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Preparing state government for catastrophic disasters

Measure 77 gives the governor additional authority during major natural disasters
Measure 77, in a way, could be characterized as an extreme plan for extreme circumstances.
   It calls for a temporary system of governance during major catastrophic events including major earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and floods as well as acts of terrorism, public health emergencies, or war.
   The temporary change in government gives much of the power to the executive branch, and provides the governor and legislature powers not typically available in the Oregon Constitution.
   The governor may redirect general fund and lottery moneys allocated to other state agencies to pay for emergency needs. He or she must also convene the Legislature in 30 days, but unlike most sessions, lawmakers may meet somewhere other than the state capitol if necessary, and may conduct business with two-thirds of those able to attend, as opposed to two-thirds of all members.
   “It gives authority to do things that need to be done immediately, and with as much oversight as possible as soon as the legislature can get together to oversee what the governor is doing,” said Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett, who supports the measure.
   Although Measure 77 references a variety of catastrophic events, recent studies regarding the impact of a 9.0-Richter scale earthquake off the Oregon coast prompted the measure. Oregon Representative Mike McLane said the studies caused lawmakers to look at what steps the State of Oregon would have to take to provide assistance to citizens and restore order.
   “The recommendation was that we need to give the governor the ability to spend money on emergency management — and it may or may not be money that is appropriated in the budget under the (state) constitution,” he explained. “Only the Legislature can do that, so the thought was, let’s give the governor the power . . . to do what he or she needs to do to render assistance.”
   While the measure gives the governor additional authority, that power is limited to 30 days after declaring the catastrophic event. The legislature may extend that timeframe if necessary. That provision made a sobering decision easier for lawmakers.
   “I don’t think anybody was enthusiastic about handing the executive branch more power, but we all understand it is necessary, and that’s why we put the constraint on it,” McLane said. “I am comfortable that if the executive (branch) had 30 days . . . that was, I felt, an appropriate time period to deal with the emergency of a catastrophic earthquake.”
   Whitsett also seems comfortable with the Measure 77 as it is written. He acknowledged that it took the legislature a couple sessions to perfect it, but he feels they got it right.
   “It was, I think, as balanced as it could be and still give someone authority to make the decisions that have to made in an emergency,” Whitsett said.
   The 2012 general election will be held on Nov. 6. Crook County ballots will be mailed out on Oct. 19.