Monday, Jan. 11, marked a new beginning in Oregon, as I and other re-elected and newly elected Senators and Representatives took our oath of office to officially begin the work of the 81st Oregon Legislative Assembly.
Our laws are developed through committee hearings and work, and this session I will again Chair the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. I will also serve on the House Committee on Water and House Committee on Business and Labor. This week bills will be introduced, committee assignments are officially announced, and lawmakers will prepare for the Legislative Session which convenes Tuesday, Jan. 19.
This is an exciting time as we renew friendships and meet new lawmakers who bring new ideas and energy to the lawmaking process.
During the 3rd Special Session of the 80th Oregon Legislative Assembly, we approved additional funding for Pandemic Response, and Wildfire Recovery. The Emergency Board met last Friday to allocate those funds.
School districts will receive $325 million in federal funds for grants to meet the education needs of responding to the pandemic, federal funds in the amount of $116 million will go to emergency rental and utility assistance. $100 million will fund a commercial rent relief program, $46 million for the Worker Relief Fund and the Quarantined worker fund, and create a Small Enterprise Fund for business assistance. The Oregon Health Authority will receive $19 million for public health response, and other appropriations will go to support programs for seniors, disabled, daycare, camps and others impacted by COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines.
Attention to wildfires, business, agriculture
The 2020 Oregon Wildfire season was the worst on record, and on Friday the E-Board allocated money for wildfire relief, including $36 million for wildfire debris removal, $31 million for shelter, food and other services to Oregonians impacted by wildfires. Jackson County’s Housing Authority will receive a $25 million grant to replace workforce housing lost to fire. $27 million will go to wildlife recovery, prevention and preparedness activities which includes supplementing the wildfire aviation program, increasing fire program staffing and expanding the partnership and planning programs.
Among the bills I’ll be introducing this week is House Bill 2730 this bill seeks to set rules relating to business interruption insurance. The legislation would prohibit certain conduct by insurers with respect to business interruption claims, and provide an opportunity for insured business entities to seek actual damages for the insurers’ violation of provisions. In the time of this pandemic, it would hard to find a business that hasn’t suffered an interruption, so this bill will clarify insurance rules.
HB 2724 will require the State Department of Agriculture to establish an advisory committee to advise the department on policies related to Oregon crops. Currently, the legislature is asked to decide where to allow certain crops, like canola, to be grown. It’s my opinion that the farming community would have a better idea about implementing agricultural rules and policies, and there are very few farmers serving in the Oregon House or Senate. This will allow farmers to have a stronger voice in regulatory matters.
After meeting with constituents and hearing their concerns over the past several months, I’ve developed many other bills I’m introducing and will be writing about those in the weeks to come.
Oregon began administering the COVID-19 vaccine 90 days ago, and health officials have now administered 100,000 doses. A number of my constituents have reached out to me, asking that we not require everyone to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, due to their fears about vaccine safety. I am not aware of any plans to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory, but I hope the majority of Oregonians choose to voluntarily receive it as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been shown to be safe. Until we have built community immunity against this virus, we will have slower progress and recovery from the pandemic.
Because of the COVID-19 restrictions the Capitol building remains closed to the public. The length of the closure will depend on how soon we can get the infection rate under control. With the vaccine and other health precautions, I’m hoping we will soon be welcoming Oregonians back into the Capitol.
The rest of this week we will continue our organizational efforts preparing for next Tuesday when the 2021 officially convenes. As we enter the 180-day session, it’s more important than ever that I hear from my constituents. 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: