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.
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.
February 25, 2020
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.”
By Leslie Thompson | Argus Observer | February 25, 2020
ONTARIO — It’s been a busy first session for Rep. Mark Owens, R-District 60, who was appointed to his seat just before the short session started on Feb. 3 in Salem. Republicans in the Senate walked out on Monday over the cap-and-trade, and according to Owens “all options are on the table” for a repeat of a similar move by GOP lawmakers in the House. Owens, who did take part with his colleagues in the first walkout of the session on Feb. 18, sits on both the Committee on Revenue and the House Committee on Water.
“The intent of the short session is budgetary fixes and small policy tweaks,” Owens said, commenting about joining his colleagues in the decision not to show up for a scheduled floor session. “Those in the majority are trying to run a lot of large policy bills, so we showed them we have the ability to have solidarity in our pockets and avoid a quorum if we have to.”
Owens, R-Crane, was nominated to fill the seat vacated by Lynn Findley, who was appointed to the Senate District 30 seat, and was sworn in on Jan. 31 just days before the session’s Feb. 3 start. As such, he did not get the option to bring any bills forward.
However, he still feels he has been able to make a positive impact for his community with the bills he has signed on. This included being able to testify on a bill for the Eastern Oregon Economic Development Board in order to get more funding.
As far as some other issues brought before Owens and the legislators this session, the Argus caught up with Owens about how he voted on bills that impact sage grouse and cellphone users, his thoughts on sanctuary cities and counties, and his priorities for the short session, which is expected to wrap up at midnight on March 7.
Rural birds and broadband
Owens says he only had a few days to review all the bills that came forward.
One of those bills, which he supported was House Bill 4091, which moved on to the Senate last week. The bill aims to create a fund to help facilitate development while supporting conservation of sage-grouse habitat.
Saying it was a “good bill,” Owens said he appreciated that it allowed funds raised for a specific purpose to only be used for that purpose.
The bill, which passed unanimously in the House, provides for an “in-lieu fee” fund — separate from the General Fund — with interest to be earned to support efforts to restore, protect and other steps to conserve and build up the endangered bird’s habitat. This is designed to defray the costs of mitigation for impacts of development in a habitat area.
House Bill 4079 regarding funding for broadband, however, was one that Owens voted no on.
While it might come as a surprise, he said, that the representative for the most underserved district for broadband in the state voted no on a bill that would help fund $5 million for rural areas, it was the way the money would be raised that didn’t sit well with the lawmaker.
The bill proposed an additional tax for 4.1 million wireless customers in Oregon, he said, by bumping up a 1.6% surcharge.
Emphasizing that he didn’t believe an extra tax “would be fair to those people,” Owens said he’s supportive of broadband in rural areas, but he believes there is money in the General Fund to be used as a match for that funding.
There is “plenty of revenue” to do so, he said.
Sanctuary cities and counties
As usual, gun rights have surfaced in this session. A bill this year would make a gun owner responsible for damages if their firearm was stolen and used for a crime.
“I’m supportive of rural counties in eastern Oregon standing up for what we believe, even only if it’s just posturing,” Owens said regarding municipalities and counties taking extra measures to protect the Second Amendment.
The Nyssa City Council in its last regular meeting voted on enacting protections over gun rights, and Malheur County did the same in 2015.
Attempts elsewhere in District 60 to do the same have not got off the ground in Harney County, but have in Baker County.
Saying he was supportive of those who do take the extra steps, he reasoned why:
“We are showing the state we will no longer take continued erosion of our Constitutional rights,” he said, adding he was unsure whether doing so was actually enforceable or not.
Although it’s a short session and Owens is serving for the first time as a legislator he does have three priorities for the session. The first is to hear from constituents and “be a voice of our people.” The second, he says, is to learn the process in order to be effective in a longer session, as he has filed for the seat he is now filling for the Primary Election in May.
He already had been planning to file for the seat, he said, but when finding out about the shuffling of seats which began when former Sen. Cliff Bentz announced his bid for Congress, he waited. It wasn’t until after Findley, who had also been aiming to get elected to the House District 60 seat, pulled his file, that Owens filed.
Serving on the Harney County Commission, Owens said, gave him a good head start for a role as a state leader.
“It also taught me the closest form of government to the people. It taught me to build relationships and to be their voice,” he said. “I want to continue that in Salem and in all five counties I represent.”
Owens’ third priority in Salem, is in line with that: building relationships.
“As the super minority, we will have to work together to move forward.”
January 22, 2020
ONTARIO — Commissioners from Baker, Harney, Grant, Malheur and Lake counties voted unanimously today to appoint Mark Owens, a Harney County farmer, to replace Lynn Findley as representative for Oregon House District 60.
Findley, a Republican from Vale, was appointed earlier this month to replace Cliff Bentz in state Senate District 30.
Bentz resigned to run full time for Greg Walden’s seat in Congress.
“I am thankful and humbled today to have been appointed to serve as the next state representative for House District 60,” Owens said in a press release. “I look forward to serving the communities and being a voice for Eastern Oregon in Salem.”
There were two other candidates for House District 60 — Tom Van Diepen of Baker City, and Tim Smith of Burns.
Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett said neither was present when commissioners voted Tuesday in Ontario.
Owens, a Harney County commissioner, filed Nov. 4, 2019, as a candidate for the House District 60 Republican primary in May.
He will be sworn in later this month. The Oregon Legislature convenes Feb. 3 in Salem.
“At the state level, there is a lot of work to be done to protect our way of life in Eastern Oregon and to provide a better path for future generations of Oregonians,” Owens said. “We need to make sustainable natural resources a top priority. Our kids deserve stronger schools and greater opportunities for their career paths. Families need financial stability instead of living paycheck to paycheck and having to worry about the next tax increase coming our way from Salem.
“Most importantly, my top priority and my No. 1 job will be to listen, learn and represent the constituents in Eastern Oregon.”