Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

Senator Doug Whitsett
R- Klamath Falls, District 28

Phone: 503-986-1728 900 Court St. NE, S-303, Salem, Oregon 97301
Email: sen.dougwhitsett@state.or.us
Website: http://www.leg.state.or.us/whitsett
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E-Newsletter 7/8/11

Missed opportunities were an everyday occurrence during the 76th Legislative Assembly. Many Senate bills designed to improve Oregonís business environment, and to encourage growth in private sector jobs, were not given the opportunity for a vote.


It was disappointing, and more than a little upsetting, to watch the Democrat Senate leadership daily refuse to address the major causes of our citizensí plight. Oregon is a national leader in home mortgage foreclosures, our annual per capita income trails the national average by more than $3,500, our functional unemployment remains above 20 percent and 750 thousand Oregonians are using food stamps. Yet Senate leadership flatly refused to even hold hearings on bills that were thoughtfully designed to promote growth in private sector jobs.


For instance, Oregonís 180 state agencies have adopted more than 11,000 administrative rules. These rules modify and exert the full force of state laws. The agencies adopt new rules, or edit existing rules, at the rate of more than 9,500 each year. Our businesses, and our private sector jobs, are being systematically regulated out of existence. It is virtually impossible for any business to live within the boundaries that this ever-changing maze of regulatory intrusions visits on our lives.


SB 812 would have placed a two year moratorium on all non-essential rule making, and SJR 32 would have referred a measure to the people that would create legislative oversight on rule making. Both bills were introduced in the Senate to eliminate obstacles that prevent job creation and both bills died in committee.


As a poignant example, last month the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality adopted new water quality standards. Businesses, farmers and ranchers have virtually no chance of being able to comply with these stringent new requirements that were adopted by administrative rule without either a vote of the people or of the Legislature. The new standards are ten times stricter than anywhere else on the planet.


Rural legislators worked with Governor Kitzhaberís office, state agencies, representatives of agriculture and Department of Justice attorneys to negotiate and carefully draft a bill designed to help our farmers and ranchers comply with the terms of the new rules. HB 3613 passed the House with good bipartisan support. Unfortunately, at the request of environmental preservationists, amendments were adopted in the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources that completely destroyed the purpose of the bill.


Those of us who are strong advocates for our agricultural industries worked until the last day of the session to move the bill in its original form to the Senate floor for a vote. We knew that the bill had broad bipartisan support in the Senate and that Governor Kitzhaber had said that he would sign the bill. Committee Chair Dingfelder and Senate President Courtney effectively blocked all efforts, and HB 3613 died in committee.


Oregonís one-of-a-kind land use laws are a major impediment to businesses looking to locate in Oregon. SB 476 would have empowered local communities to suspend the bureaucratic red tape and costly paper work required to navigate the draconian land use process for any prospective employer that offered to create ten or more family wage jobs. This bill died in committee without a hearing when the Senate leadership, once again, bowed to the advocates of strict government control of the use of private land.


Oregonís timber based industries have been decimated by both federal and state harvest restrictions. Three fourths of our timber mills are closed down, and more than 30,000 family wages jobs are destroyed. SB 460 and SB 464 would have ended the current artificially low timber harvests on state owned forests, and required diseased areas of state forests to be harvested. These two bills would have created more than 4,300 jobs, as well as $100 million in state and local government revenue. Both bills died in committee without hearings when Senate leadership bowed to the will of environmental preservationists.


The cost of health care insurance premiums has been increasing at about four times the rate of increase in the consumer price index and more than three times faster than our growth in per capita income. One of the primary cost drivers for medical insurance is Oregonís failure to enact a limit on non-economic damages in medical liability lawsuits. Physicians must practice defensive medicine both to avoid lawsuits and to maintain their medical liability insurance. The annual national cost of that defensive medicine exceeds $650 billion.


SJR 19 would have asked the people of Oregon to establish fair limits on non-economic damages awarded in civil medical liability suits. The bill would not have limited any award for actual economic damages that result from a medical mistake or omission. Senate leadership, once again, bowed to the pressure from plaintiff attorneys and denied the bill a hearing.


Oregonís Public Employment Retirement System (PERS) was designed for both the employer and the employee to contribute 6 percent of the employee salary to the PERS trust fund. Over the years public employee union contract bargaining has resulted in public employers paying both the employer and the employee contributions for as many as 70 percent of public employees. The Fund receives about 30 percent of its income from those employer and employee contributions, and about 70 percent from investment earnings from the PERS Trust Fund.


PERS incurred investment losses of about 30 percent totaling $18 billion during the 2007-2008 economic crash. The Systemís unfunded liabilities remain at more than $13.5 billion resulting in the requirement for $1.1 billion in higher employer contributions for the 2011-13 budget periods. The total Oregon taxpayer contribution will be $2 billion. Actuaries project that nearly a billion dollars additional will be required for the 2013-15 budget periods. The total Oregon taxpayer contribution will approach $3 billion. Moreover, that level of taxpayer contribution will likely be required in each two year budget period, for at least a decade. Every additional dollar spent to fund PERS is a dollar that cannot be used to fund education, human services and public safety.


SB 897 would have changed the law to eliminate the 6% contribution employees are required to make to their retirement accounts. Eliminating the 6 percent ďpick-upĒ would have saved at least $750 million during the 2011-13 budget periods alone. It would have reduced the long term PERS liability by several billion dollars. The bill was heavily opposed by the public employee unions and the Senate leadership did not allow the bill the courtesy of a hearing.


These are only a few of the bills that were virtually ignored by Senate majority leadership. Many will be introduced again during next Februaryís legislative session. We can only hope that the Democrat controlled Senate leadership will study the issues and become more in tune with the needs of Oregonians.


Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural OregonÖ no one will.


Best Regards,



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              Page Updated: Saturday July 09, 2011 02:58 AM  Pacific

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