State House Majority Leader Dave Hunt, who represents Clackamas in Salem, addressed the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. He told the group of more than 100 business and community leaders that he has seen a change in attitudes at the state capitol.
'When I was in college, I lived in an apartment where, when you would turn on the lights, there were a bunch of cockroaches that would scurry and scamper away,' he said. "We've flipped on the lights in the Oregon legislature. Those who have been quietly blocking fire-safe cigarettes, fully funding Head Start, consumer lending reforms and a host of other issues are scattering."
He referred specifically to a bill that passed in the House unanimously last week, which would require all cigarettes sold in Oregon to extinguish themselves if not being actively smoked.
"That bill has been coming up for the last 10 years, and everyone says that they are in favor of it, but somehow between the committee chair and the house speaker, it ended up getting killed in every session," said Hunt. "Those leaders who blocked this bill are still in the House, but now there is unanimous support."
In a wide-ranging discussion, Hunt addressed a range of issues, beginning with education, which he described as a key priority for the legislature.
"This session, we are going to fully fund Head Start," he said, drawing applause from the audience. "Some of the most impassioned pleas we got on this issue came not from Head Start teachers, not from the parents of Head Start children, but from teachers and administrators in the K-12 system. They said it makes the job of teaching these students a heck of a lot easier."
He also spoke about the need to restore programs cut over the past several sessions, such as physical education, art and music, as well as the need for money to pay for capital improvements - repair and maintenance for existing school buildings, as well as the construction of new facilities.
'This is a double problem in high growth districts like Clackamas,' Hunt said. 'Over the interim period, I worked with my Republican colleague Chuck Burley from Bend, and we've introduced a whole series of bills to address this issue.'
Plans range from a school impact fee, capped at $4,000, to be levied on the developers of new residential units, to the elimination of the double majority requirement for revenue measures during May and November general elections.
'For people who oppose a measure, their new tactic has become telling people not to vote,' said Hunt. 'Non-voters get a veto over voters. There was recently a measure put forward in Tillamook to pay for veterans services - the vote was 70 percent in favor of the measure with 48 percent turnout, so it failed - but even if everybody who didn't vote voted against it, it still would have passed.'
Turning to healthcare, Hunt named as his top priority proving health insurance for children without coverage.
'Right now, there are 117,000 children without coverage in Oregon. Can you imagine that?' he said. 'We've got to correct that - it's costing them their health and their education, and it's costing the state its future workforce.
'It's also costing all of us, because these kids are getting treatment, only it's in the emergency room when it's too late for them to have a better outcome, and we all pay for it in our insurance rates.'
On the issue of public safety, Hunt pledge to pass legislation to hire back 100 state troopers.
'Over the last 20 years, we have dropped the number of state troopers in half - from 660 to 330 - and in that same period of time, we've added one million people to the state,' he said. 'We've got to change that - it's appalling and it's impacting road safety and the meth epidemic.'