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March 14, 2005 73rd Session, Issue 2
from Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett
Back to business was the theme in Salem this week. As I told you in my last newsletter, the budget process came to a stand-still when the leadership of both parties became convinced that the other side was veering off of the agreed-upon path. By Friday, heads had cooled and the Legislative leadership had come to an agreement about the size of the biennial budget. The $12.393 billion budget was more than Republicans would have liked and less than the Democrats wanted to spend, but it allowed legislators to get back to the process of funding your government.
One of the most important events this week happened across the street at the Supreme Court with the decision in the PERS case. The court upheld many of the important PERS reforms passed by the 2003 legislature but struck down two aspects of the reforms that violated the Constitutional protection against impairment of contracts. The decision resolved one of the potential “unknowns” regarding the state budget, ensured that most of the PERS reforms will continue, and dealt fairly with Oregon’s public employees. In all, I think the Court’s resolution of this issue was fair to all Oregonians.
Another important development was the story that didn’t happen. On Thursday the Senate was scheduled to debate and vote on the Governor’s nomination of Les AuCoin to the State Board of Forestry. At the last minute the Senate President held the vote over to Monday. Then late Friday afternoon, while I was meeting with constituents in Klamath Falls, I received a call informing me that Mr. AuCoin had withdrawn his name from consideration.
I think all Oregonians are well-served by this move. The Board of Forestry is intended to be an impartial and deliberative body operating in the public interest and is not the place for politicians with little scientific or industry expertise. The member that Mr. AuCoin would have replaced, Chris Heffernan, is an industry expert with years of experience in the forest industry. Furthermore the current board has shown a great ability to work together and reach a consensus on these potentially polarizing issues.
Some have argued that that current Board of Forestry is biased in favor of the timber industry. To anyone who espouses such a view, I ask them to show me the evidence of this bias in Oregon’s public policy. For years now Oregon’s timber industry has been marginalized by policies that fail to understand the rich contribution that natural resources make to Oregon’s economy. I believe that Chris Heffernan understands that heritage and I hope that he will be re-appointed.
As always I encourage you to keep in touch about any issue, if we don’t stand up for rural Oregon, no one else will!
Ways and Means Education Sub-Committee—Our ongoing review of state budgets continued this week as we heard from representatives of the State Department of Higher Education. Our concentration on higher education continues on Monday when the committee will welcome OIT President, Martha Ann Dow. President Dow’s work at OIT should stand as a model for the entire Oregon University System. Nearly 95 percent of OIT graduates are employed in their field of study or have moved on to graduate school within six months of graduation. That is a track record of success that deserves close attention and duplication.
Judiciary—By far the most controversial bill in front of the committee this week was Senate Bill 544, which would prohibit smoking in places of employment. The practical effect of this bill would be to prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants or taverns. Please know that I fully understand the potential effects that second-hand smoke can have on non-smokers. My wife, Gail, is allergic to smoke and can sniff out a lit cigarette from 100 yards away. At the same time, I am inclined to leave such matters up to the operator of the business and to the free market. If a tavern owner believes that his business will improve or that he will be able to hire better employees by prohibiting smoking, then he will do so. Smoking is still legal, and with the number of places available that now cater to non-smokers, I am loathe to make it illegal to cater to smokers if that is the choice of a business person.
Transportation—One of the key roles of the legislature is to ensure that government agencies use your tax dollars in the most efficient manner possible. To that end, I would like to resurrect the Transportation Efficiency Committee. Under former Director Grace Curnican, the Transportation Efficiency Committee functioned very well to ensure accountability in Transportation spending.
Commerce— The Commerce Committee went on the road this week with a meeting in Cottage Grove on Thursday. The bills on the agenda dealt mainly with the growing problem of meth and identity theft. Governor Kulongoski attended the meeting, spoke and answered questions about some of the bills that he has proposed. It was obvious from the active participation of the citizens present at the meeting that Oregonians are serious about getting this plague out of their communities.
On The Record –Key bills Sponsored by Senator Whitsett
House Bill 2458
This important bill is moving to the House floor this week and is likely to pass and come over to the Senate. The bill provides greater freedom for the rural areas removed from the Willamette Valley concerning economic development. The premise of the bill is that rural communities removed from the urban centers of the state ought to be able to pursue economic development opportunities and encourage growth in a manner that fits their unique situation. It’s about not tying the hands of communities with land use policies that have little or nothing to do with the way that rural people live their lives. Representative Garrard joins my in sponsoring this bill.
Senate Bill 527
I received the great news this week that Senate Bill 527 has been scheduled for a public hearing on Monday March 28th. Just to remind you, this is a bill that Representative Garrard and I are working on with Democratic Senator Bill Morrisette. The bill will correct the current imbalance in power between the local and state authorities regarding energy facility siting. While the bill won’t have an impact on already approved projects such as the C.O.B. plant, it will ensure that in the future, local authorities are consulted and allowed to have their say regarding new energy facilities in their area.
For Information on all the bills that Senator Whitsett is Sponsoring, visit his legislative Web site at:
Events and Travels
Senator Whitsett spent Saturday in Lakeview celebrating Irish Days. He rode in the parade and enjoyed the BBQ with the many other citizens of Lakeview who were all “Irish for the Day.”
On Sunday he attended the Change of Command Ceremony for the 173rd Fighter Wing at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls. Brigadier General James Cunningham was present to preside over the ceremony that saw Colonel John Adkisson hand command over to Colonel Tom Schiess.
Look For Senator Whitsett
Senator Whitsett will be traveling with the Judiciary Committee to Pendleton on March 17th
Senator Whitsett will address the Oregon Hunters Association on Saturday March 19th regarding ODF’s adoption of the State Wolf Plan
Please Contact or Visit us in Salem
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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