February 5th marks the beginning of the “short” session, and we recently spent 3 days in Salem preparing for that biennial event. Committees in both Chambers held hearings to introduce legislation proposed by the members. Since the Session will only last 35 days, House members may only introduce two bills, while Senators may only introduce one bill. Standing Committees are allowed to introduce three bills, so by the time it is all said and done, we will probably have around 300 bills to review.
Taskforces and agencies have been busy updating us on works in progress. My Joint Subcommittee on Natural Resources listened to a report by the Department of State Lands, which described the site restoration process at Goble Landing in the northern part of District 31, and of particular interest to those who fish along the Columbia. This site has been deteriorating for several years, and at one point, the leaseholder had 27 boats moored there, which were in various states of disrepair, including the old River Queen floating restaurant. By June 1st, the number of boats had been reduced to 10, and then on June 9th the Department of State Lands took responsibility for the site and its rehabilitation. The Agency’s budget for this clean-up is $7.25 million and should be completed by June of this year. They are pursuing reimbursement from the leaseholder and their insurer.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources is working on creating a Board of Oversight for the Department of Energy, an agency that has experienced significant difficulties over the last several years. This is a move in the right direction. The Committee will also study a proposal by the Feds to increase the excise tax on sporting equipment. This will benefit our recreation industry as this increase will add to the Oregon Conservation & Recreation Fund to the tune of $9-10 million.
The House Education Committee will be proposing a taskforce on rural education. 25% of the students in Oregon attend rural schools, many of them in District 31, so I will be eager to see how they address some of the special needs that we have. The Committee will also consider putting the proceeds from unclaimed stocks and bonds, once matured, into the Common School Fund.
Finally, I am working on a couple of bills that I’d like to briefly describe. As you may know, Oregon is moving toward Real ID compliance and must issue the new, more secure documents by October 10, 2018. Rather than overwhelm the system, my bill creates a way for Oregonians to upgrade to Real ID immediately, when they renew, or upon getting a new driver license or ID. This will provide a more orderly transition. I am co-sponsoring this bill with Rep. Carl Wilson (R-Grants Pass).
The need for my second bill was actually brought to my attention by a constituent, Vicki Bilton Jeffries, the wife of a fallen officer and the mother of children who were finding it difficult to access benefits from the Public Safety Memorial Fund. Although this fund provides a one-time lump sum payment of $25,000 following a tragic line-of-duty event, it is also supposed to provide post-secondary education scholarships for the children of these officers, subject to certain requirements. With the help and leadership of Rep. Andy Olson (R-Albany), himself a retired State Police Officer, we are co-sponsoring a bill to clarify the process while also providing a stable funding source. All of our local police departments have weighed in and are very supportive. Thanks so much to Vicki and to Amy Painter for forging the way on this important issue.
It is an honor to represent HD 31 and I look forward to serving you in the Oregon House of Representatives in 2018.