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Special session shows compromise is alive and well

by: SUBMITTED - ParrishOregon’s Legislature recently finished a special session called by Gov. Kitzhaber under powers granted to him by our state’s constitution. Oregon voters voted for the Legislature to meet annually, yet twice in 10 months we’ve been called into special sessions. Both times, no state emergency warranted meeting. If polled, a majority of legislators would have said we shouldn’t have been called into session, me included.

However, when we arrived in Salem, we rolled up our sleeves and passed a complex slate of bills. I was appointed to sit on the special session committee to hear public testimony and work through amendments to the proposals. Much of the legislation had been hammered out before we got to the capitol; public testimony was perfunctory at best. Compromise meant there was something for everyone to love and to hate.

House Bill 3601, a tax package, included a tax increase on C-corporations and a tax decrease on partnerships and S-corporations, the majority of which are businesses generating under $250,000. I hope if Our Oregon, the public unions’ political arm, brings additional tax increases to the ballot in 2014, voters summarily reject such an opportunistic money grab. C-corporations are willing to pay their fair share and the Legislature acted accordingly. We recalculated how the senior medical tax deduction is allocated, changing it to an income subtraction, which for the first time is available to low-income seniors. Lastly, a cigarette tax increase will dedicate $20 million dollars to much-needed mental health and addictions treatment.

The appropriations bill delivered $100 million more to K-12 education and effectively froze college tuition for the rest of the biennium. Allocations were also made for senior transportation.

Two PERS bills were in the mix. The first dealt with PERS accountability. It removes legislators prospectively from PERS. Should I be re-elected in 2015, I’ll be allowed opt-out of PERS. It also ensures PERS can be garnished for criminal restitution, and it ends a pay-spiking mechanism previously used to bump up final benefits.

The other PERS bill addressed cost of living increases. The governor’s plan only addressed PERS at the retiree level and failed to address PERS systemwide. Senate Bill 822, which I didn’t support, passed in the 2013 session; it reduced COLAs but would’ve also cost PERS nearly a billion dollars over the long term. Senate Bill 861 fixed that mistake and allowed us to mitigate COLA reductions for low-income PERS recipients through supplementary payments. Combined with changes in the senior medical deduction, some low-income PERS recipients will actually realize a net-positive impact over the next few years.

Lastly, we dealt with a bill about agricultural jurisdiction. Though debate centered on genetically modified foods, the bill was actually brought by the Association of Oregon Counties because counties lack resources to monitor agricultural issues at the local level. I personally have very mixed feelings about genetically modified foods, but I believe the proper place for decision making rests with the state. Ensuring farmers farming in multiple counties have one set of standards provides surety for their businesses. The Department of Agriculture is being directed to map GM farming throughout Oregon for a discussion in 2015.

No matter what voters think about the outcome of the special session, one thing is clear. Oregon has set an example for the nation; political parties setting differences aside and solving problems for our communities through compromise. Indeed, that’s something special! If you have questions about how these bills affect you, please feel free to call.

Rep. Julie Parrish represents District 37, which encompasses West Linn and Tualatin.



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