Sen. Doug Whitsett: The Last Hurrah

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by Sen. Doug Whitsett

The latest round of legislative committee days was just completed at the state capitol in Salem. It also happened to be my final set of official meetings in office, as I am set to retire at the end of my current term in early January.

On Monday, December 12, the Senate Interim Committee on Environment and Natural Resources convened for a series of informational hearings. We heard two presentations from representatives of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), including a Woodstove Workgroup Report and Water Quality Permitting Program Review.

The senior policy coordinator for the Oregon Water Resources Department presented us with a report on the Task Force on Drought Emergency Response. The associate director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute provided an Oregon Climate Assessment Report, the chairman of the Global Warming Commission gave a preview of that body’s 2016-17 Biennial Report and a representative of the Oregon Farm Bureau spoke about the Importance of Agriculture to Oregon’s Economy.

Legislative concepts (LCs) that will be introduced by the committee for the upcoming 2017 session were also discussed.

LC 1845 modifies trap check requirements and requires the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission (OFWC) to adopt rules for a wildlife control operator permit program for trappers. If this concept is passed into law, it would require trappers to meet certain requirements and require the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to compile a statewide annual trapping report and make it available to the public.

According to written testimony from Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem), the concept was brought forth by the Humane Society of the United States. Courtney wrote that it “seeks to continue to allow trapping but to make it a more humane practice.” However, in responses to questions, he conceded the bill would likely result in significant reductions in trapping opportunities.

LC 1845 would require that animal traps be checked every 24 hours to protect unintended victims and “reduce animal suffering,” but it does make exceptions for mice, rats, gophers, mountain beavers and moles. It calls for mandatory reporting of all animals trapped and signage when traps are placed on public lands for the sake of protecting humans and their pets who are recreating in the area.

LC 2216 would establish the Oregon Independent Scientific Review Board and a create a secretariat as its administrative section within the Institute for Natural Resources at Oregon State University (OSU). It would also establish an Independent Scientific Review Fund and appropriates money in the fund to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to distribute to OSU to fund the Board and secretariat.

LC 2363 would establish product stewardship for household hazardous waste. Unless it is amended, I think this concept would be nothing short of disastrous if it is ever passed into law.

It would require manufacturers of household products with hazardous substances to develop, finance and implement a statewide system to collect and manage the waste. They would have to track and document those products from collection to final inspection, both within and beyond Oregon. They would also have to conduct performance audits and inspections, maintain environmental liability insurance and provide consumers with information, at the time of the product’s sale, about the waste collection.

Those companies would have to register with DEQ a list of their brands, pay an administrative fee to the agency and provide a plan to it describing how they intend to finance, manage and conduct the program. They would also have to provide public education on reducing the use of such products and advertise and promote collection events, as well as establish permanent physical collection sites in every county and holding collection events every year.

To view footage of the Senate Interim Committee on Environment and Natural Resources meeting, click here.

The Joint Interim Committee on Department of Energy Oversight met on Tuesday, December 13.

This committee was formed in response to various troubles at the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) involving the controversial Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) program, as well as the high default rate in its Small Energy Loan Program (SELP) and significant controversy regarding alleged bias in the Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC).  It presented a tremendous opportunity to examine the agency and the ways in which it could better serve its stakeholders and everyone else in the state.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that majority Democrats will be taking action to recommend significant changes within the department. I feel that the chance to truly reform the troubled agency may have been squandered.

The committee met regularly for most of the past year. It spent way too much time listening to long agency presentations rather than proactively working to find bipartisan solutions to improve the agency’s performance.

The co-chairs of the committee developed their preliminary report of recommendations. They issued a second draft following our next-to-last committee meeting that addressed some of the concerns expressed by other members of the committee. However, the second draft fell short of addressing all of our concerns.

Sen. Alan Olsen (R-Canby) and I worked together with other Republican members of the committee and industry representatives to compile a set of alternative recommendations for the oversight committee to consider. Our alternative recommendations were much more specific than the co-chairs’ plan.

It called for different membership on the to-be-formed Energy Board that better represents those involved in energy production and distribution. Rather that creating new positions at ODOE, it transferred positions within the agency to better align positions with new projected workloads.

We suggested specific changes within EFSC to address perceived bias in energy facility siting. We recommended third-party audits of the BETC and SELP programs, as well as a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of how BETC capital gains were taxed. We proposed the energy supplier assessment be changed to a fixed rate tax and applied equally to all energy providers. And we advised the residential energy tax credit should be discontinued, along with all other tax credits supervised by ODOE.

Finally, we urged letters be sent to the DOJ recommending investigations regarding any unethical or other wrongdoing by ODOE employees regarding the BETC and SELP programs.

To view footage of the meeting, click here.

The Joint Emergency Board met on the morning of Wednesday, December 14. That body is similar to the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. It considers federal grant funding requests, accepts reports required by the legislative assembly and responds to funding requests from state agencies made during the interim period between legislative sessions.

The E-Board considered 37 requests from 20 different state agencies. The work included accepting rebalances of the combined nearly $30 billion budgets for the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Human Services. The Board also took action on the Department of Education request for funding for lead testing in schools,  the Oregon Department of Forestry for fire season  cost reimbursement, funding for  Umpqua Community College in Roseburg for expenses related to the shooting that took place on its campus last year and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission for the Portland Community College Nursing Program Teach-Out.

The latter was appropriated to help about 300 former students of the ITT Technical Institute in Portland, who were unable to complete their educations after the Obama administration took action that caused the college shut its doors. My office has received numerous e-mails from former ITT students and their families asking for assistance in this area.

At least 40 of the affected student were in the chamber to hear the results of the E-Board deliberations. I’m pleased to report the Legislature rose to the occasion and was able to provide the critical funding.

To view footage of the meeting, click here.

A Senate floor session was held immediately after the E-Board adjourned for the Senate confirmation of the Governor’s appointments to various boards, commissions and agencies. The confirmation process was marred by disagreement regarding appointments to the OFWC and the Board of Forestry. At the heart of the controversy was the Governor’s refusal to appoint balanced memberships, including landowners, to the OFWC and foresters to the Board of Forestry.

That debate and vote was followed by a special ceremony for five outgoing Senators. As you may know, I am among those who did not seek reelection.

To view my farewell speech on the Senate floor, click here. My remarks begin at 1:46:50.

It’s been an honor serving the citizens of Senate District 28 for the last 12 years. Throughout my legislative career, I always made every effort to stay true to the conservative values I was sent to Salem to represent.

I will look back fondly on all the connections and friendships that I and Rep. Gail Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls) have been able to make both inside and outside of the capitol. Thank you for allowing me to stand up for rural Oregon for all these years.

Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls

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