Feb 19, 2023 | News
Ontario Community Recreation Center hearing, fixes for small school boards and farmland in focus
Leslie Thompson | Argus Observer | February 19, 2023
ONTARIO — Andrew Maeda, executive director of Ontario Recreation District traveled to Salem for a public hearing this week and it went well. That was one piece of a large update Wednesday morning on how things are going in Oregon’s legislative session.
Providing the update and opportunity to dialogue were Dist. 30 Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and Dist. 60 Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane. Their respective districts include Malheur County.
Thanks to co-hosts Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce and Treasure Valley Community College, the Legislative Hotline is expected to continue the third Wednesday of each month through the session, with other cities or counties in the lawmakers’ districts eventually getting patched in, too. The meetings will be in the Hanigan Board Room in the Laura Moore Cunningham Science Center at TVCC. This is the same room where the TVCC Board of Education holds its monthly meetings.
Findley said the pace of the session, which is in its fifth week, has picked up significantly, with some bills now going across chambers. The first deadline is two weeks away to read the bills or they start dying.
With about 4,000 bills, Findley noted, that will be a good thing. Owens remarked how each legislative committee has been assigned about 90 bills and won’t be able to get to them all.
Today marks the final day for Legislative Concepts to get out of the office for introduction.
This coming Tuesday is the expected day for the revenue forecast for February, which will “get us rolling” on the budget. That forecast is expected to set the stage and Findley said “there’s a lot of apprehension we may be in a deeper hole that we thought.”
Owens pointed out how more contentious bills are going to be coming down the pipeline in the next week; however, added that the atmosphere at the Capitol has “been more bipartisan.” He said that is intentional on the Democrat leadership, with conversations happening on everything from “the most conservative bill to the most liberal bill.”
“Which I haven’t seen before this session,” Owens said, adding that it was a good thing.
The majority party is allowing hearings on bills that would never have had hearings before and “setting a more positive tone in the building.”
Rec center bill picks up bipartisan support
Findley and Owens are chief sponsors of House Bill 2410 aimed at getting lottery bonds to build the Ontario Community Recreation Center which had a hearing on Tuesday. There are currently 59 written comments in support of it, all from citizens in the Ontario area.
The hearing was held on Tuesday by the House Committee on Emergency Management, General Government and Veterans. HB 2410 authorizes the issuance of $4.5 million in lottery bonds to facilitate the construction and project management of the Ontario Community Recreation Center.
Owens noted how they had heard some questions from other lawmakers about why they needed to have a hearing on a bill for a capital construction request. He said sometimes those requests come with a compelling story, like Ontario’s, and need help from the community in pushing it through Ways and Means.
Findley said that the hearing was “excellent,” and that he heard from some of the majority party afterward.
“It’s gaining bipartisan support,” he said, noting how that was important as lawmakers would have to hone down what projects they will allocate funding to. HB 2410 carries an emergency declaration.
Findley said that he got a call from Maeda on Sunday asking whether he should attend in person or virtually.
“I don’t think you can beat in person,” Findley said, emphasizing how it help with networking.
Owens said Maeda “did a great job” at the hearing and Findley commented how Maeda stood in the hallway afterward and had at least three lawmakers come by and shake his hand, telling him he did a good job.
Findley said he knows how hard it is to travel from Malheur County to Salem, which takes 7 to 8.5 hours.
“It’s a big commitment to come, and sometimes it’s worth it,” he said. “We’re happy with how the hearing went and we’ll see how it goes.”
Bills with legs include fix for small school boards
There are a lot of bills floating around for eastern Oregon and some for Malheur County “have some legs,” according to Findley.
This includes mirror bills, Senate Bill 66 and House Bill 2505, both of which aim to allow municipalities to raise up the local tax collected on the sale of marijuana goods and bills on exemptions for the corporate activity tax, a bill regarding what to do with batteries from electric vehicles; and House Bill 2689 that would allow processing of 1,000 meat rabbits or fewer to be sold for local meat (that stemmed from a 13-year-old from Baker County who raises rabbits).
One that received unanimous support was House Bill 2764 A, which came about due to Michael Vaughan, who went missing at the age of 5 near his home in Fruitland, Idaho, in July of 2021. He still has not been found.
The bill would create a stopgap for persons not eligible for Amber Alerts, but who may still be missing or endangered.
“Remember Michael Vaughan? Idaho like all 50 states, couldn’t issue an Amber Alert because there was no suspect vehicle and a lot of things, they couldn’t put out, basically what I call and APB,” Owens said.
He noted that Idaho and Washington have since created a new system and that Oregon had started on that journey with four amendments now combined into one.
The bill would allow Oregon State Police to craft a missing and endangered response. Owens noted that there are typically 1,300 people on the missing endangered list, this bill should hopefully reduce that. The bill passed unanimously in the House and was referred to the Senate Labor and Business committee on Thursday.
Another bill Owens is hopeful will pass is House Bill 3203, floated by Dist. 56 Rep. Emily McIntire. That bill would be a fix to a bill that was passed in 2022 which requires school board members to fill out Statement of Economic Interest forms. That law goes into effect April 15.
“For a lot of our farmers and ranchers, it’s pretty obnoxious,” he said. “We got calls from Arock, Jordan Valley, Crane, Nyssa, with ‘What is this? We will resign before the April 15 deadline.’”
HB 3203 would exempt board members in schools with 7,500 or fewer students. While that wouldn’t cover Baker or Ontario, it would help out those smaller, more rural districts.
Owens said they fought against the bill last year on behalf of small school districts, but “got railed hard.” But now, with so much pushback from members of small boards, the lawmakers made their case for an exemption. Owens says it is expected to pass through both chambers; However, it’s unknown if it the governor will be able to sign it by April 15 when the new rule kicks in.
“We will make sure there are no fines” for people in small school districts who have not filled them out by then.
Rezoning non-irrigated farmland fix gets ‘major pushback’
One bill that is receiving major pushback is Senate Bill 70 for which a public hearing was held Feb. 8. The bill is a technical fix for the Eastern Oregon Economic Development Region and regards rezoning non-irrigated farmland to residential land. The bill only impacts lands that have not been employed for farm use in the prior three years. It does not include high-value farmland, land with predominantly composed Class I, II or III soils or land which is viable for reasonably obtaining a profit through farm use.
Findley said the Bill was a technical fix to one that passed two years ago and that he thought it would move through well.
“That is not the case, we’re receiving major pushback,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough road, as the opposition to that bill is intense.”
He said lawmakers were receiving thousands of emails about how terrible the bill is, adding “it’s really not.”
“Some in Oregon say it is an effort by eastern Oregon to build vacation homes on exclusive farm ground,” Owens said, noting they had showed them maps explaining how it is not. “It’s extremely frustrating the lack of information people have when they go into hard-press opposition to it.”
Mike Blackaby noted that he thinks those opposed believe the bill is “taking land that is irrigated. If you sent a picture, you could see it is not — it is sagebrush.”
Findley noted the land in question was near the Owyhee Irrigation District and would only fit about 100 homes on 2-acre lots. Some have suggested to use Ontario’s Urban Reserve area instead, however Findley said that it’s all Class I farmland and as such, not an option in his mind.
“It’s a lack of education on their part and a lack of becoming educated,” he said. “They just want to throw rocks.”
The lawmakers said with all the opposition, it would be nice to see letters of support from residents in the county. Findley added that Border Board Executive Director Shawna Peterson did “an incredible job testifying last week,” but added that it was “hard to convince people when they don’t want to learn.”
Owens also suggested emailing Sen. Jeff Golden at Sen.JeffGolden@oregonlegislature.gov to express concern about the misinformation over SB 70 and request a meeting. Golden is the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee which held the hearing.
Apr 11, 2020 | News
Larry Meyer | Argus Observer | April 10
ONTARIO — State Senate District 30 and House Districts 59 and 60 held a joint virtual town hall Thursday, primarily discussing the issue that is keeping everyone apart, the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy and health care.
The session hosted by Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and Reps. Mark Owens, R-Crane, and Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, was held via video and phone conference with invited participants.
Leading off in answering a question about the impact on business, Findley noted that “small business is the back bone of our economy,” and the need to is put people back to work.
The pandemic could bring a change in how we do business, he said, emphasizing, “we have to protect our people.”
Commenting that unemployment insurance applicants now number 88,000, Findley said people need to get a check for people to live on. He also said, the officials need to protect markets for what people are producing.
“You have to figure out how to keep people in their houses,” he said. “You have to figure how to keep commerce going.”
One of the things needed to move business forward, according to Owens, is to draw down the regulations which have been put in place because of the virus. Bonham said the Republican lawmakers are drafting a series of letters to Gov. Kate Brown, including one as for support of rural hospitals.
“We need to have a healthy, functioning health care apparatus,” he said. Bonham says he is appalled state leaders have not taken more action to protect the health-care providers.
On education, he said students would be ready to transition to the next level next year and the state the should be improving the technology to help learning.
Owens expressed concerns about rural hospitals, saying hospitals are bleeding cash. “If we lose any of the hospitals, we will lose the community,” he said. More testing is needed to track the virus and a vaccine is needed to control it, Owens said.
Bonham said a special session to address budget issues the costs of dealing with the pandemic will probably not happen until the next revenue forecast in May, pushing a session toward the end of May and possibly into June.
Findley said among things the three lawmakers are doing is keeping in contact with the county commissioners about county needs.
Apr 5, 2020 | News, Press Releases
By Senator Lynn Findley, Representative Mark Owens and Representative Daniel Bonham
Oregonians are experiencing unprecedented times and unforeseen challenges. The global pandemic is affecting each of us in different ways, but it is an equally confusing, scary, frustrating, and emotional time.
Even just a few weeks in, though, there is good news—Oregonians are staying home and staying healthy. The most recent modeling numbers from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) indicate that our combined efforts to abide by social distancing guidelines locally and across the state are working. It was reported on April 2 that the positive case numbers are down 50% to 70% from the earlier predictions.
One of our objectives, and the reason for such stringent measures, has been to “flatten the curve” and the Oregon Health Authority stated they will be able to tell us by the week of April 13 when we will reach this objective. This will be a key moment in our state. The restrictions are working, but the economic price we’re paying is becoming staggering. With each day that passes during this time, our local, regional and state economies are losing exponentially. Before we get to April 13 (or any other date certain), we must also understand what will be needed to get Oregonians back to work and doors open for business which will re-start our economy.
Despite much-needed and appreciated revenue and relief packages from our federal and state partners, no amount of stimulus can replace what Oregon’s economy can produce from inside the lines. The GDP of Oregon in 2018 was 213 billion. The Federal Stimulus package, or CARES Act, for Oregon appears to be 1.63 billion which means the federal funding is only three-days-worth of what Oregon’s economy can churn when it’s firing on all cylinders. Don’t get us wrong: this funding is absolutely necessary and will support us as an immediate and temporary means, but it will not and cannot solve the impacts felt by these drastic short-term measures, regardless of how necessary and helpful they have been.
We must get our economy working again by getting Oregonians working again, and this must happen as soon as possible. In order to do this safely, but quickly, there are a few things that must take place:
1. We need wide-scale testing so all Oregonians can be tested and once tested negative, start a system for allowing them to return to the workforce.
2. Ensure there is enough PPE in the state for our health care workers and first responders, particularly in eastern and rural Oregon.
3. A plan to protect our vulnerable populations as we re-enter the workforce and become a functional society again.
We can and must start addressing these issues immediately in parallel with following the measures to flatten the curve, prevent the spread of the virus and save lives. State leadership, of which we are a part of, needs to start this conversation today and open the table to regional leaders and other economic experts so we can find a way to invest money and resources to make these things happen.
Much like the Governor’s swift and necessary actions to stop the spread and flatten the curve in anticipation of the unknown, we need to take swift and necessary actions to prepare for what we do know. The longer Oregon’s economy has to keep it doors shut, the longer the recovery will take and the sharper the economic recovery curve will become.
Millions of Oregonians are relying on us to make sure they can recapture their livelihoods, protect their families and pay their bills. Oregon can’t wait any longer to start addressing these issues and getting back to work, while we all continue working together to flatten the curve and save lives.
Mar 6, 2020 | News
Larry Meyer and Leslie Thompson | The Argus Observer | March 6, 2020
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.
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.
Mar 1, 2020 | News
Larry Meyer | The Argus Observer | March 1, 2020
VALE — People who want to get on the May 19 Primary Ballot have just over a week to file with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office for state and federal offices or the Malheur County Clerk’s office.
The deadline is March 10 at 5 p.m., local time.
There are 13 people vying to be nominated to run in the November General Election for the U.S. Second District Congressional seat now held by Rep. Greg Walden who is retiring after this year. Eight are Republicans and five are Democrats.
Republicans include Jason Atkinson of Jacksonville, Cliff Bentz of Ontario, Knute Buehler of Redmond, David Campbell of White city, Jimmy Crumpacker of Bend, Kenneth Medenbach of Crescent, Mark Roberts of White City, and Jeff Smith of Fairview.
The Democrats are Heuertz of Central Point, John Holm of Jacksonville, Jack Howard of La Grande, Alex Spenser of Klamath Falls and Isabella Tibbetts of Talent.
Running for Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate seat now held by Jeff Merkley is Michael David of Ashland. Three people have filed for the Republican nomination; they are Jo Rae Perkins of Albany, Paul J. Romero Jr. of Roseburg and Robert Schwartz of Springfield.
To date, Merkley has not filed.
Mark Hass, Jamie McLeod-Skinner and Cameron Smith, all Democrats have filed to be Secretary of State. To date, no Republicans have filed.
Incumbent Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is the only one to file for that office.
Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, is the only one to file for his his District 60 seat and Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, has filed for the Republican primary for his seat in District 30. Carina Miller, of Warm Springs, has filed for the Democratic nomination.