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Legislative session had successes as well as shortcomings

The Oregon Legislature has completed its short session, wrapping up the 35-day confab of Oregon’s senators and representatives that occurs on the even-numbered years. These short, even-year sessions were intended by voters to be very focused and targeted: make small bipartisan adjustments to policy, deal with emergencies and adjust the budget. You can be the judge of whether the Legislature lived up to that promise.

Here is a brief rundown of the successes and shortcomings of the past session:

n More land for jobs, homes and schools: Washington County’s urban growth boundary is long overdue for expansion. Unfortunately, attempts to enlarge the UGB have ended up mired in litigation. House Bill 4078 was a carefully negotiated compromise that will allow for an immediate expansion of the UGB, clearing the way for economic growth and more affordable housing, particularly in North Hillsboro, Cornelius and Forest Grove, where we have not seen expansion in decades. The compromise earned the approval of conservationists, farmers, developers and local jurisdictions.

n Food for hungry families: Farmers often have excess crops they would like to donate to food banks around the state, but the cost of processing and transporting fresh produce can be expensive. The Legislature adopted Senate Bill 1541, which will allow farmers to donate crops to local food banks and claim 15 percent of the value of the whole sale price of the crop as a tax credit. This will increase the amount of fresh, nutritious vegetables and fruits available to vulnerable families in need of food assistance.

n Protecting small businesses from patent trolls: Patent trolls are companies that purchase patents and intimidate thousands of individuals and small businesses with the threat of a lawsuit, with the aim of extorting cash from companies. I helped pass Senate Bill 1540, which would make patent trolling a violation of the Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act. The bill would also allow those who have been targeted by a patent troll to sue for attorneys’ fees. Oregon small businesses have plenty of challenges without worrying about extortion scams.

n Protecting Oregon seniors: I pushed a new response protocol for finding vulnerable seniors who have gone missing. Senate Bill 1577, modeled after the successful “Amber Alert” program, will help families quickly locate loved ones who have wandered off. The “Silver Alerts” program directs law enforcement agencies to develop policies for responding to instances of missing seniors with mental impairments. New protocols will include training for officers, processes for reporting a missing senior and mechanisms for alerting the public.

n College success for high school students: Research has shown that accelerated access to college credit is an important factor for high school and college graduation. Senate Bill 1574A will assist high school students who would like to earn college credit for qualifying high school courses. This bill will help many high school students realize college is attainable for them, and help them save money and plan for their educational future while they are at it.

These are some of the bills I spent some time championing. We also approved bonding that will allow Oregon Health Sciences University to build a state of the art cancer research center, and we balanced the budget without raising taxes.

I was disappointed that the last few days of session turned into partisan wrangling and political maneuvering. Last year, Republicans and Democrats built a strong foundation of bipartisan, consensus-based governing that produced some historic results, such as tax cuts for small businesses and a big funding boost for education.

Unfortunately, that harmony seemed to be forgotten in the final days of this short session. I tend to believe the Legislature is as successful as it is bipartisan. This is even truer in the even-year sessions, when shortened time frames and the looming campaign season can quickly sour debate and agreement.

Hopefully, lessons can be learned from some of the mistakes of this session, and leadership can do a better job next go-around.

State Sen. Bruce Starr, Republican, represents Oregon’s 15th Senate District. He lives in Hillsboro.



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