The session ended at 12:36 p.m., yesterday, June 28, 2007. As a member of the minority party’s leadership team, I feel mixed emotions over the successes and failures of the six months spent in the 74th session of the Oregon Legislative Assembly.
I am a House Republicans, and our caucus tried to focus our efforts on the principles of Building Oregon from the Community Up. These efforts included specifically focusing on promoting successful Oregon students, funding effective, efficient and economical government, ensuring safe and healthy Oregon families and implementing a wise fiscal plan that would promote a robust economy.
With a forecasted increase of $2.5 billion in state revenue for the next two years, House Republicans were unwilling to agree to a number of substantial tax increases. Our position was that with such a huge increase in available revenue, any tax increases would have to be specifically justified. That did not happen. As a result, we protected millions of working Oregonians from having to send more of their hard-earned money to Salem. We called for a sustainable budget, and joined the Democrats in creating a Rainy Day Fund to set aside money for future emergencies. Although the Rainy Day Fund could have been more, it was an historic step in the right direction.
We fought hard to gain the funding for the 139 additional state troopers needed to proved 24/7 patrol coverage for Oregon’s highways. Funding was finally approved for 100 new troopers. Although we failed to gain the full 139, Oregon highways will be safer once the additional 100 patrol officers have been hired, training and assigned duties on Oregon’s roadways. Next session we will continue the work to obtain dedicated funding for the OSP and the additional troopers to provide 24/7 coverage.
As I described in a previous newsletter the proposed “Measure 37 fix,” is a rewrite being sent to the voters in a special election in November 2007. As you will see from my newsletter linked above, I oppose the Measure 37 rewrite for several reasons, and I was truly disappointed at the absolute exclusion of bipartisan input in the final version of House Bill 3540. To add insult to injury, the proponents of the Measure 37 rewrite were unwilling to allow a fair and equitable ballot title and explanation. They merely wrote their own and stuck them into House Bill 2640. Usually the Secretary of State and the Attorney Generals’ offices are involved in proposing ballot titles and explanations, and their decisions are subject to judicial review. Not this time. I believe the blatant partisanship inherent in HB 2640’s circumventing of the normal process for providing a fair ballot title and explanation, highlights the “stacked deck” mentality that generates and justifies the public’s distrust of our state government. Regardless of which party is in power, when politics rule, public policy suffers.
We worked hard and defeated the effort to allow counties to impose a vehicle registration fee without a vote of the people (HB 2691). Even though many counties desire additional local taxation powers, the majority of legislators felt the current requirement for the people to approve the taxes placed upon them at the county level should still apply.
On the 81st day of the session we (unsuccessfully) sought to bring to the House Floor and vote on a bill that would require the Legislature to have its education budget completed by that day of each legislative session. In addition, the vast majority of legislators joined in supporting the $6.245 billion K-12 funding allotment proposed in the Co-Chair’s budget. Ultimately, the $6.245 billion was passed. It represents a 17% increase in K-12 funding over the current 2005-07 budget. Also regarding the topic of education, we were finally successful in abolishing the wasteful and unnecessary CIM/CAM program (HB 2263).
A major failure in the 74th session was the complete lack of Immigration reform. We introduced a number of immigration reforms to strengthen Oregon’s laws on illegal immigration. Unfortunately, none were allowed to pass through the system and become law. Oregon still needs to implement proof of citizenship before someone is allowed to vote or obtain a driver’s license. A modification of the Real ID Act is needed; one that will protect Oregonians from the inevitable catastrophes of the fatally flawed federal Real ID Act. To see what I mean, please refer to the June 8th newsletter.
We also introduced legislation to require proof of legal presence for state benefits, and to allow state agency employees to report those who cannot provide valid proof of legal presence to federal immigration authorities. We also sought to prohibit state agencies and businesses having state contracts from hiring illegal immigrants (HB 3554)
While I am on the subject of Illegal Immigration, to protect public safety, we unsuccessfully attempted to pass HB 3553 which would have allowed law enforcement to investigate and detain violators of federal immigration laws and would have empowered Oregon district attorneys to transfer illegal immigrants convicted of crimes to federal immigration authorities. The failure to deal with Illegal Immigration at both the state and the federal levels is, in my opinion, a dereliction of duty by our elected officials.
Regarding other issues of statewide significance, we successfully passed legislation that, hopefully, will make Oregon a leader in the production of alternative energies (HB 2210). This will boost agriculture and economic development in rural Oregon.
Relating to health and human services, we voted to make prescription drugs more affordable by supporting legislation to expand access to the Oregon Prescription Drug Program (SB 362). We supported improving Oregon’s welfare-to-work program and increasing funding for community mental health care, and, although unsuccessful, we fought the General Fund cuts to vital seniors programs such as Oregon Project Independence. OPI did receive funding, but the money will come from unsustainable sources. As a result, OPI may have a difficult time obtaining a renewal of General Funds support when the 2009-11 budget planning begins.
At the very end of the session, issues of Ethics and Government Accountability were confronted. I supported both SB 10 and HB 2595. These bills attempt to reform Oregon laws regarding gifts to legislators and other public officials from those having business or contracts with the government. More frequent reporting will be required, and penalties have been increased for ethics violations.
That concludes this, my 25th weekly report on the 74th session of the Oregon Legislative Assembly. I have done my best to research and write weekly Legislative Updates that are both informative and accurate. I hope you have enjoyed reading them. They can be accessed at www.DennisRichardson.org. During the interim period from now to the beginning of the 2009 legislative session, I will spend most of my time in my Central Point office working as both an attorney and legislator. I will refocus my legislative attention on Oregon’s fiscal affairs and continue my research and legislator’s “spot-audits,” in my efforts to ensure your tax dollars are being spent appropriately. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you and all Oregonians. It is an honor to labor in your behalf.