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Reflections on an intense, productive legislative session

The Legislature adjourned on July 8, after five months of intense activity. Over the last couple of weeks I have been reviewing our accomplishments, and although there is always more that could have been done, I am very proud of the work that we did in such a short period of time.

I’d like to briefly describe some of these accomplishments and outline actions that we took that I think will contribute to the continued growth of our economy.

When we began the session in February, we were nervously awaiting the May revenue forecast, which would help direct our budget priorities for the next two years. Thankfully, the forecast proved to be positive. After years of disinvestment, we knew that education would be our greatest priority. As reported in a previous newsletter, we were able to allocate almost $1 billion more to our K-12 school districts than the previous budget, and we also strengthened Oregon’s workforce development by investing in community colleges and apprenticeship programs.

We also increased access to higher education by providing ways for high school students to earn college credit, and by making college more affordable through increased grants in aid.

Another top priority was to support the slow but steady improvement in our business climate by growing jobs and strengthening the economy.

This session was about reinvesting, rebuilding and rehiring. These efforts will promote economic growth in both rural and urban settings, and I expect District 31 to see some benefits from these actions. Here are just of few of the ways we did that:

n Invested in critical infrastructure and jobs programs including ConnectOregon, industrial lands readiness and Small Business Development Centers

n Invested in Oregon roads, bridges, ports and rail to keep our economy moving

n Supported Oregon workers and businesses by promoting use of local goods and services

n Promoted a level playing field for businesses and made it easier for small and minority-owned businesses to work with state government

n Positioned Oregon to make critical investments in the I-5 Bridge Replacement project

n Leveraged nearly $1 billion worth of bonding capacity to put thousands of Oregonians to work on construction projects in every part of the state

In that same vein, we focused our attention on our local communities, the first places we turn to for services and support but they are often the least well-funded. In District 31, it’s protecting the environment while also bolstering opportunities for employment. Here are some actions that we took from the local point of view:

n Helped local governments fund economic development and infrastructure improvements so small businesses can grow and create family-wage jobs

n Partnered with counties to protect funding for critical services that rural Oregonians rely on

n Supported jobs in agriculture by strengthening the Farm to School program and bolstering growing industries with support for fermentation sciences

n Protected natural habitats and rural economies through balanced forest management

Needless to say, one of the best ways to make sure that the economy continues to grow on all levels is to make sure that every family has the support that it needs to prosper. No one can work or go to school if they do not feel secure, if they are hungry or if they lack housing.

Here are a few ways that we stood up for middle class families in Oregon:

n Helped families struggling to stay in their homes by expanding access to foreclosure mediation

n Improved access to affordable health care and strengthened our health care workforce statewide

n Strengthened public safety by prioritizing emergency services and resources for crime victims, including investments in mental health care and alcohol and drug treatment

n Improved Oregon’s foster care system to be more responsive and accountable

n Strengthened the safety net, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), in-home care for seniors, and Employment Related Day Care for working families

n Insured fair housing practices for low income families and added funding for veterans’ housing

These pieces of legislation are only a fraction of the bills that we considered this session, but I hope it gives you some sense of the scope of issues that came before us. In September, November and January we will be meeting for three days each month to prepare for our one-month session in February 2014. This involves holding hearings and listening to the results of various task forces that have been working on special assignment.

Until September, then, I hope to continue seeing you as I travel around the district, attending local fairs and celebrations. It is always the highlight of my summer.

Rep. Brad Witt is a Clatskanie Democrat who represents House District 31.

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