Molly J. Smith /Statesman-Journal via AP
Rep. Greg Smith of Heppner said he anticipates long days when the Legislature’s short session convenes Monday.
The Republican representing House District 57 has eight committee assignments, including vice chair on the House committee on revenue, co-vice chair on the joint committee on ways and means and co-chair on a ways and means subcommittee.
“I’m really going to spend the vast majority of my time working policy issues through money,” Smith said.
Some issues are heavy lifts for the 35-day session, such as the implications the federal tax bill carries for Oregon and the state’s budget.
“Oregon is 100 percent connected with federal tax law,” Smith said, so lawmakers need to determine whether any parts of Oregon’s tax law should break those connections. That’s complicated, he said, and the conversations will not be easy.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said at an Associated Press forum Monday “we’ve got a serious budget issue” because of an expected deficit of $200 million to $300 million stemming from those changes.
Republican Sen. Bill Hansell of Athena said reforming the Public Employee Retirement System is another major piece that comes with no easy answers. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown’s task force on how to cover some of the system’s $20-billion unfunded liability included selling off state universities and the State Accident Insurance Fund. Hansell called those bad ideas. SAIF, he said, is one of Oregon’s best functioning programs, so selling that makes no sense.
Hansell said he believes the short session should be about tweaks to the state’s budget, approving legislation that has broad bipartisan support and amending bills that made it into law from the previous session.
Senators get to propose one bill each while representatives get two, and lawmakers have just 10 days to shuttle legislation through both chambers.
House Bill 4106 requires the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife to prepare a report each biennium on the change in wolf population. Legislators would then allocate money from the general fund to the Department of Agriculture’s Wolf Depredation Compensation and Financial Assistance Grant Program that “fully reflects the estimated change.”
The bill is spearheaded by Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove. Co-sponsors include Sen.Hansell, as well as Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, and Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass.
The idea, Barreto said, is simple — compensation for ranchers would correlate directly with the number of wolves living in the state.
“It’s one of those bills that shouldn’t be controversial,” Barreto said. “In fact, it should be a positive on both sides.”
ODFW already does annual year-end reports on wolf management and population. Between 2014 and 2015, the population rose 36 percent from 77 to 110 total wolves. The most recent population stayed mostly flat with 112 wolves at the end of 2016.
The Legislature also created the compensation fund for ranchers in 2011, which pays for livestock losses as well as implementing non-lethal wolf deterrents such as range riders and fladry fencing.
Funding is administered by Department of Agriculture, which awards grants to individual counties. Barreto said the program issued $395,000 last year for 112 wolves — those numbers would serve as the base line for future compensation under his proposal.
The bill has already garnered support from the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, and skepticism from wolf advocates who worry the program is not being used responsibly.
Smith will sponsor House Bill 4153 to designate Eastern Oregon University in La Grande as the state’s rural university. Smith said the legislation is more than a “feel good” proposal. The designation would provide EOU some protection from closure or cuts during tough economic times, he said, while sending the message the state’s smaller universities matter as much as their larger compatriots.
Smith also said he is learning more about education policy because he serves as vice chair of the joint committee on student success. Oregon needs to take a good look at how education is working and what it should be doing better.
The Hermiston School District, the largest in Smith’s House district, had the 21st worst graduation rate in the state, according to data from the Oregon Department of Education. Among the state’s largest school districts, Hermiston is eighth from the bottom.
Hansell said he will push Senate Bill 1556 to help community banks.
Those banks assign loans to federal finance agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Hansell explained, which require the banks to use an electronic system to file while prohibiting the banks from recording the loan assignments in the county records. Hansell said counties are suing the banks to recover recording fees and his bill would ban those lawsuits. Nothing under Oregon law requires counties to record the bank’s assignments, he said, and the counties are not entitled to a recording fee.
Smith and Hansell also emphasized bipartisanship would yield the best solutions.
To see a full list of proposals in the upcoming session, visit www.oregonlegislature.gov.
Contact Phil Wright at email@example.com or 541-966-0833.