Oregon Legislature examines new bills addressing pertinent issues
The Oregon Legislature is back in session, bringing with it a barrage of new bills that address everything from the rise of methamphetamine use in Oregon to the need for improved transportation systems throughout the state.
Comprised of the State House of Representatives and the State Senate, the legislature convened on Jan. 10 for the 73rd time and has been bustling with activity since.
Oregon’s methamphetamine problem has risen to a new high and is spreading across the country, pushing legislation to fix it to the forefront of the state’s agenda, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said.
Prozanski, who served on Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s Methamphetamine Task Force, said bills to combat the illegal possession and distribution of the prescription drugs used to make meth are expected to receive bipartisan support.
Senate Bill 313, introduced by the Senate Interim Committee on General Government, aims at curbing the distribution of prescription drugs used to manufacture meth, and Senate Bill 183 allows immunity from prosecution for persons reporting the illegal possession or trafficking of those drugs.
Lawmakers are looking to create a system that would allow drug distributors to notify other distributors about individuals who have purchased the maximum amount of drugs used in the manufacturing of meth in order to cut meth production at its roots, Prozanski said.
“If we have that type of tracking, we’ll have some way of notifying that those individuals are suspect,” Prozanski said.
Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, said stopping local meth manufacturers is a crucial step for lawmakers to take but the federal government must do more to stop meth manufacturers worldwide.
“This obviously is not a state issue,” Barnhart said. “This is a national issue and an
Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, said there is expected to be a collective voice from states across the country calling for federal legislation because of how rapidly the drug is spreading.
“The people on the East Coast have finally gotten word that this is a big deal,” Walker said. “Now they’re experiencing on the East Coast what we’ve been seeing for a decade.”
Transportation issues in Oregon are also a hot discussion topic in the legislature, and many lawmakers have emphasized the state’s need for an improved “multi-mobile system,” Walker said.
Senate Bill 71, which allows lottery bonds to be used for transportation projects, is the major transportation legislation being examined this year and is the key to the Governor’s Connect Oregon program, Prozanski said.
Connect Oregon aims to make transportation systems in Oregon “streamlined and interconnected and supported on a statewide basis,” Prozanski said.
Rep. Bob Ackerman, D-Eugene, said the transportation bill is designed to improve the state’s economic development by making trade and commerce more efficient.
“It probably will be our biggest economic
development package we get out this season,” Ackerman said about Connect Oregon.
Prozanski said interconnection within the state is crucial for economic improvement and called the bill “the next phase in our holistic approach to providing transportation for Oregon.”
Legislation regarding state forests and the amount of protection roadless areas deserve is also expected to be a major issue, and lawmakers have differing opinions as to how much
the government should be involved in
policies that pertain to scientific issues such as forest management.
“There’s probably going to be bills on both sides of the issue,” Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, said.
Republicans in the House of Representatives have said they will reintroduce a bill that would double the amount of logging in the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests.
Holvey said it is important for the state to take a strong stance on what to do in Oregon forests because of the balance that must be created between the need for forest conservation and the need for increased logging and the jobs it brings.
“There’s a balance there that we do need to recognize and I don’t think we’re going to get that direction from our federal government,” Holvey said.
Barnhart said the Oregon Board of Forestry should handle the controversy surrounding Oregon’s forests.
It is crucial to reach a balance between logging and conservation, Barnhart said, but allowing political motives to govern what happens in the forests is a mistake and has devastated state forests in the past.
“We have a failure in politics on that issue,” Barnhart said. “We need to get a scientifically managed plan for our forests.”
There is need for logging in some roadless areas because of an overabundance of trees but it is necessary to control the logging to prevent over-
cutting, Barnhart said.
“That way we can preserve beautiful Oregon and we can also get some money out of it, too,” he said.
Prozanski agreed that the Oregon Board of Forestry should regulate state forests.
“We should try to allow these state agencies, boards and commissions to do the work that they are in place to do,” Prozanski said.
Also on the legislative agenda is an examination of Measure 37, which has been the subject of much conversation at the city level, lawmakers say, because of how complicated and ambiguous the measure is.
The measure, which went into effect Dec. 2, requires the government to compensate property owners for any property value reductions they may face because of a zone change or land development.
“There’s no doubt that there’s some ambiguity that needs to be reviewed and addressed,” Prozanski said. “Cities, counties and other governmental entities need to have that uniformity on how they’re going to define, interpret and implement Measure 37.”
Lawmakers will also be grappling with bills concerning civil unions and the discrimination of people in work and housing situations based on sexual orientation.
Prozanski said he is in support of civil unions and doesn’t feel the
ban on same-sex marriage includes civil unions.
“It’s hard for me to understand how we can discriminate against fellow Oregonians based on their sexual orientation or sexual preference,” Prozanski said.
Prozanski also discussed the importance of improving the health care system in Oregon by doing as much as possible on the state level to mitigate problems.
“We need to level the playing field,” Prozanski said.
A recent survey by the Oregon Progress Board reported that one in six Oregonians don’t have health insurance. The number of people covered by the Oregon Health Plan has been decreasing and both Barnhart and Prozanski identified the state health care crisis as an important issue that must be addressed.
Ackerman also stressed the need to tackle the health care crisis but emphasized that many issues cannot get the attention they deserve this legislative season because of state budget problems.
“You can drop a bill and ask for a lot of stuff but unless you identify a revenue source, you might not even get a hearing this session,” Ackerman said.
Lawmakers agreed there is a need for a bipartisan effort to accomplish all their goals.
“We’re trying to work together to bring our best ideas forward,” Holvey said.