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March 4, 2005 73rd Session, Issue 1
Letter from Senator Whitsett
With nearly two months under the belt, I suppose it is past time that I sent out the first issue of my newsletter. So far, my work as a Senator has been an exciting, educational and demanding experience. Between serving on four committees, following thousands of bills, visiting with constituents and trying not to look like the “only true freshman Senator,” I have remained busy.
At the same time, you shouldn’t worry about losing me to Salem. I have put many miles on my old pick-up, traveling to town-hall meetings, visiting OIT and KCC with the Governor, and meeting with local leaders. I was pleased to meet so many of you at town hall meetings in Prineville and Eagle Point and I plan to schedule meetings in Lakeview and Klamath Falls soon. In the meantime, please contact my office if there is any matter that I can help you with. It has always been my strong belief that if we don’t stand up for rural Oregon, no one else will.
In this first letter, I wanted to highlight an issue that certainly makes no distinction between urban and rural Oregon, the meth epidemic. Last Friday, I attended Congressman Greg Walden’s Meth Seminar. The spirited debate with citizens and local leaders confirmed for me that the problem is severe, but also that there is hope for a solution if we act decisively.
Early this session, I signed on to co-sponsor several bills that would decisively attack Oregon’s meth problem. Unfortunately due to partisan gamesmanship, the bills are unlikely to even be heard in committee. I hope you will contact Senator Ginny Burdick and urge her to schedule these bills so that Oregonians can have the weapons they need to take back their communities.
Until next time, please keep in touch,
Tell Senator Burdick these Bills Deserve a Hearing:
Senate Bill 375—Provides Mandatory Minimums for Meth Distributors and Producers
Senate Bill 376—Increases Penalty for Distribution and Possession of Precursor Chemicals
Senate Bill 377—Increases the Sentence Guidelines for Meth Distribution and Production
Senate Bill 378—Prohibits sale of Precursor Chemicals to Persons Under 18
Senate Bill 379—Directs Grants to Counties for Prosecuting Meth Crimes
Contact Senator Burdick at: Phone: 503-986-1718
Address: 900 Court St. NE., S-317, Salem, OR, 97301
Ways and Means Education Sub-Committee—On the budgetary front, last week started poorly and ended on a positive note. I was frustrated when both sides stepped away from the table, leading to three days of cancelled committee meetings. Both sides failed to work together, which kept all of us from doing the people’s business. I suppose if I weren’t so new to the legislature a three-day work stoppage for political posturing would not be so frustrating. The cancelled meetings also caused considerable inconvenience to constituents who had been called to testify. On a more positive note, the capitol leadership came to an agreement on the size of the final budget by the end of the week. While there is certainly a great deal left to debate, this agreement is historic considering how early in the session it comes.
Judiciary—The assault on the rights of responsible gun owners continues. Several contentious gun bills have been referred to the judiciary committee. By far, the most egregious example of exploiting the gun issue for political ends comes in the form of Senate Bill 335. This bill gives local school boards the authority to prohibit licensed carriers from possessing their licensed firearms on school property. This bill purports to protect children, but in fact is a blatant attempt to subvert Oregon’s Firearm Preemption Law. The Preemption law gives the Legislative assembly the sole authority to regulate firearms. This bill is an attempt to divert this power away from the legislature, resulting only in a minor political victory for Democrats, but huge confusion in Oregon’s gun laws. The bill would not be so egregious if any actual problem had prompted it, but even the Oregonian calls this bill a “solution in search of a problem.” Rest assured that protecting responsible gun ownership is one of my top concerns.
Other important gun bills include:
Senate Bill 927—Essentially a state assault weapons ban.
Senate Bill 942—Criminalizes storing a gun where a person under 16 can gain access to it
Senate Bill 956—Virtually the same as SB 335 but broadens the scope of buildings
Senate Bill 957—Eliminates the state preemption law and allows locals to govern firearms
Senate Bill 960—Keeps persons convicted of domestic violence from getting a license.
Transportation— Some of the bills currently moving through the Transportation Committee hold great promise for funding of transportation projects in rural areas. The Connect Oregon bill (SB 71) is a major transportation bill that is receiving a great deal of attention. We are attempting to focus transportation projects on freight interconnections, while also developing a fair geographical distribution of the available funding so that rural areas have the opportunity to participate. In addition, I am co-sponsoring a bill with Senator Bruce Starr and others that will create very low interest loans so that the money operates more like an endowment. This plan would allow the money to be used repeatedly, and would give the rural, less affluent areas that are fiscally unable to develop matching grant money a chance to participate in bonding through low, or no interest loans.
Commerce—I feel like much of the most important work I have to do in the Commerce Committee is in opposing bad legislation. Recently the committee heard three bills that would have vastly increased the power of certain public employees to organize, throwing the balance of power in collective bargaining decidedly to the public employees. After a contentious committee hearing on Senate Bills 319, 320, and 321, the Chair created a work group with the mission of coming to a consensus on these bills. While I am hopeful that the stakeholders can negotiate amongst themselves an agreeable solution, I fear that the unions are intent on enlarging their power. In addition, one of the most consistently “maddening” requests we receive in the Commerce Committee is to give statutory authority for agency actions that are current practice. I find this entire process backward and wrong.
On The Record –Key bills Sponsored by Senator Whitsett
Senate Bill 527
This important bill pairs me with some strange bedfellows and some friends. I have joined a Democrat, Senator Morrisette and a good friend, Representative Garrard to limit the power of the Oregon Department of Energy to engage in “super-siting” of energy facilities. Current law allows any developer who wants to build an energy facility to go to either the local authorities or to the State Department of Energy. Since this law came into effect all petitions for new energy facilities have gone to the State DOE, completely bypassing any local input. In that same time, the DOE has not denied one single petition.
Senate Bill 527 corrects this obvious imbalance in power between local and state authorities. It also requires a determination of need for the facility so that Oregon does not continue to become the pollution dump for energy that is then shipped off to California and other states. Unfortunately this bill will have no effect on projects that have already been approved, but it will prevent a state agency from running roughshod over local communities.
House Bill 2754
Representative Garrard and I again paired up to bring some recognition to the great work done by Oregon Institute of Technology. House Bill 2754 identifies Oregon Institute of Technology as the state leader, organizer and primary provider of medical technology secondary education in Oregon. This bill makes OIT the hub of Oregon’s medical education efforts and the primary provider of baccalaureate degrees in all phases of medical technology.
For Information on all the bills that Senator Whitsett is Sponsoring, visit his legislative Web site at:
Senator Whitsett will be in Lakeview on Saturday March 12 to participate in the Irish Days Festivities.
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