Farm Bureau recaps Legislative Session

By Oregon Farm Bureau,

The 2010 Oregon Special Session ended in a flurry of irony.  Legislative leadership’s main purpose for the February session was to again demonstrate a “test run” of annual sessions as a means for streamlining Oregon’s political process and to give voters confidence in the concept in the hope they approve a constitutional referral instituting annual sessions this Fall.

Despite the introduction of a variety of complex and controversial measures this session, we expected the legislature to adjourn early. However, due to disagreements over small details in the annual session’s referral, the Legislature had to push back adjournment by one day.  Agreement was finally reached and the Legislature adjourned Thursday afternoon.

There were issues that were constructively dealt with, though it is hard to say that any legislation introduced in February constituted an “emergency” that couldn’t have been dealt with during the normal legislative calendar. Unfortunately, predictions of a jobless recovery, and indications of a massive structural deficit looming in the state’s budget weren’t on the list of issues legislative leadership felt obligated to deal with.  Instead this February session reflects an increase spending by another $30 million.

Oregon Farm Bureau remains concerned about the detrimental effects of Measures 66 and 67. The business community was hoping their passage would end the hostile partisanship, but it did not.  Various industries were targeted with increased regulation and litigation while industry-paid funds were swept away to fuel increased state spending.

Overall the results for agriculture are fairly uneventful; except for the sweeping of Oregon Department of Agriculture accounts that will result in at least one fee increase next Legislative Session.

The following are the results of the bills that OFB tracked during the Special Session.

Annual Sessions
SJR41 refers an amendment to the Oregon Constitution to provide for annual sessions. The sessions would be limited to 160 days in odd numbers years and 35 days in even numbered years.  However, the session can be extended by 5 days with a 2/3rds vote of both House and Senate, and a session can be extended more than once. Passed both chambers.

True to form the Legislature not only balanced the budget, but also expanded government through the passage of a series of budget bills.  They added almost 200 new positions by amending the Business Energy Tax Credit, sweeping fee accounts and shifting away from the general fund to fees for funding of programs.

The direct impacts to agriculture by these actions were the sweeping of $2.8 million in electricity rate payer funds, a fund shift from general funds to fees of $400,000 in the food safety program and a funds sweep of $443,000 of pesticide fees.  These actions will result in at least one fee increase next year.

The only positive item for agriculture out of these budget actions was $225,000 investment to control the Spotted Wing Drisophila that appeared in Oregon last year and attacks fruit at time of harvest.

Wineries and Events
SB 1055 This legislation is one of many examples this session that illustrate the difficulty of rationally dealing with complex issues in a one-month session. After being sandwiched between two consensus bills in the Senate committee, the bill passed out somewhat prematurely due to the strict deadlines of the session.

However, the bill hit heavy turbulence in the House as stakeholders descended in mass on Representative Clem’s House Agriculture Committee. After much debate, a two year sunset was placed on the legislation. The bill passed the House and the Senate concurred with the amendments.

Oregon Farm Bureau, ODA and the Oregon Board of Agriculture are very interested in working together to develop a framework during the interim that provides flexibility for direct marketing for all producers while protecting the EFU and surrounding producers from conflicts.

Capability of Land Assessment, Soils Analysis

HB 3647 establishes that a person may ask Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) to arrange for a capability of land assessment by professional soil classifier. The bill requires the classifier performing assessment be chosen by landowner and certified by and in good standing with Soil Science Society of America.

Land Owner Liability Immunity
HB 3673 Generally, property owners are immune from contract or tort liability for the use of their land for recreational purposes if they are allowing the public to use the land for free. A recent Oregon Supreme Court case, Bradley Coleman v. Oregon Parks and Recreational Department (2009) held the state lost immunity protection because the paying of a fee for camping removed the immunity protection for all other recreational use of the land.

HB 3673A continues the immunity protection if a land owner does not charge a fee. If a landowner charges a fee, immunity is lost unless notice is given of the limited uses of the land subjected to the fee and the immunities for the remainder of the land. Passed both chambers.

3674 amends the Renewable Portfolio Standard to allow long established biomass facilities to count as renewable.  Passed both chambers.

HB 3680 amends the Business Energy Tax Credit by placing caps on wind projects, a cap for total cost of projects and new accountability standards.  Passed both chambers.

HB 3693 allows diesel fuel to be sold from November 1 to March 31 to contain additives to prevent gelling due to weather conditions that may dilute the biodiesel standard. Passed both chambers.

Food Processing
SB 1032 would have restricted the use of bisphenal A (BPA) in products designed for and consumed by children under age three. BPA is widely used in the food processing industry and SB 1032’s passage would of put Oregon’s processors at competitive disadvantage.  The bill died with a 15-15 vote on the Senate floor. The promoters immediately went to the House and had a similar bill introduced, but it never progressed out of committee.

Water & Waterways
SB 1060 granted access to the beds and banks of floatable streams throughout Oregon. Due to the controversy of the original draft, the bill was amended to create a task force to work on issues around recreational activities on Oregon’s waterways. However the controversy was not removed from the bill, it died on the Senate floor with a 15-15 vote.

HB 3661 reduced the gallons per day use for domestic wells and gave Water Resources Department the ability to require a permit in special ground water designated area.  Bill failed to move out of committee of origin.

Field Burning
HB 3701 changes the field burning prohibited boundaries of Linn County to allow a small area that had traditionally grown fine fescue and used as a fire management tool to be brought into the burnable area.  Passed both chambers.

Automated Electronic Deliberators
SB 556 (2009), that took effect January 1, 2010, requires the owner of a place of public assembly to have on the premises at least one AED. A “place of public assembly” was defined as a facility with 50,000 square feet or more of floor space where the public congregates for certain purposes or where business activities are conducted. In order to be subject to the requirement, the place of public assembly must also have least 25 individuals congregate there on a normal business day. Passed both chambers.

SB 1006 redefines a place of public assembly as a single building with 50,000 square feet or more of indoor floor space in which at least 50 individuals congregate on a normal business day. It also removes specific requirements for a person who possesses or controls an AED in a public setting to be exempt from liability for use or nonuse of an AED, thereby making it more difficult for such a person to be found liable for its use or nonuse. Oregon Farm Bureau believes that this legislation will not impact agricultural wholesalers. However, we have concerns with some of the vague language in the bill and lack of enforcement and rule making authority. We have an agreement from Senator Mark Hass to prepare legislation for 2011 designed to address our concerns. Passed both chambers.

Employer Gag Rule
HB 3653 picked up where SB 519 (2009) left off; broadening bans on more forms of employer communication to employees. Fortunately round-three for Oregon’s “employer gag bill” only passed the House and died in the Senate.

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