Slowly but surely is the message from Salem. This week I’m detailing the good, the bad and the uncertain.
The Good: In a late evening legislative floor session, Oregon’s House voted Thursday to approve a bill that will invest hundreds of millions of dollars in kids and communities impacted by the multiple crises of the last year. The bill includes $250 million in funding for Summer Learning and Child Care programs to aid students and families across the state.
Our part of Oregon has been hit particularly hard by COVID closures, unemployment, and wildfires. One critical result is that our children are falling behind in school and families are struggling to take care of them. Summer learning programs, childcare, and planned recreational activities will be a lifeline for both students and parents.
House Bill 5042 also includes $18 million in funds for emergency housing shelters (known as navigation centers) in impacted communities, and millions more in funding to communities harmed by last year’s wildfires. Lincoln County, site of the Echo Mountain Complex fires, will receive $725,000.
The measure, which passed unanimously after weeks of delay, will now be considered by the Oregon Senate. Meanwhile, there are other critically important bills we need to move to support our small businesses and farms, working families, and retirees.
The Bad: House floor sessions remain frustratingly long. This week we are scheduled to be in session Monday through Saturday, through the lunch hour, and until 9 pm each night with the demand that bills be read in their entirety before voting. Nearly 50 bills are ready for a vote but backed-up in the pipeline. None of them is controversial and all enjoy bi-partisan sponsorship or support. In past years, this reading requirement has been waived but we now remain bogged down in partisan disagreement over priorities and procedures.
Most bills are one or two pages, but there are exceptions. A good example was HB 2111 which renamed the Oregon Liquor Control Commission the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. Because OLCC is mentioned often in our statutes, the bill ran 170 pages. There were four motions to avoid reading and all failed on partisan lines. To give our human reading clerk a break, the measure was actually recited by a computer (at normal speaking pace). The process took 15 hours before passing 54-1.
Our Oregon Constitution allows committees to meet remotely, but requires a quorum of members to be present in the Chamber for reading, debate, and votes. That necessarily brings us into close COVID proximity.
The last few weeks have brought reason to be hopeful with more of our neighbors getting vaccinated as our supply of shots has increased. However, with restrictions relaxing and dangerous variants circulating, it’s not yet time to let down our guard – and two positive COVID tests in the state Capitol are a stark reminder of that fact.
My colleagues and I did the responsible thing by getting tested and canceling in-person floor sessions. Legislative leaders have taken a very careful approach, limiting the number of people in the building, moving committee meetings to phone and videoconference, and maintaining strict rules about masking and distancing when we are on the House floor. For the most part, those precautions have worked and the Oregon legislature has avoided serious outbreaks like we have seen in state Capitols like Boise. Late last week, it was announced that all legislators would qualify for vaccinations. I have decided to not take advantage of this special opportunity and instead rely on the same access available to all of you based on my age and other considerations.
It’s disappointing that this legislative slow-down has increased the risk of an outbreak in the Capitol has delayed the passage of critical bills. I want to work with my colleagues to pass legislation that helps Oregonians in this time of great need, and I hope we are soon able to do so.
The Uncertain: As I detailed last week, billions of dollars are coming to Oregon as part of the America Rescue Plan. Much of that support is being sent directly to cities, counties, and schools. About $2.6 billion is available to the legislature which is needed to help balance our state budget. And this week, we learned that $700 million could be used on local infrastructure, economic relief, and development projects.
Each Representative and Senator was invited to submit proposals important to our districts. After conferring quickly with city managers, elected officials, and local community leaders, I narrowed our “wish list” to twelve projects. Each, I believe, will make a critical difference to our health, safety, and economic stability.
Here is an overview of those twelve projects:
- Newport Big Creek Dams – helping pay for an $80 million project to replace failing earthen dams that threaten homes and highways and provide water to Newport residents, businesses, and visitors – $4m for planning/permits; $10m for construction; Total $14m
- Port of Toledo Sewer Project – complete industrial sewer and toilet facilities at the Port and boatyard – $2.3m
- Waldport Water Tank – re-seal, re-surface, and seismically retrofit a failing city water tank as part of the Waldport Water Master Plan. – $2.175m
- Depoe Bay Harbor – replacement of 1950’s era pilings, wooden moorage docks and a fuel dock at the “World’s Smallest Harbor” – $2.1m
- Falls City Wastewater Treatment Facility – reduce sewer rates by offsetting loan expenses on a needed $4.1 million project to relocate and reconstruct the current wastewater treatment works – $800k
- South Tillamook County – Expansion of Broadband Service (Fiber to the Home – FTTH) to 650 properties in southern Tillamook County. Currently more than half the students in Nestucca schools do not have adequate internet. – $2.6m
- D-River Welcome Center – renovate dank and dirty restrooms, improve traffic flow, and create a state-of-the-art welcome center at Oregon’s most popular beach wayside park – $2.5m
- Sheridan School District – help the district acquire property and buildings to create a Career Technical Education Center and facilitate multiple career pathways that are strongly connected to local industry – $1.9m
- Lincoln City Cultural Center – re-imagining the old school playground and parking lot into a cultural and education plaza, market grounds, performance space, and improved parking – $1.8m
- Toledo Aquatic and Community Center – replace the aging facility with a new swimming pool, exercise facility, and community room – $4m
- Oregon Coast Aquarium – welcome center renovations and expansion of the Coast’s only wildlife rehabilitation center – $5m
- Pacific City Visitor & Livability Enhancements – create a multi-modal pathway the length of Pacific City and renovating public restrooms at Cape Kiwanda, Cloverdale, and central Pacific City – $3.1m
All of these projects are needed. Many are seeking grants and contributions. None can be paid for entirely by local residents. I will continue to work to reduce local costs and expand local opportunities and livability.
While it is clear that there is no assurance any of these projects will ultimately be funded, any coastal resident can tell you that the odds of catching a fish increase if you actually put a line in the water!
Thank you as always for reading my weekly updates. Listen for more news on my morning radio reports Tuesdays on KBCH and Fridays on KTIL.
Representative David Gomberg
House District 10
A bright spot on the Capitol Mall: Despite some damage from February’s ice storm, the Cherry tree grove is in full bloom.