As Sen. Bill Hansell (R-Athena) performs a final round of postmortems on the 2015 legislative session, he also has an eye on the future.
During a town hall at Nookies Restaurant in Hermiston on Monday he said he hasn’t decided for sure what issues he will address during the short session in February, but he is interested in creating a bill that would ask Union Pacific to pay more toward fire suppression.
Hansell said constituents in Morrow County recently alerted him to the fact that the railroad company is exempt from paying property taxes toward lighting districts, road improvement districts and fire districts.
“We all know trains start fires,” he said.
Hansell said his office was in the process of researching the original reasoning for exempting Union Pacific for paying taxes to support fire districts, but it didn’t seem fair that an entity that often caused fires wasn’t helping pay rural fire districts to put them out.
Each senator gets only two bills to introduce during the “short session,” which is intended to make tweaks to the budget and fix unforeseen problems caused by new laws rather than to introduce sweeping changes. Hansell said he was considering introducing wolf-related legislation for another bill and has set up a visit to Wallowa County for Sen. Chris Edwards, chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, to discuss it.
In response to questions about what bills that failed in 2015 might come back in 2016, Hansell said he believes raising the minimum wage will end up being decided by a ballot measure, not a bill in February. He also said legislative leaders have indicated the 35-day session isn’t enough time to try to resurrect the transportation package but that it “will be in the forefront of 2017.”
Hansell characterized the 2015 session as the “good, the bad and the ugly.” He hailed accomplishments like the water funding package that will increase agricultural irrigation in the Umatilla Basin.
But he also said veteran colleagues told him it was the most partisan session they had ever seen.
“We passed bills I don’t think are good for business; we passed bills that were not good for family values and parental rights,” he said.
Hansell said unfortunately it seemed like many west-side Democrats didn’t care that new regulations like mandatory sick leave hurt small businesses.
He also blasted a “ridiculous” bill requiring background checks for private gun transfers and one that allows teenagers to charge medical services — including abortions and gender reassignment surgery — to their parents’ insurance companies without the companies sending an explanation of benefits document notifying their parents of the procedure.
“Mom and Dad are paying for the abortion of their grandchildren and they don’t even know about it,” he said.
Hansell criticized Democrats for pushing through a clean fuels bill at the expense of the transportation funding package. He said the bill creates an “unreachable standard” in clean fuels and then fines oil companies for not reaching it and uses the money to promote clean energy. Those fines will be passed on to the consumer through higher gas prices, he said, which is why Republicans and some rural Democrats were not willing to support a transportation package that would have raised gas taxes in order to invest in infrastructure.
“Early on Republicans said to leadership, ‘You can have one or the other. We’re not going to have consumers take a double hit,’” he said.
In response to a question about his opinion of Governor Kate Brown, Hansell said obviously from a policy standpoint Brown is much more liberal than he is. However, he also said she had proven very accessible and he admired how she handled being suddenly thrust into the role of governor during the middle of a legislative session when the “ship of state” had already set sail.
“To her credit she did not try to rearrange the voyage,” he said.
Hansell said one of Brown’s early speaking opportunities as governor was brought about by Umatilla County growers’ donation of almost 40 tons of potatoes and several hundred pounds of onions for what he plans to make the “first annual” Spud Day at the capitol.
Hansell said the Senate and the House compete annually to see which chamber can raise the most food for the governor’s food drive for charity and the House always wins because it has so many more members.
When a Senate colleague joked this year that they should just bring in a truckload of potatoes to beat the House, Hansell said he took him at his word and helped arrange the donation from Bud Rich Potato and Amstad Farms.
“Needless to say the Senate absolutely walked away with the honors,” Hansell said.
He said he made sure each of his colleagues got a five-pound bag of potatoes and five-pound bag of onions on their desk reminding them that the produce was a product of irrigation in the Umatilla Basin.
Despite the partisan nature of the 2015 session, Hansell said the donation from Umatilla County growers involved in Farmers Ending Hunger created “unbelievable goodwill.”
Hansell met up with Rep. Greg Baretto (R-Cove) to speak in private meetings with the Pendleton Rotary club and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and the pair will return to Pendleton Oct. 6 for a town hall hosted by the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce from 6-8 p.m. at the Blue Mountain Community College theater, 2411 N.W. Carden Ave. in Pendleton.
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.