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.
ONTARIO — More and more people are stepping up and voicing their opinion over people having a choice versus being mandated to get vaccinated for COVID-19 or lose their respective job. This comes on the heels of mandates for worker classes, including those who work for the state, in health care or in K-12 schools.
A protest was staged on Wednesday afternoon in front of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-in Ontario and the same group, Stand for Kids-Malheur, is planning to be back there Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. The group stated that their protests are not about being against vaccines, but about the freedom of an individual to choose whether they want that medical procedure.
About 100 people showed up at the beginning of the protest on Wednesday, with more showing up during the two-hour stretch. There were also at least two people circulating petitions on behalf of Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe, who is aiming to gather as many signatures as possible through Sept. 7 to be sent with a letter to Gov. Kate Brown stating that she and other leaders are using the pandemic to enforce unconstitutional mandates, emphasizing that people should have the freedom to choose whether to get a vaccine or wear a mask, adding that individuals will have to deal with their own consequences of doing that.
While many citizens have voiced similar opinions, the Malheur County Health Department on Wednesday released a letter to news agencies which included signatures of more than 40 local health-care providers, urging people to have open and honest discussions about the risks and benefits of being vaccinated versus getting or spreading COVID. Additionally, the department is bringing back free testing and vaccination events, starting next Tuesday, and running every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Malheur County fairgrounds.
On Thursday, Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale and Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, in a news release stated they had reached out to Brown on Wednesday urging her to “halt and reverse” her recent vaccine requirements for specific worker classes, as well as add “robust medical and religions exemptions immediately.”
Those mandates could cripple the rural area, according to their release, which states that due to those mandates, a local school district may have to close, a local fire and ambulance service may lose the majority of its members, as most of the firefighters are cross-trained as emergency medical technicians.
The lawmakers said they received a letter from Jess Tolman, Fire and EMS Chief for the Vale Fire and Ambulance, who stated that 16 out of 22 members of that agency will resign from their jobs if the mandate is enforced, effectively closing their department. The agency is responsible for 2,500 square miles with some communities more than two hours apart.
“If this mandate continues to be enforced, we will have no choice but to close the department down. This will greatly impact the community that relies on us to care for time sensitive emergencies. We ask that Governor Brown lift these mandates so we can continue to provide lifesaving care here in Malheur County,” Tolman was quoted in the news release.
Additionally, Jordan Valley School Superintendent Rusty Bengoa, in the lawmakers’ release, outlined how it may displace all of the students in that school district due to forecasted staff shortages.
“Out of the 25 total school staff at the Jordan Valley School District, including teachers, para-pros, office personnel, administrators, bus drivers, and coaches, 21 have stated they will not get the Covid-19 vaccine. That is 84% of the staff in Jordan Valley. If this happens there is no way that the school district can sustain that loss to personnel. It is already extremely difficult just to replace one teacher when a position opens. The Jordan Valley School District will have no other option but to close if this requirement stands,” Bengoa said. “That will leave 65 students who live 46 miles from the closest town, which is actually in Idaho, and 70 miles from its closest Oregon neighboring town, with no access to a school.”
Owens said the debate is not about the reality or dangers of COVID or the Delta variant or the efficacy of the vaccine.
“This is about a gross overreach of authority that is legally, ethically, and morally wrong. The decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal and private conversation and choice between the individual and their health-care provider,” he said.
Owens contacted Oregon Legislative Counsel last week with multiple questions on how these exemptions would work if they are in fact implemented. At this time, those questions remain unanswered.
Findley, in a phone interview this morning, says they have not heard back from Brown, either.
When asked how long people might stay in their respective positions before leaving, he said he wasn’t certain.
“Nobody wants to leave,” he said.
Findley’s hope for robust exemption, he said would be that those would “accommodate the desires and beliefs and thoughts of the citizens without having to prove anything.”
In the news release, Findley said the impact to the rural area will be severe for schools, health-care providers, hospitals, prisons, public safety and social and public services.
“These mandates will result in more harm than good and will have an opposite effect than desired,” Findley said.
Outside of Malheur County, the lawmakers say that forced vaccinations will also harm health systems in Harney, Jefferson and Baker county, too. This includes the Harney County Health District, whose CEO states that the mandates will drive the workers to other organizations, other states or out of health care all together.
“That one decision to mandate vaccines has done more to put our rural health system at risk than any other threat I have faced in my 30 years of working in hospitals,” said Dan Grigg, CEO, Harney County Health District in the lawmakers’ news release.
A pharmacy technician from Jefferson County said after 36 years of working in a frontline positions, she will be forced to quite her career she loves or give up her rights.
“It’s a really scary and heartbreaking time for our state,” she said.
In Harney County, the Burns Dental Group serves about 2,500 patients on the Oregon Health Plan, and it is believed it would also close.
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.
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.
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.”