Oregon’s legislative process depends on legislative committees where work is done to shape policy and develop bill language.
Committees are made up of legislators from both political parties who consider testimony from citizens, lobbyists, and business, education and government agency representatives during public hearings on a measure. Bills may also receive a work session where the committee decides whether to pass the bill out of committee or table it, thereby postponing its consideration.
I serve on the House Water Committee, the House Business and Labor Committee, and I Chair the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. This has been a busy week in all three committees.
House Water Committee
In the House Water Committee we held a public hearing on HB 3090 which would appropriate funding to the Department of Environmental Quality to restart the Onsite Loan Program, to address nonpoint source pollution caused by failing privately owned septic systems.
Over 30% of all Oregonians rely on some form of decentralized wastewater treatment, typically septic systems to treat sewage from their homes or business. It is estimated that up to 20% of them may fail each year, threatening public health and the environment. Repairing or replacing failed septic systems is important for protecting homes and private property, as well as the quality and health of our lakes, streams, shellfish beds and drinking water sources. Repairs can cost thousands of dollars, and full system replacement can cost tens of thousands.
Oregon’s affordable loan program to replace failed septic systems is designed to help families and small businesses across Oregon access the roughly twenty to forty thousand dollars required to replace a system when it fails.
House Business and Labor Committee
This week we held a Public Hearing on HB 2818 regarding Oregon Wage Security. This legislation would provide a remedy for those Oregon workers who are unfairly denied wages they have rightfully earned by giving Bureau of Labor and Industries the ability to pay those workers through the Wage Security Fund.
This legislation will give BOLI the necessary authority to determine what wages are owed when the employer does not pay. I signed on as a bill sponsor for HB 2818 because I believe Oregon workers deserve fair compensation for the work they do.
HB 2682 also received a Public Hearing this week. HB 2682 directs Oregon Occupational Health and Safety (OSHA) to adopt rules to better ensure equipment safety: required maintenance, training logs, checking contractor assessments and doing regular equipment inspections. This bill is intended to improve safety for workers that use heavy equipment as part of their jobs.
Sadly, it comes as a result of a tragic death of a Benton County employee whose rental equipment was not maintained adequately to ensure safety on the job and is designed to prevent future tragedies.
House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee
Thursday in my House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee we held Public Hearings on three bills relating to local meat production.
HB 2785 Creates a grant program to fund upgrades to establishments expected to operate under the state meat inspection program
HB 2786 Directs the Department of Agriculture to study barriers to family-scale meat production
HB 2787 Directs the Department of Environmental Quality in consultation with the Department of Agriculture to study laws relating the permitting of animal rendering plants.
We received testimony from all parts of the state citing the lack of USDA certified processing facilities, and the need to build the long-term capacity of local and regional meat supply chains. Expansion of certified processing facilities would bolster the viability of local farmers and ranchers, and create more living-wage jobs, while increasing the food system resilience.
There are not enough meat processing plants in Oregon, many animals are shipped out-of-state for processing. Meeting the demands of farmers, ranchers, and consumers locally could be a real economic catalyst for our rural areas. These bills received overwhelming support from private individuals, as well as from organizations including Oregon Beef Council, Oregon Farmers Markets Association, Food Roots, NE Oregon Economic Development Council, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and OSU Extension.
Free Tax Preparation Offered
We are entering into the tax season, and there is great news from the Oregon State University College of Business Center for Advancing Financial Education. They are offering free tax preparation services to low and middle-income individuals and families.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is an IRS initiative to support free tax preparation services. To qualify individuals or families must make less than $72,000 annually and meet other eligibility guidelines. Volunteers including IRS-certified accounting students, university staff and community members will prepare taxes for participants.
The service is available in February and March, and appointments are now being taken. Participants will have an initial interview by phone or Zoom to confirm qualifications, ensure they have their tax documents and go over intake forms. Appointments will be scheduled after that, with most tax preparation taking place virtually. A limited number of face-to-face tax preparation appointments are also available, following COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
To learn more about eligibility or to register for an appointment, visit https://beav.es/vita or call 541-737-7962. Assistance is also available in Spanish.
Because of the COVID-19 restrictions the Capitol building remains closed to the public. With the vaccine and other health precautions, I’m hoping we will soon be welcoming Oregonians back into the Capitol.
If you have concerns or comment about a state issue, agency or proposed legislation, please contact my office. It is my privilege to represent you in the House of Representatives as we undertake this important work together.
Rep. Brad Witt serves House District 31. He may be reached at: