Oregon's 2019 Legislative Session took a full 160 days, nearly six months, to complete its business. This was the first time since 2011 that the legislature took this long. Constitutionally the only duty of each legislature is to produce a balanced budget. That said, the legislature does far more than produce a balanced budget when it assembles — policy is a major part of its business, and 2019 was no exception.
2019 was an unusual session in that the Democrats held super majority status in both the state's House of Representatives and Senate. A super majority is noteworthy because while it only requires a simple majority threshold to pass new, or modify current policy, creating or raising taxes requires a 3/5th’s minimum vote. Moreover, with the re-election of Kate Brown as Governor, Democrats controlled the entire legislative process from creating policy to how to pay for new policy.
As one of the most conservative Republicans in Oregon's House of Representatives, getting any of my bills through one chamber, let alone both and then signed by the Governor would prove to be a difficult challenge. That is why I am very pleased with the passage of four bills I chief sponsored — bills that directly benefit Southern Klamath and Lake Counties.
HB 2847 — Expands the Rural Oregon Medical Provider Tax Credit for eligible providers that work at Sky Lakes Medical Center to include: physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, certified registered nurse anesthetists, podiatrists, dentists, and optometrists. Sky Lakes was the only rural hospital where its medical providers did not receive this tax credit, which put our local hospital at a competitive disadvantage when recruiting and retaining medical expertise. HB 2847 puts Sky Lakes on par with other rural Hosptials throughout Oregon. Special thanks to Heather Tramp at the Chamber of Commerce and Dr. Scottie McCreadie for working with me on this issue.
HB 2867 — Four high schools in the Klamath County School District (Bonanza, Chiloquin, Gilchrist, Lost River) receive special funding from the Small Highschool Fund. One of the requirements of this fund is that the school district must not be over a certain size. The problem was that Klamath County School District was about to exceed that cap. HB 2867 increased the average number of students a School School Districts may have in order to receive the Small High School Funding. Special thanks to Klamath County Superintendent Glen Szymoniak, the Klamath County School Board and 11 high school students for their testimony in Salem to help push this bill across the finish line.
HB 3030 — When Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Kingsley field last November, she stressed to myself, as well as other local officials, the need for reciprocity for licensure for military spouses. Previously, when a military member moved to serve on a base in Oregon, such as Kingsley Field, their spouse must often go through a lengthy and costly processed to be licensed by the state to continue work in their professional field. HB 3030 helps military member spouses plug into the community and find gainful employment by making state licensing for military spouses easier. Special thanks to State Representative Mike McLane, Klamath County Commissioner Morris and base commander Col. Jeff Smith for their effort to make Kingsley an even more attractive base for future missions.
HB 3061 — A legal barrier prevented the City of Merrill from being able to sell, lease or grant broadband infrastructure they secured from Klamath County to a private ISP (Internet Service Provider). HB 3061 removed this barrier so that affordable high speed broadband (up to 1 gigabit) will be available to residents and businesses in Merrill and Malin.
In addition, I was able to secure funding for Klamath County to pay for the calibration and maintenance of an in-stream water meter. This helps ensure accurate, real-time stream flow measurement for improved water-stewardship.
In summary, the 2019 legislative session was full of drama from start to finish. It started with Oregon becoming the first state in the nation to pass statewide rent control, a policy that has not worked anywhere it has been tried. The intensity continued with the partisan passage of HB 3427 — the first gross-receipts sales tax on businesses in Oregon. Unfortunately, this bill further burdens Oregon’s small businesses, largely affecting Klamath and Lake counties. I voted NO on this crippling policy, along with all my Republican colleagues. Oregon’s 80th Legislative Assembly concluded with Senate Republicans doing a nine-day walk-out, denying quorum to the Senate which stopped the ability to conduct business for last nine of ten final days in Session.
Republicans prevented the passage of several key Democrat-majority policies, such as HB 2020 (Cap & Trade), reallocation of The Kicker refund, various gun control bills and a mandatory child vaccination bill. Cap & Trade would devastate many businesses in Oregon. Workers and families from all around the state showed up enmass to testify against these bills. It was encouraging to see the large grassroots movement from truckers, timber and farmers who came together in organized, peaceful protest at the Capitol. I want to remind people that your voice and vote matters. Thank you for getting involved.
That said, Democrats were successful in raising nearly $5 billion in new taxes, a roughly 20% increase to the state’s general fund budget. Still to come before voters in November 2020 is a request to increase tobacco taxes by $350 million.
While no one is completely happy with the results of the 2019 legislative session, I would emphasize our state government currently reflects voters which represent the bigger metro areas. I believe our system of government still works. For those who do not like what was produced by the 2019 session, I remind voters of the upcoming November 2020 election, which provides all Oregonians the opportunity to elect or re-elect all 60 State House Members, half of the State Senators, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State and the State Treasurer. Government of, by and for the people. Each election continues or changes the course that Oregon travels. I encourage all Oregonians to participate in the election process, as our state is facing rapid change, especially in rural areas. I am proud to represent our beautiful southern Klamath and Lake counties.