As the first official even-year legislative session, scheduled for only 35 days, it seems like the Legislature is under a steep learning curve on how to manage the month. While initial thoughts were that the session would be largely budget based, some concerning patterns are emmerging around significant policy legislation.
Adding complexity to a short session, an incredible number of bills were introduced that were not vetted with stakeholders nor were they worked during the interim. For the most part, legislators are working very hard not to take any action that could be considered partisan. That means bills that would normally be low priorities are getting hearings. If someone doesn’t show up to express concerns, it is likely these bills will move. Compounded with this is the fact that the pace of the session is so fast that the general public does not have time to gather information on bills. This perspective is shared building wide.
On a positive note, the Revenue Forecast shows that projections are only $36 million down, generally flat from the last forecast. This means that the budget work that was done prior to the session by leadership and the Co-chairs’ of Ways and Means needs little to no adjustments.
Wildly Successful Farm Bureau Day at the Capitol
On Feb 6th, Oregon Farm Bureau’s Women’s Committee hosted a legislative day at the Capitol. Turnout was excellent. Many members were able to schedule one-on-one meetings with their legislators. We were also able to distribute our 2012 OFB Policy Book to all 90 legislators.
Oregon Farm Bureau’s Presidents also held their annual meeting. There were great discussions around improved collaboration with the County Farm Bureaus and OFB. Guests and presenters included Oregon State University, Western Legal Resources Center and several legislators.
In the evening, Oregon Farm Bureau hosted a reception. Many legislators attended, providing additional opportunities to build stronger relationships with our elected leaders. Thank you to all Farm Bureau members who participated.
Bills of Interest
Just over 300 bills have been introduced this session. Unlike other sessions where a good portion of the bills are budget related, the vast majority of these bills are policy bills. Your GA staff is actively working or tracking over 50 of these bills for their impact on agriculture or Farm Bureau Policy. Here is a snapshot of the bills we are working and where they are in the process:
Farm worker Housing Tax Credit – HB 4038
Joined by a large coalition, a credit provided for updating and building new farm worker housing is set to sunset in 2014. With federal mandates for updating existing housing looming, it is imperative the legislature extend the sunset past 2018. HB 4038 in House Energy, Environment and Water will likely become an omnibus bill that contains this sunset extension. The bill is scheduled for a work session next Tuesday.
E-verify – HB 4052
While early indications were that HB 4052 was not going to move this session, Oregon Farm Bureau did discuss concerns with the bill in a meeting with Co-Speaker Hanna regarding labor issues for Oregon Producers. We continue to advocate for federal solutions and a working guest worker program at the federal level.
Land Use – HB 3615
Following a subsequent policy change that narrows Oregon Farm Bureau’s position on land use regionalization concepts, OFB GA staff testified in opposition to HB 3615. This bill did move out of committee despite aggressive opposition from a variety of activists, including 1000 Friends of Oregon and Occupy Salem. The bill is now on its way to Ways and Means where its $600-thousand price tag will be prioritized against cuts and budget adjustments. Indications from the Governor’s office are that it will only be signed into law if the legislature provides funding for it in this biennium.
Better Use of Land inside UGB – HB 4090
On Thursday, OFB GA staff testified in favor of HB 4090. Representative Sheehan introduced the bill, and while it was not an issue OFB requested it does deal proactively with issues that cause unnecessary UGB expansions onto valuable farmland. Representative Sheehan’s testimony introducing the bill did a great job illustrating multiple parcels of land inside city UGB’s that are currently being ignored for development. He described issues around county; special district; and service boundaries that create “Imaginary Lines” that prevent utilization of land even though it’s within the UGB. In light of the Metro Reserves process and our general land use principals this is a very interesting approach to an ongoing issue.
Tax Credit for Livestock Lost to Wolves or Cougars – HB 4005
This legislation would create a refundable tax credit for livestock producers losing livestock to wolf or cougar depredations. This legislation moved out of the House Agriculture Committee yesterday and was sent to House Revenue.
Humane Agents – HB 4021
This legislation would move commissioned Humane Agents (who are employees of the Oregon Humane Society) from the Governor’s Office to Oregon State Police and increase their training requirements. Farm Bureau supports these provisions of the bill. However, the legislation would also allow these private agents to carry guns; an authority they currently do not have. Farm Bureau opposes the ability for a private police force to carry guns when investigating animal care situations. This bill is scheduled for a work session on Monday, February 13th in House Judiciary; please contact this committee and ask them to prohibit Human Agents from carrying guns.
Fire Assessment Rates – HB 4042
Phases in a 50-50 match on paying for fire assessment between landowners and the state. It also gives the authority to reduce rates in Eastern Oregon, which has the highest rate and lowest timber resource values.
State Forest Harvest – HB 4098
This legislation that would increase state forest harvest is scheduled for a hearing and possible work session on Tuesday, February 14 in House Agriculture. Farm Bureau is supporting amendments that would set the harvest rates at 85% of new growth. This is a reasonable amount for creating and sustaining rural jobs while protecting the environmental resource values. Please contact the House Agriculture Committee for support of this legislation.
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