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The need for drought emergency response legislation

This week will be our last week in session, so bills are winding their way through both the House and the Senate. Most policy committees have completed their work, and if they are still meeting, they are confined to information gathering for the next session in 2017. One of the last bills to come out of the House Rural Communities, Land Use and Water Committee, of which I am a member, HB 4113A established an 11- to 15-member task force on Drought Emergency Response. With all the rain we have been experiencing it might seem counter-intuitive to create this task force, but here is why we can’t let up just yet.

(Image is Clickable Link) Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie One of the greatest challenges we face over the coming decades is assuring adequate surface and ground water supplies for human, agricultural and industrial consumption. The year 2015 was a wake-up call. We experienced drought so severe in Oregon that fish kills were occurring across our state due to low water levels and accompanying high-water temperatures. Because of these conditions, the Department of Fish and Wildlife took the unprecedented statewide action to ban fishing during the warmest parts of the day.

And the drought conditions persist. In point of fact, the Jan. 26, United States Drought Monitor showed that 74 percent of our state continues to experience moderate-to-extreme drought, in spite of above normal snowpack and above normal precipitation so far this season. With the passage of HB 4113A, Oregon will have the research and tools to better prepare for drought emergencies and, more importantly, will be in the practice of looking at this issue more holistically. Research, regional plans, and long-term thinking about out water resources can only benefit our state as we look to a future of climate change and water scarcity.   

Here are some other bills that may be of interest:

HB 4110B: Increases the Oregon Earned Income Tax Credit from 8 percent of the federal credit to 11 percent for taxpayers with a dependent under the age of 3.

SB 1513A: Allows county, by ordinance or resolution, to exempt the first $250,000 of assessed value of homesteads of surviving spouses of a fire, police or reserve officer killed in the line of duty.

HB 4039A: Modifies the definition of “rural airport” for purposes of the “through the fence” operations pilot program.

SB 1573A: Requires city to annex territory without a vote upon receipt of a petition submitted by all owners of land in a given territory that is within the urban growth boundary, plus other restrictions.

HB 4131B: Requires financial institutions to participate in a data system established by the Department of Revenue to identify assets held at financial institutions by delinquent debtors.

HB 4075: Appropriates $1 million from the state’s general fund to establish a statewide tip line operated by the Oregon State Police to receive information on threats to student safety.

Finally, in last week’s newsletter I indicated that there might be another minimum wage bill coming out of a bipartisan group of legislators who wanted to produce a more “rural friendly” bill. They have decided to wait until next session to introduce that bill since time was just not on their side this time around. Next week, I look forward to doing a wrap up on the session, so stay tuned.