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A day at the Capitol

H&y Ty BeaverN photo b
State Rep. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, asks a question about a piece of legislation during a meeting of the House Committee on Rules last week.

Local representatives have a second home in Salem

By Ty Beaver, Herald and News 6/11/09
It’s 9:30 a.m. and state Sen. Doug Whitsett is squeezing in one more meeting before the Senate convenes for the day.

Mary Botkin, a public employee union representative, is reviewing the state’s community corrections budget with the Klamath Falls Republican lawmaker. They talk until the bell tone warning lawmakers the morning session is starting rings.

Time is a valuable commodity in the Capitol, and state lawmakers take advantage of spare moments to review pending legislation, meet with constituents and delve into the issues that impact their districts.

The Klamath Basin’s representatives in Salem are no different, spending as much as 12 hours a day in the art deco-style building, working to represent and stay connected with their constituents in Southern Oregon.

“The people back home seem very distant after six months,” said state Rep. Bill Garrard. Garrard, 69, is a Republican from Klamath Falls serving his fourth two-year term.

Starting the day

State Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, meets with Mary Botkin of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees before a morning session of the Senate.

Whitsett’s day starts at 6 a.m. The 66-year-old, one of 30 state senators, has served since 2005 and is starting is second four-year term.

George Gilman, a 70-year-old Republican from Medford who represents Lake County and northern Klamath County, arrives at the Capitol about 7 a.m. So does Garrard. The two are among 60 state representatives.

House and Senate floor sessions that morning had packed agendas, typical of early June as the Legislature nears its traditional June 30 adjournment date.

During a session last week, senators considered bills on health care and revising rules for the collection of petition signatures, along with those that would regulate outdoor lighting and the quality of olive oil.

The olive oil bill passed. Whitsett was one of three who voted against it, though Democrat Rick Metsger raised an issue.

State Rep. George Gilman, R-Medford, reviews a bill that will be coming up in one of his committee meetings.  Up to 3,000 different bills will be proposed during the average legislative session.  About 1,000 will pass.

“My concern with the bill is it does nothing to reduce our dependence on oil,” Metsger said. Several on the Senate floor laughed.


As the month wears on, afternoon and evening sessions likely will become common, competing with committee meetings. Most committees are done with work now, with only a few, specifically those dealing with the state’s finances and budget, still meeting regularly. All three of the Basin’s lawmakers sit on the Joint Ways and Means Committee and serve on at least one of the related subcommittees.

How those meetings go often depends on what’s being discussed.

A recent House Committee on Rules meeting, of which Garrard is a more senior member, had several light-hearted moments.

A Ways and Means subcommittee meeting Gilman attended had a different tone. Lawmakers criticized a budget reduction for the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries that cuts 10 percent of its funding and personnel, including closing an office in Medford. Gilman objected to the bill, but it was still approved by the subcommittee.

“I just kind of question whether that’s wise or not,” he said of the Medford office closure.

Making time

The lawmakers also try to make time for constituents during the day, usually through phone calls, e-mails or face-to-face meetings.

State Rep. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls, uses his BlackBerry while in his office in Salem.  Letters needing his signature, state budget documents and other papers cover his desk.

In Whitsett’s office, staff help handle the dozens of phone calls and e-mails the senator receives daily.

Garrard said he’ll adjust his schedule to meet with a constituent, but meetings with lobbyists and others often fall by the wayside if an afternoon House session is scheduled.

Lawmakers finish the day in their offices, reviewing paperwork and tying up loose ends. Many won’t leave until after 7 p.m. Some won’t go home until 8 p.m.


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              Page Updated: Monday June 15, 2009 03:16 AM  Pacific

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