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Citizen's View: Legislature's accomplishments will improve the lives of all Oregonians

KOTEKThe Legislature recently concluded its 2015 session with a long list of accomplishments that will improve the lives of Oregonians.

We worked to expand opportunity for working families, invest in education and level the playing field for Oregonians left behind by the economic recovery. Our efforts included building greater opportunities for families and businesses outside of Oregon’s metropolitan areas, knowing that strong rural communities make our entire state resilient and successful.

We took targeted steps to support our agriculture and natural resource sectors, and we made sure our spending decisions benefitted all communities. Some of the highlights include:

-- $50 million in grants and loans to meet water storage and conservation needs around the state to support our agriculture industry and plan for tomorrow’s needs.

-- Resources to improve sage grouse habitats to help avoid federal Endangered Species Act listing of the bird, a critical issue for Eastern Oregon counties.

-- Funds to provide working capital, technical assistance and training programs for mobile Western Juniper sawmills, which will create jobs and combat this invasive plant.

-- Investments to position Oregon on the cutting edge of the forestry and wood products industries and create rural jobs, including a state-of-the-art forest science facility at Oregon State University, an innovative manufacturing program focused on advanced engineering of wood products, and support for forest collaboratives that employ loggers in unhealthy and fire-prone forests.

-- Expansion of Oregon’s Farm to School program, which supports local farmers by helping schools offset the costs of purchasing locally grown or processed food.

We cleared the way for significant new investments by large technology companies. A long-overdue fix to Oregon’s centralized property tax rules will provide certainty for technology companies — like Apple, Facebook and Yahoo! — that want to build data centers and create jobs in rural Oregon.

We passed bi-partisan bills to authorize public bonds that will impact every corner of our state:

-- K-12 schools and community colleges will have access to $175 million for seismic renovations, and K-12 schools will be helped with a new $125 million fund for capital improvements.

-- Every regional university campus will benefit from new construction projects.

-- Targeted transportation investments will improve safety along some of the most deadly corridors in the state, including $4 million to reduce accidents throughout the Blue Mountains Snow Zone on I-84 between Pendleton and La Grande, which currently experiences a two- to three-times greater number of crashes than the statewide average.

-- Projects around the state will create jobs and bolster communities, from courthouses in Tillamook and Madras, to a new Main Street Revitalization grant program, to new resources to build affordable housing for families and supportive housing for individuals with mental illness or recovering from addiction.

We made education a top spending priority because every Oregonian — from Pendleton to Portland, from Bandon to Bend — will benefit when everyone has a better chance to succeed:

-- The $7.4 billion investment in public schools will provide a stable school year and fund full-day kindergarten for kids throughout Oregon for the first time in history.

-- A $35 million investment in Career and Technical Education and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education (CTE/STEM) will help increase high school graduation rates and better prepare Oregon students for high-wage jobs.

-- Students seeking a higher education will benefit from major boosts in funding for public universities, community colleges, and student financial assistance (Opportunity Grants) — including a new tuition waiver program for qualified community college students.

-- New investments in early childhood education will help more families be successful and ensure more children arrive at school ready to succeed.

Finally, we took bold steps to break down barriers to success that stand in the way for too many women and working families across the state. We passed a set of bills that will create real and lasting opportunity for Oregonians by ensuring workers can earn sick leave, addressing police profiling, allowing people with past convictions a fair shot at gaining employment and providing greater access to retirement security.

We still have more work to do, but together, we made progress this session that will benefit families in every corner of our state.

State Rep. Tina Kotek, a Democrat, represents District 44 (north and northeast Portland) in the state Legislature. She just completed her second term as Oregon House speaker.