a walkout happened during the 2019 session a request was given to Gov. Kate Brown to have Oregon State Police bring missing lawmakers back to Salem.

So far this year, Senate President Peter Courtney nor House Speaker Kotek have requested that measure be taken, Owens said, as the prompt would have to come from them to Brown.

If work resumes this session, Owens said he is looking forward most to working on a bill for small schools that would allow them to make foreign exchange students a part of enrollment.

“It’s a very important bill for our district and neighboring districts,” he said of being able to get needed funding for each student in attendance.

There is also a bill for funding foster care, that Owens wants to see go through.

And before the State Representatives left the session, Owens was successfully able to carry a local bill to the House Floor. The bill is for the Eastern Economic Development Boarder Board, and aims to clarify how the board can use that funding.

Originally set up as a grant-based establishment, the Boarder Board “feels ten grants is too restrictive,” Owens said, adding that the board would prefer to have “ten programs versus ten grants.”

That one got a third reading on the floor and passed unanimously out of the house, Owens said, and is slated to head next to the Senate.

“All they [the Democrats] have to do is say we will refer cap and trade to voters,” he said, of getting the GOP House members back to work.

Rep. Mark Owens voices opposition to cap & trade policy, urges legislature to refer bill to voters

PRESS RELEASE:
February 25, 2020

CONTACT:
Andrea Dominguez, 541-889-8866

SALEM—Mark Owens (R-Crane) voiced his opposition today to House Bill 4167 and Senate Bill 1530, the cap and trade legislation that has been introduced in both House and Senate Chambers, by denying the probability for the legislation to be pushed through the House without a commitment to refer the bills to the voters.

“As the state representative for House District 60, my number one job is to represent the citizens in my district and my number one priority is to be their voice in Salem,” said Rep. Owens, who was appointed to the position in January. “The voters have spoken—they have strongly and consistently opposed this cap and trade policy and I stand by them without question.”

Owens represents all of Baker, Grant, Harney and Malheur Counties and parts of Lake County. The five counties issued proclamations and/or signed on to the Eastern Oregon Counties Association proclamation last week in opposition to the cap and trade legislation, joining a total of 26 counties across Oregon who did the same.

“The short session was designed to fix budget tweaks and make policy fixes, not to play politics with people and pass legislation that would assuredly negatively impact the livelihood of every Oregonians,” Owens continued. “I have said from the start that this issue needs to be referred to the voters who have the right to make the final determination on something as significant as this bill. I will continue to advocate for that process and until that happens, I will not allow for this abuse of power to take place.”

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