Some good, some not-so-good in the 2014 session of the Oregon Legislature

state capitolWe can all breathe a sigh of relief now, as the 2014 “short session” of the Oregon Legislature wrapped up on Friday, March 7.  The frantic pace of the short session – with its tight deadlines and quick turnaround times – was a real eye-opener for us and made it even harder than usual to keep up with everything that was happening.  As an example, on one day in the first week of the session, we had four bills up for a hearing in three different committees at the same time!

At any rate, it’s safe to say the outcome of the session was a mixed bag, without a significant amount of either progress or setbacks.  Here’s a quick summary of what happened to some of the bills we were tracking:

  • We had a minor loss on Senate Bill 1510, which would have created a process for a more coordinated and comprehensive environmental review of large projects in Oregon by essentially implementing a state-level version of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  While the bill did not make it out of committee, there is still likely to be an interim workgroup to work on the issue and report back to the 2015 Oregon Legislature.
  • One nice victory was Senate Bill 1516, which establishes a planning process for turning an old railroad corridor between Banks and Tillamook into a “Salmonberry Trail.”  Since we are active members of the North Coast State Forest Coalition, we are enthusiastic about such a trail and strongly supported SB 1516.  It passed the Legislature and now awaits the Governor’s signature.
  • In sad news, Senate Bill 1569 failed to move.  This bill would have begun the process of phasing out certain toxic chemicals from children’s toys sold in Oregon.  Unfortunately the bill was first scaled back to just require the creation of a list of chemicals of concern and require manufacturers to notify Oregon public health officials when their children’s products contain these chemicals.  Then, even that watered-down bill failed to make it out of the Ways and Means Committee, which was a major disappointment.  It’s hard to believe that a bill designed to keep toxic chemicals out of our kids’ toys cannot pass in Oregon, but these proposals will be back.
  • We had another minor victory in the stalling of Senate Joint Memorial 201, which was merely a statement from the Legislature to the U.S. Congress and to the Administration that reforms are necessary on Oregon’s “O&C Lands”.  While such a measure is essentially meaningless, we believed the language of the memorial was heavily slanted toward timber production on our backyard forests and neglected the important functions the O&C Lands provide for recreation, tourism, and clean water.  And fundamentally, decisions about O&C Lands are simply outside the purview of the Oregon Legislature.  We opposed SJM 201 in its original committee hearing and it was sent to the Senate Rules Committee, where it remained at adjournment.
  • Another important win was the passage of House Bill 4126 – a critical bill to help defend Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).  A very destructive ballot measure had been proposed for 2014 ballot to incorporate large-scale hydroelectric power into the RPS, which would have rendered the RPS essentially meaningless and dramatically undercut the development of real renewable power in the state.  HB 4126 was the result of a settlement between many parties to the debate over the hydro ballot measure and its passage removes the specter of that ballot measure.  The settlement was not perfect, but we supported it as a way to make the ballot measure go away.  It passed both houses essentially unanimously and is now with the Governor.
  • House Bill 4042 extended net metering to wave energy in Oregon.  While wave energy technology is still in its infancy in Oregon, we believe that it could offer another viable source of renewable energy for our state.  Since net metering is a well-established mechanism to help facilitate the distributed generation of power, we supported HB 4042, which passed both houses without objection and was signed by the Governor on March 6.
  • We were disappointed in the Legislature’s failure to move House Bill 4100.  That bill would have required labels for products containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients and would have created a legislative referral to allow Oregon citizens to sign off on that proposition in the November 2014 election.  We have concerns about the potential impacts of GE foods on our environment and on public health, but also fundamentally believe that this is a right-to-know issue that will allow consumers to make informed choices about the products they purchase.  The bill was still sitting in the House Rules Committee at adjournment, but there will very likely be a similar initiative measure on the ballot in November 2014 anyway.
  • Finally, we were pleased to see the demise of House Bill 4113 – the bill to move forward on the Oregon-only funding approach for the Columbia River Crossing (CRC).  While we did have some concerns about potential environmental impacts of the current version of the CRC, we also opposed HB 4113 because we believe the project is simply fiscally irresponsible as it is currently proposed. Notwithstanding the tremendous amount of political momentum behind the bill, the opposition was even greater and the legislation never really got moving.

So all in all, things could have been a lot better in the 2014 session, and they certainly could have been worse.  Now, with this session barely in our rearview mirror, we will begin the process of determining our priorities for the 2015 full-length session!  It’ll be an exciting year, so stay tuned.

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