Phil Wright

East Oregonian



Working through party lines, water for farming and taking on marijuana are top priorities this legislative session for Eastern Oregon’s veteran state representative and newest senator.

A bipartisan attitude seems to be prevailing in the days leading up to the 2015 Oregon Legislature. Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, said Wednesday a key meeting by legislative leaders set a positive tone.

Smith is one of four co-vice chairs of the powerful Joint Ways and Means Committee. Smith said he, Ways and Means member Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, met Wednesday morning and discussed a budget framework for the session that convenes Feb. 2 and begins Feb. 12. This year, Smith said, each Ways and Means subcommittee — capital construction, education, general government, human services, natural resources, public safety, and transportation and economic development ­— will receive an upfront budget allocation and start prioritizing spending.

Smith said in years past Ways and Means would wait until April before doing the heavy lifting during the 160-day session. But this maneuver allows committees to work right away. Then, he said, the committees can tweak priorities once the February and May budget forecasts come in.

Smith said House and Senate leaders made it clear education funding and the structure of education are going to be major issues, but public safety does not look to make any gains. Smith said that concerns rural law enforcement and drug treatment programs. And a new courthouse for Multnomah County will take a large chunk of the capital construction fund. That will be a big lift for Oregon, Smith said, and rural districts in need of serious construction upgrades are still on the back burner.

Smith said the big takeaway from the meeting was the message of bipartisanship. Democrats have an 18-12 majority in the Senate and 35-25 majority in the House. But the state Constitution requires a three-fifths super-majority to raise taxes. The Dems have that in the Senate, but are one vote shy in the House — so Republican votes will matter.

Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, said he was pleased to see Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber’s budget included about $50 million for water projects that could benefit Eastern Oregon farmers. He said he was optimistic about getting a meaningful water bill that will result in “projects on the ground,” including water storage.

Hansell also said he introduced Senate Bill 121 to help rural areas deal with annexations to abate health hazards, which is what Milton-Freewater is facing due to contaminated drinking water in wells just outside city limits. He said he wants to find a legislative fix for dealing with such problems.

Among other proposals, Hansell has SB 122 to create an income tax credit for classroom expenses of an educator or parent, and SB 126 to allow hunters to use dogs to take cougars. And he said he is working on legislation to allow exceptions to land use laws for smaller counties facing declining populations. Washington state implemented a similar law, he said, and it helped stimulate economic growth. And Hansell is working on a shield law to protect victims who fight back when suffering domestic violence and spousal abuse.

Smith also has some early proposals that will garner attention, but passage could be another matter. House Bill 2040 would ban marijuana dispensaries and sales within a mile of a school, and HB 2041 would allow local governments to set a one-mile no pot zone around schools.

Smith said the bills might not survive, but he wants to protect children and make sure local control remains in place. Already there have been 16 marijuana-related bills and Smith said more are likely on this hot topic.




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