by: Submitted photo FROM THE LEGISLATURE - Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie) represents House district 31 and can be reached at or at 503-986-1431

On Wednesday, March 23, the House of Representatives passed SB 637 and SB 638, both of which extend unemployment benefits for Oregonians still struggling to find a job. SB 637 reconnects to federal unemployment benefits for some 50,000 workers because Oregon's persistently high unemployment rate qualifies us for eligibility. SB 638 provides an additional six weeks of benefits for approximately 15,000 workers to be paid from the state's Unemployment Trust Fund.

Even though Oregon increased private sector jobs by 9,700 last month, 65,000 Oregonians and their families are still suffering from the effects of a sluggish economy. They need help providing food and shelter to their families. Although SB 637 passed unanimously, nine members opposed SB 638, based upon a reluctance to access the Unemployment Trust Fund. In my remarks supporting the bill, I explained that our trust fund is not only solvent, it is the envy of the nation.

We are one of the few states that has not had to borrow from the federal government, nor have we had to access our general fund to pay unemployment benefits.

In addition, I am acutely aware that my district, largely rural in character, has had a particularly hard time during this global recession. Statistics have consistently shown us to be almost two percentage points above the state average, hovering around 12 percent unemployment.

My constituents have done everything we have asked them to do, including retraining if appropriate, but there are just no jobs to be had. They are not to blame for circumstances far outside their control and access to unemployment benefits should not be denied. It's the least we can do. I've attached a link to my floor speech.

I'd like to familiarize you with another piece of legislation, HB 2838, a bill that I introduced to outlaw the sale, trade or possession of illegally obtained shark fins in Oregon. I can hear you asking, 'Is this really a problem in Oregon?' This is a worldwide problem, but for hose of us along the Pacific Rim it is a matter of protecting our delicate ocean ecosystem and coastal waters.

Each year, commercial activity kills more than 100 million sharks worldwide. Outside of licensed fishing practices, illegal shark fins are frequently obtained by means of a barbaric practice commonly referred to as 'finning.' This involves the taking of sharks solely for the purpose of harvesting their fins while the rest of the fish is oftentimes thrown overboard.

Worse yet, sharks are often 'finned' alive, only to die an agonizing death of starvation, drowning or bleeding to death. Finning also renders sharks vulnerable to attacks by other predators.

Shark finning is driven by the highly lucrative market for shark fin soup. The demand is so high, and the number of sharks slaughtered so great, that the market for fins is threatening several vulnerable species of sharks. You will be astounded to know, as I was, that some shark populations have declined by as much as 90 percent.

Few of us would ever tolerate the wholesale slaughter of elk for their horns or bears for their gall bladders. And while our federal and state governments have laws against the wasting of harvested fish, Oregonians need to take the next step and remove the financial incentive behind shark finning.

Similar legislation has passed in Hawaii, and Washington and California both have comparable legislation moving forward.

HB 2838 had its first hearing in the Energy, Environment and Water Committee last Friday and it was heard again on March 28 for consideration to be passed out of committee to the floor for a vote by the full House.

Bills of Interest

SB 851 Requires Department of Human Services to adopt rules prescribing rights of residents in residential care facilities, residential training facilities and residential training homes.

SB 415 Increases penalty for offense of violation driving while suspended or revoked if commission of offense contributed to serious physical injury or death of vulnerable user of public way.

SB 77 Provides that inmate may not bring action against public body unless inmate has exhausted administrative remedies.

SB 365 Direct Attorney General to adopt rules describing circumstances under which state may seek death penalty.

HB 2936 Establishes tax credit for transportation of woody biomass from forest management operations to bio-fuel producer.

HB 3279 Authorizes employers to pay employees under 18 years of age hourly wage consistent with federal minimum wage for a period of 90 days.

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