Malheur Enterprise | May 31, 2023
SALEM – Democratic leaders in the Legislature have announced they’d allocate $110 million to confront Oregon’s drought and water security issues for the next two years.
It’s less than half of what the budget’s authors, Reps. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, and Mark Owens, R-Crane, had initially proposed in March. The two wanted $250 million for at least 25 proposals that would tackle dwindling groundwater supplies for agriculture, address drinking water contamination and ensure the health of critical fish and other aquatic species around the state.
The bipartisan duo are chair and vice chair of the House Committee On Agriculture, Land Use, Natural Resources, and Water. Helm told the Capital Chronicle $110 million is about one-third of what the state actually needs to spend on drought and water issues in the next biennium to address water emergencies and prepare for the future.
“What we really need is a fund that stretches from beyond the current biennium and bridges multiple, with a funding stream that is relatively safe,” Helm said.
The announcement of state funding for drought and water issues arrived just a day before Gov. Tina Kotek’s seventh and eighth emergency drought declarations of the year. On Friday, Kotek added Lake and Sherman counties in southern and central Oregon to a list that includes Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Harney, Jefferson and Wasco counties. Such declarations unlock additional financial and technical resources from state agencies for local water systems and for industrial and agricultural water users. Oregon has been in a “megadrought” since 2000, the state’s longest drought in 1,200 years, according to the Oregon Water Resources Department.
If approved, the $110 million investment would cover at least nine proposals to assist in local water planning strategies, fund Oregon State University to offer technical assistance to farmers to use water more efficiently and pay for studies and planning to store water in underground aquifers, according to a news release from House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis and Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego.
Many of the investments are targeted at projects where state funds can be used to bring in matching federal dollars from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in 2021.
Owens’ water policy adviser, Harmony Burright, said specifics about what all the $110 million would fund are with the Democratic leaders.
“They’re working on rolling out the details of the package,” Burright said. “Unfortunately our office likely won’t have it in advance of what is shared publicly.”
In a news release, Owens said the investment was a “critical down payment” from the state to help communities adapt to a future of increasing water scarcity.
“We live in a water-constrained environment and the water-related challenges we face will only get more intense,” he said.
Ontario Community Recreation Center hearing, fixes for small school boards and farmland in focus
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.
By Representative Mark Owens
The Oregon Way Blog | February 16, 2021
Three days before the short legislative session began in 2020, I was sworn in as State Representative for House District 60. I took an oath to protect our Constitution and represent my constituents, and made clear my priority was to build relationships—authentic, genuine, bipartisan relationships. On my to-do list: meet everyone in the building, get to know them as people—not just legislators, and work together on serious issues, regardless of their party or district number.
That quickly became challenging. Within weeks of the 2020 session starting, legislative negotiations came to a halt, legislators parted ways to their districts, and the session ended in a tense and terse manner. Shortly thereafter, the Coronavirus pandemic came to Oregon in full swing, closing the state, shuttering our businesses and schools, and sending us home to serve and lead the state from our living rooms during the most difficult time our state has ever faced.
One year in, not much has changed. Sure, we’ve adapted and learned new methods to connect and developed innovative ways to get some work done, but not nearly enough and certainly not enough to connect nor legislate well.
While serving Eastern Oregon, with limited travel to Salem, I’ve not yet had the opportunity to fully connect with my colleagues, even on an official level. As I started the 2021 session, a year into being a State Representative, I requested a meeting with the Chair of one of our committees to discuss our policy agenda for the session. Ten minutes into the conversation, this colleague asked who I was—was I parent? A teacher? A constituent? No. I was a fellow State Representative and had been for over a year.
Our inability to connect puts a cap on our ability to govern. Good public policy requires public involvement. Great public policy requires personal relationships.
Remote meetings are not conducive to personal relationships. You can’t read body language through a screen or get to know someone in 15 minutes over the phone. But the session goes on. We’re scheduled for 12-hour days at our computers in virtual meetings or on video conference calls. And, despite the fact that some of us have never met before in person, we’re collectively charged with determining the best policies for the future of our state and the people who depend on us to get it right.
Personal relationships are especially important to collaborating across party lines. That’s why bipartisanship becomes even more difficult in these circumstances. If and when we do get a chance to break away from virtual committees or statewide conference calls that time is spent with our Caucus or Caucus members working in silos to see how we’ll handle the next twist and turn. There’s literally no time in the day to reach out to the other side. It’s not on purpose and it’s not political—it’s just the only system we have right now.
We literally can’t reach across the aisle and even though I truly believe the majority of us want to build those relationships and we try, inevitably we’re interrupted and invariably, there’s another 15-minute meeting waiting for us at the top of the hour.
Bipartisanship now hinges on the strength of our Internet connection and our willingness to spend even more time on a computer. Simply put, though bipartisan was never easy—it’s become a heck of a lot harder. I long for the days when I can walk the halls with my colleagues, pop into their office, bring them a coffee, and hash out a pragmatic response to an issue we’re facing. As I said great public policy requires personal relationships – not only with other officials, but also with the public. In addition to our own challenges of working together as legislators, are the challenges of working with the public. The building is closed to the public for the time being, and while it’s touted somewhat fairly that virtual platforms mean increased access for those Oregonians who couldn’t normally drive the distance or afford time off work to testify, that’s only when the virtual platform actually works, and that Oregonian actually has sufficient Internet.
All this adds up to substantial barriers to creating great public policy. We now function in a world of black boxes, misused mute buttons, fake backgrounds, sometimes with faces and mostly with names or phone numbers on a screen, and that’s if the technology is working for everyone that day. What we’ve increased in virtual efficiency, we’ve lost in interpersonal relationships. What we’ve gained in the ability to quickly connect, we’ve lost in depth of those connections.
All hope isn’t lost, and it isn’t all bad. Great public policy is still possible, but requires greater intentionality in reaching other Oregonians. Over the last ten months, me and two other legislators have held bi-monthly or monthly live virtual town halls that have reached thousands of Oregonians, far exceeding what would have been possible had we been hosting them in-person. I know several of my constituents have been able to utilize technology to testify and engage with legislative committees in ways they hadn’t before. Hopefully, these extra measures will not be required for too much longer. Safety precautions have been implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19 and it’s slowing. We’re hoping the Capitol can open to the public sometime later this spring. These are all good things.
We’ve learned a lot over the course of navigating this pandemic. Importantly, I think we’ve learned we previously undervalued the power of personal relationships and underestimated the need for them in authentic policy making. We assume legislating is a rigid duty, one of paper-pushing and legal debate, meeting agendas and complex amendments, pushing the red or green buttons when it’s time to vote. Certainly, those are elements, but public policy is much more than that. The real heart of legislating comes in building trust, having conversations, and working together to put Oregon on the best path forward.
When “Zoom times” end, we will have an opportunity to also end the idea that our Caucuses are the extent of our Capitol community. Consider this an open invitation to host a town hall (virtual or personal) with any member of the State Legislature when “normal times” resume. We, as legislators, need to mirror to Oregonians what personal relationships in politics look like. If we can work together as friends, we can serve as role models to a state that deserves people to come before politics.
Representative Mark Owens is the Republican State Representative for Oregon’s House District 60 which includes all of Baker, Grant, Harney, and Malheur Counties and parts of Lake County. Mark is a local farmer, small business owner, Crane School Board Member, recent Harney County Commissioner, and husband and father. During the 2021 Legislative Session, Mark serves as Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Water, and on the House Education, Energy and Environment, and Human Services Committees.
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.
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.