SALEM — Eastern Oregon lawmakers looking at the upcoming legislative session are focusing their efforts on more money for ranchers who lose livestock to wolves, increasing consumer protection and taking on illegal marijuana farms in Southern Oregon.
Rep. Bobby Levy, R-Echo, Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, and Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, told the EO Media Group about their priorities for the 2022 short session that begins Feb. 1 and must end by March 10.
Wolf bill drawing Levy’s attention
Levy named two bills as most important to her, starting with House Bill 4127, a million-dollar ask for the Wolf Management Compensation and Proactive Trust Fund.
“Right now, we have already close to $800,000 worth of cattle losses and missing livestock, not to mention all the incremental costs that go along when wolves have been chasing animals,” she said, adding animals have suffered “continued weight loss, low birth rates and more because of wolves.”
She also is big on HB 4154, a $400,000 request to provide the La Grande Airport with new fuel tanks.
Levy said she will be co-sponsoring bills as well, including HB 4022 to put course curriculum on school websites, and HB 4042, which would require doctors who prescribe drugs for chemical abortions to provide “certain information” to their patients. She said she also is adding her name to bills concerning animal predator control, a salmon habitat credit program and gun-free zone liability.
Smith focusing on consumer protection
Smith in a press release Thursday, Jan. 20, said consumer protection, gun rights and housing are among top issues he is working on during the session.
He said he is proposing a bill to limit how much Oregonians have to pay residential general contractors before completing remodel or repair projects.
“For context, large contractors charge 100% of residential project costs up-front,” Smith stated. “Once payment is received, the consumer is at their mercy and completion of the project can often become an incredibly difficult process. This legislation would strengthen the consumer’s interests and improve project outcomes.”
Smith also explained he was “disheartened by the passage of SB 554 during the 2021 legislative session,” the Senate bill Gov. Kate Brown signed in 2021 that regulated firearm storage and banned guns at the state Capitol and Portland International Airport. The law also allows school boards to ban guns on school grounds. He said he would support legislation that would “establish liability for specific crimes committed in ‘gun-free zones.’”
Smith also said he is going to focus on middle-income housing, according to the press release, which he called “District 57’s most pressing housing need.”
He also pointed out the importance of the Interstate 5 bridge, which connects Oregon and Washington, as “critical” to the Port of Morrow and other ports in his district.
“As a member of the Joint I-5 Bridge Committee, I support the new bridge and will be intimately involved in its development,” he stated.
Protecting Eastern Oregon livestock from predators, education funding, behavioral health, curbing the governor’s emergency powers and returning people to “normal” life also are on Smith’s agenda.
Hansell to address two issues in Senate
While he waits for his proposals to become bills through legislative counsel, Hansell said he hopes to use the two bills he’s allowed to submit this session to address two issues: illegal marijuana grows in Southern Oregon and medical mergers and acquisitions.
Hansell said he’s a part of a bipartisan group of legislators looking to pass a number of bills to assist Southern Oregon, a region Hansell said is being inundated with drug cartels and other bad actors operating illegal marijuana farms. While his bill likely would fund operations far outside his Northeastern Oregon base, Hansell said the impacts could be felt locally if the Legislature fails to take action.
“If you don’t stop it there, it’s coming to you,” he said.
Hansell is focusing his other bill on amending a law passed last year that requires the state to approve many health care provider mergers and acquisitions before proceeding. The bill passed with heavy Republican opposition, and Hansell said he would prefer to just repeal the bill and start over.
But instead, he said he’s working with hospital groups to change the law. If the law isn’t changed, Hansell said it could cause rural health care providers to shut down rather than seek out a merger that could keep them open.
Besides the bills he’s sponsoring, Hansell said one of the issues he’s keeping an eye on is the push to lift the overtime exemption for agricultural workers. Hansell said such a law would lead employers to cut hours and would hurt producers.
Short session hot takes
Smith said he is looking forward to the upcoming session.
“The 2021 legislative session was a long and difficult session coupled with a full reconstructive shoulder surgery that I dealt with,” Smith stated. “This session, I am hoping to see many constituents in Salem again because, unlike last session, the Capitol is slated to be open to the public.”
Levy also expressed positivity about the session, even if it’s no longer doing what Oregonians intended it for.
“This short session was meant to fix budget shortfalls,” she said, “and there’s nothing in my bill or anyone else’s bill who I’m sponsoring that’s a budget shortfall — except, perhaps the $1 million ask, because we don’t have enough money in that compensation fund — but I sure hope we get them all passed. I always am an optimistic person.”
She even said she, a Republican, might vote for a Democrat as the next speaker to replace the outgoing speaker, Rep. Tina Kotek, D-Portland.
House Democrats selected Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, to be their nominee as speaker. As Democrats have the majority, Rayfield likely will gain the office. While Levy said she did not know him well, she credited him for being experienced, moderate and logical.
She said Rayfield has, in previous work, “spread the money around the state,” which she said she appreciated because Portland should not get everything they want.
“He’s an equitable person in that regard,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting to know him better.”
While she is considering voting for Rayfield as speaker, she said she first needs to confer with her caucus first.