Thursday morning, I rose in the House and presented a procedural motion to end the word-for-word reading of bills before voting. The motion passed unanimously. The Senate soon adopted a similar motion. And suddenly the pace picked up and your legislature was on track to conclude the 2022 Session.
We adjourned formally around mid-day Friday – three days ahead of the Constitutional deadline.
The 32 days of legislative work resulted in big spending, significant policy changes, and I’m pleased to say, little political rancor. There were certainly honest disagreements. But unlike two years ago when the last short session collapsed in a walk-out and nothing was accomplished, this year there were negotiations, compromise, cooperation, and respectful discourse.
The bills passed will result in overtime pay for the workers who pick crops, roofs over the heads for Oregonians now living on the streets, shoring up earthquake-vulnerable fuel tanks along the Willamette River, a major agreement on forest practices that preserves jobs and promotes cleaner water and air, and job training programs to get more people working in health care, construction and manufacturing.
You have heard me argue that spending, particularly local spending on aging infrastructure, will allow transformational changes in our rural communities. Rather than offer my own perspective again, I’m going to turn instead to an article published in the Newport News-Times on Friday which well captures the breadth of local investments this session.
Among local capital construction allocations in the budget reconciliation bill soon up for a vote by the Oregon Legislature is $6.5 million for a housing project, with access to the general public, at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.
Five more Lincoln County projects are included in HB 5202, which modifies the biennial budget to account for billions in excess revenue, among other changes. Four of those projects are funded through a $100 million package aimed at rural infrastructure.
Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that the $100 million was proposed by House Speaker Rep. Dan Rayfield and intended as a means to bring Republicans to the table after several sessions of tense relations between them and the Democratic majority. Republican legislators have undertaken multiple walkouts to deny a quorum and demanded that the full text of each bill be read aloud, a typically waived constitutional provision.
The speaker tapped four representatives from rural areas — three Republicans and Rep. David Gomberg, a Democrat whose district includes most of Lincoln County and who has earned the repeated endorsement of the Independent Party.
Rep. Gomberg with House Speaker Dan Rayfield
“These will be transformational investments to improve rural communities for generations and create hundreds of good paying jobs,” Gomberg wrote in his most recent newsletter. “As our infrastructure ages, small towns are looking at big price tags to replace or repair water and sewer systems, bridges and public buildings.”
The problem, Gomberg noted, is that big projects in small towns overly burden the tax base.
“How does Waldport with a population of about 2,000 people come up with $1.4 million to deal with dirty water?” Gomberg wrote. “That’s $700 for every man, woman and child in town. Without state help, the cost to local taxpayers is devastating.”
Those improvements to Waldport’s wastewater treatment plant, made necessary by a change the Department of Environmental Quality made to the plant’s permit, will now be funded by state bonds, provided HB 5202 passes both chambers unchanged and receives the signature of the governor.
The Port of Newport would also receive $1,140,000 to repair the seawall beneath Rogue Brewery in South Beach. The 43-year-old, 540-foot seawall “is considered to have exceeded its useful design life,” according to a report by PBS Engineering presented to the port commission last November. “If repairs are not made to the corroded steel piles, eventually one of the piles will fail.”
Lincoln City Parks and Recreation would receive $1 million toward the creation of Taft Park at the location of the former Taft Elementary School. Lincoln City wants to convert 7 acres of former school grounds located in the tsunami zone into a regional sports and park complex. The complex would include fields, multi-use courts, an event venue and playground, among other amenities.
At nearby Devils Lake, the Devils Lake Water Improvement District would receive $310,000 to help control vegetation and algae growth in the shallow body of water.
There’s another $350,000 in the bill for OSU’s Hatfield, which like the housing development, is not funded through the $100 million for rural infrastructure. Those funds would help Hatfield for losses incurred when the Marine Mammal Institute’s research vessel, Pacific Storm, was stuck in port during the COVID-19 pandemic and could not offset wages and maintenance with grants and charter fees.
Gomberg told the News-Times two other infrastructure projects in his district, but outside Lincoln County, received part of the $100 million funding, about $2.5 million each in Grand Ronde and Falls City, and he also hoped there would be funds for other water projects in south Lincoln County and Newport through the recent federal infrastructure bill.
The District 10 representative said the reconciliation bill also makes adjustments to funding already allocated to replace Panther Creek Water District infrastructure destroyed by the Echo Mountain Complex fire.
The two-year budget already includes $55.5 million in investments in Lincoln County, the largest of which is $16.8 million allocated for the Panther Creek projects. Capital projects funded in the current budget during the last regular session also include $14 million toward Newport Big Creek Dam replacement, $5 million for the Oregon Coast Aquarium and $2.2 million for a water tank in Waldport, among others.
With $1 million on its way to the county to fund a pilot program to address homelessness, Lincoln County projects are set to receive at least $67 million in direct investment from in the state budget this biennium.
Rep. Gomberg gives remarks on the House floor
Again, this article was published in the News Times last week. It highlights the extraordinary amount of investment we’ve been able to bring back to the region – far more than most other legislative districts.
The short session produced a number of significant bills that passed.
Perhaps the most contentious measure of the session was HB 4002 relating to agricultural worker overtime. This bill phases in a 40-hour work week over the next six years on Oregon farms and ranches. The legislative provisions include a refundable tax credit for farm employers when the overtime threshold is triggered.
Proponents felt it is a matter of fairness and equity that all workers in Oregon should have the same protections under employment law, noting that the life expectancy of an Oregon farm worker is 49 years, and their average income is $28,900. That compares to a 79-year life span for all Oregonians who also have a median income of $56,300.
Opponents argued that paying overtime will put family farm operations at risk of financial failure. They also contend that employers will cap hours at 40 per week, and that agricultural workers will end up making less money overall.
I had hoped for more of a compromise bill that satisfied the needs of both farmers and their workers, but HB 4002 was developed over several years, and was amended during the session, so although imperfect, it is a starting point for equitable wages. Significantly, dairy farmers and other agricultural sectors not subject to seasonal work demands received special consideration.
HB 4092 (Gomberg sponsored) will modify the composition and duties of the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council so it will work more directly with the Oregon Broadband Office, providing oversight, recommendations and guidance to implement statewide broadband goals, and supply input on grant awards to build out a statewide broadband network. Bridging the digital divide to provide internet in underserved areas has also become a federal priority, and Oregon is poised to receive more than $200 million from the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure and Jobs Act to invest in our broadband buildout.
SB 1567(Gomberg sponsored) addresses the seismic vulnerability of our bulk oil and fuel terminals. Understanding our vulnerabilities is the first critical step to increasing our seismic resilience.
HB 4123(Gomberg sponsored) establishes pilot programs in eight regions of the state to help local communities develop a coordinated response to homelessness. Lincoln county will receive $1 million.
SB 1546 establishes the Elliott State Research Forest. This legislation comes after 3 years of compromise and collaboration to keep the forest in public ownership with the goal to implement important conservation outcomes, support rural economic vitality and a commitment to public access and use.
HB 4026 (Gomberg sponsored) will provide support to school districts affected by the 2020 wildfires and stable funding for impacted districts through the 2024-25 school year.
SB 1501, the Private Forest Accord, would dramatically change logging rules for private forests established in the 50-year-old Forest Practices Act, including how close logging can occur to rivers and streams and the use of pesticides. The Accord was the product of a year of negotiations between logging groups and conservationists. The measure would affect the way more than 10 million acres of private forests in the state are managed to preserve jobs and improve water quality in rivers and streams.
Bills that did not pass included HB 4151, allowing self service gas; HB 4079, creating a sales tax on luxury goods;SB 1566,increasing legislative pay; and HB 4147, allowing people convicted of felonies to vote while they are behind bars.
I’m back in the district now and anxious to return to seeing you at a growing list of lunch presentations, ribbon cuttings, legislative updates, and community fundraisers. The session was successful – particularly for our district.
I’m still working with constituents, community leaders and other elected officials on matters that impact our lives. We check our messages daily, so if you have a concern, comment or need help regarding a state issue or agency, please contact my office. I am honored to represent you in the Oregon House of Representatives and look forward to hearing from you.