Squandered opportunities of the Short Session

Sal Esquivell_thb

by Rep. Sal Esquivel

Voters approved short February sessions during the November 2010 general election. The sessions were sold to the public as an opportunity for legislators to make technical and budgetary adjustments to bills passed during the longer regular sessions.

However, the reality of what the short sessions have become is quite different than what was originally promised. Instead of making necessary adjustments or promoting good policy, the current short session has mostly served to provide politicians with material to be used in campaign ads for the 2014 election.

As part of my legislative duties, I have been assigned to the Veterans Services and Emergency Preparedness Committee. Veterans’ issues are important to me, as I joined the U.S. Navy and served in the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1970.

Opportunities were provided to make life better for veterans and farmers, but were ultimately squandered.

Opportunity to help veterans squandered

One of the bills we considered in that committee was House Bill 4023. It would direct the Oregon State Lottery Commission to establish a scratch-it lottery game, with the proceeds going to benefit veterans’ education and economic development programs.

This bill was a carryover from the 2013 regular session, where partisan politics prevented it from being advanced. The same scenario played itself out again this time around, as the chair of the committee was instructed by members of the House leadership team to keep it from passing.

I was told that the reason this bill was held up was that it would create too much of a cost burden for the lottery. Basic math proves this premise wrong, though. Estimates were that HB 4023 would have allocated around $1.1 million to veterans’ services. That’s out of a total budget of $1.1 billion, meaning that it would have been a fraction of one percent.

A soldier stands at his post and asks for nothing in return. If it weren’t for someone being at that post, we would not have what remains of our freedom. Our veterans wrote the ultimate check to their fellow citizens.

Unfortunately, nothing is exactly what the “leadership” at the capitol gave them. HB 4023 was subjected to a “gut and stuff,” in which it was basically replaced with another bill and sent to the Senate to avoid scrutiny in the Ways and Means Committee. Why would the governor and House Speaker Tina Kotek allow this to happen?

Opportunity to help farmers squandered

The short session also gave us the chance to do right by the Klamath Basin farmers whose livelihoods are being threatened by ongoing drought conditions. Their access to water had already been cut off by the federal government, so they drilled wells to continue making a living, with the permitting process being overseen by the state.

This issue came up in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, of which I am a member. Rep. Gail Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls) introduced HB 4064 to address and solve this problem. Under HB 4064, the Water resource Department would have to prove that wells adversely affected the river’s flow. But this bill died in committee, along with any chance to provide relief to the people who grow food for the rest of us.

I’m sure that once the session adjourns and the final gavel falls, any number of legislators will do victory laps and make proud proclamations about all that they did for working families throughout Oregon. But the truth is, there was a whole lot of good that could have been done that wasn’t, and that is nothing short of a shame.

Rep. Sal Esquivel (R) has represented the Medford area in the Legislature since 2003. Prior to that, he served for over seven years on the Medford City Council.