bipartisanship

Silverton Lawmaker Reports on Issues Close to Home

A GOP lawmaker from Silverton gives a mid-session status report to his constituents that focuses less on partisan issues and more on issues with local impact, such as oil train safety, operation of farm equipment on state highways and mental health providers reporting on patients who pose an imminent threat to themselves.

A GOP lawmaker from Silverton gives a mid-session status report to his constituents that focuses less on partisan issues and more on issues with local impact, such as oil train safety, operation of farm equipment on state highways and mental health providers reporting on patients who pose an imminent threat to themselves.

Rep. Rick Lewis, R-Silverton, is a member of the super-minority caucus in the Oregon House. But the former mayor and police chief of his home town hasn’t let that get in the way of pushing bills for his constituents.

In his April 17 newsletter to the folks back home, Lewis starts off by expressing concern about the state’s long-term fiscal sustainability, then quickly moves on to discuss what he has been doing in the first half of the 2019 legislative session that impacts his mid-Willamette Valley constituency. 

His most notable achievement is serving as co-chair of the Oil Train Safety work group, which began to meet in the spring of 2018. Lewis reports the work group produced two legislative concepts resulting in House 2209, requiring railroads that own or operate hazard train routes in Oregon to prepare oil spill contingency plans approved by the Department of Environmental Quality. HB 2209 passed out of committee on a unanimous vote.

Lewis also served as co-chair for a work group on House Bill 2201 that would establish a Veteran Educational Bridge Grant Program within the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The program, according to Lewis, would provide assistance to veterans who don’t qualify for other kinds of assistance, such as veterans who could lose their financial aid because they are unable to complete a degree program due to the unavailability of required courses.

Lewis told constituents House Bill 2236, for which he was the chief sponsor, cleared the Oregon House. The bill, he says, clarifies the operation of farm equipment at low speeds on state highways and removes confusion when equipment moves across county lines that have had different regulations.

Rep. Rick Lewis, like many Oregon lawmakers, spends most of his time in Salem working on lower-profile issues of importance to the state and his local community.

Rep. Rick Lewis, like many Oregon lawmakers, spends most of his time in Salem working on lower-profile issues of importance to the state and his local community.

On behalf of his farm-centric community, Lewis expressed hope that House Bill 2264, which exempts farm machinery and equipment from property taxation, would be scheduled for a work session and pass out of House Revenue. 

Lewis said he was unsuccessful in pushing through House Bill 3406 that would have reimbursed small cities and counties if they waive system development charges for affordable housing. He indicated he would re-introduce his measure in the 2020 session.

Another failure Lewis noted was House Bill 3404, which he sponsored to clarify under what situations mental health providers would be required to report imminent threats made by their patients. The bill also would have granted civil and criminal immunity for providers who made reports in good faith.

The Lewis newsletter is not untypical for Oregon lawmakers who mostly work outside the polarizing bubble of partisanship on issues that concern everyday Oregonians. It is harder for legislators in the minority to move bills, but as Lewis’ report shows, it isn’t impossible.

News reports of the legislature, especially as the session winds down with high-profile issues in the balance, tend to highlight controversy. At the mid-point of the session, it is useful to give some light to the bipartisan and serious work that occurs without a lot of fanfare.

How to Rate a Legislature

It's human nature to rate things, including legislative sessions. But what should you rate and why is it important?The end of every legislative session brings on the desire to "rate" a legislature.  From media outlets to advocacy organizations, the end of session report card or evaluation tool for a legislature is largely based on the ability of a legislature to deliver on the priorities of the organization producing the report card than on the actual performance of the legislature.

Perhaps, it would be better to characterize the end-of-session rating as a reflection on the ability of the media or organization to influence the outcome of a session instead of a reflection on the legislature itself.  This, however, is much less satisfying to the clients who receive reports of work from exhausted lobbyists or editorial boards who would prefer to opine judge legislators on their ability to produce results without the responsibility to actually advocate for them.

Thus, measuring or grading legislative performance is a truly difficult task. As a starting tool, one should look to what the Oregon Constitution requires of legislatures. They must meet annually and approve a balanced budget. Very little else is required of the legislature in the Constitution. In fact, much of Article IV that governs the legislature is about what the legislature cannot do instead of what they should do. Our founding fathers (and mothers) knew that legislatures would find a way to legislate as much as they could, so better not to direct them, just limit them.

Oregon's Last Republican Governor

A piece in the Salem Statesman-Journal brought back a lot of memories for me.

In a column entitled "Atiyeh Laid Foundation for Oregon Economic Diversity," state government reporter Peter Wong recalled the last Republican governor of the state, Vic Atiyeh, who is approaching his 89th birthday. He still goes to his office in Portland and often shows up for ceremonial events at the Capitol he loved where he served as a state senator and held the governor's office for eight years.

I had the privilege of working for the Atiyeh Administration from 1979 through 1987.

Here are excerpts from Wong's piece:

"He (Atiyeh) turns 89 on Monday – and this month also marks 30 years since he took part in the longest special session of the Oregon legislature in state history. Officially, that session lasted 37 days, ending on March 1. But lawmakers took a weeklong break in the middle of the session after they found that the gap between tax collections and state spending was $100 million more than had been projected.

"The unlikely combination of a Republican governor and Democratic legislative majorities — with some Republican support — cut spending and raised taxes to balance the budget. They started the two-year cycle in mid-1981 with a spending plan for $3.2 billion — the Oregon Lottery did not exist then — and ended it with $2.9 billion, even after the tax increases. The unspent balance in the tax-supported general fund was around $3 million.