’09 Legislature enters homestretch, and region is watching
As the 2009 session nears its end, local officials and others are tracking several bills that could affect Central Oregon, including:
• HB 3100: Metolius destination resort ban
• HB 2227: Destination resort limits in Deschutes
• HB 2228: Skyline Forest preservation
• HB 2472: Business Energy Tax Credit
• HB 3379: Transportation funding
• SB 740: Water rights and well fees
• SB 5551: State Water Resources Department funding
SALEM — With just weeks left in the Oregon Legislature’s 2009 session, hundreds of potential new laws remain in play, and several of them could, if passed, have a particular impact on Central Oregonians.
Thousands of Central Oregon well owners, for instance, may face a new fee amounting to $50 a year that could, in turn, help other area residents.
Meanwhile, local government officials face a variety of bills in Salem that could either offer a helping hand or handcuff their efforts to provide for residents.
What follows is a roundup of bills that could become law that were mentioned in recent interviews with lobbyists, lawmakers and local officials as being of particular interest to Central Oregon.
They are being considered amid a swirl of last-minute lobbying as lawmakers try to settle on new policy initiatives and new taxes, and craft a resolution to a bleak state budget picture — all by June 30.
“We’re in a big crunch,” Rep. Judy Stiegler, D-Bend, said last week.
Some of the bills have received significant public attention already, like House Bill 3100, which would ban destination resorts in the Metolius River Basin. Facing a divided state House of Representatives, the bill recently disappeared from the agenda of the House Rules Committee, suggesting it either doesn’t have the votes or has become the subject of closed-door, end-of-session bargaining.
There’s also House Bill 2227, which opponents say could, among other things, effectively block new destination resorts from being built in Deschutes County.
Though approved by the full House, the bill suddenly faces concerns in the 30-member state Senate, where supporters say they don’t currently have the votes to pass it.
“We’re looking for the 16th vote on that,” said Erik Kancler, of Central Oregon LandWatch.
House Bill 2228, meanwhile, could pave the way for preservation of Skyline Forest west of Bend, by carving an exemption in state land use law that lets the landowner build a subdivision in one small portion of the forestland.
The bill, however, also contains other proposals besides Skyline — notably including one pertaining to the Metolius debate. Some, like Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend, think Skyline needs to be contained in a standalone bill or it will fall victim to end-of-session politics.
Then there is the issue of water. Local officials say Central Oregon is particularly dependent on groundwater pumping, as well as on complicated water-rights transactions that help both business and environmental interests.
Doug Riggs, a lobbyist for the Central Oregon Cities Organization, is closely tracking Senate Bill 5551, which bears the budget of the Oregon Water Resources Department. He says the department’s proposed budget would cut a position devoted to processing water-rights transactions in Central Oregon, meaning transactions that already take too long could take even longer — meaning crucial economic development opportunities could be missed.
“That (position) is critical for the basin, absolutely critical,” he said.
Environmentalists like Kimberley Priestley, of Waterwatch of Oregon, have a solution: Senate Bill 740 — specifically, a proposed amendment that would raise funds for the water department by, among other things, charging residential well owners fees of $100 every two years. The idea, which would impact thousands of well owners in Central Oregon, is also supported by Riggs’ group.
“It’s not dead yet,” Priestley said of the legislation. “We think it provides a good solution to some of the state’s water woes.”
Other bills are ones that only a government official could love.
Dave Kanner, Deschutes County administrator, is tracking House Bill 3379, which would provide local officials with ways around a transportation funding roadblock that hit fast-growing Central Oregon harder than any other region in the state. Specifically, state law blocks locals from rezoning if highways are not big enough to accommodate 20 years of growth.
The bill would give local officials several ways around the rule, including new funding. And it’s headed for the Senate floor, where Riggs said its odds are “much better than 50-50. … I think it’s going to pass.”
Another bill, House Bill 2472, would affect the state’s Business Energy Tax Credit, which helps businesses fund alternative energy projects.
Telfer said that if it is reined in to be less generous, as some propose, it could hurt Central Oregon in particular.
“I think it will have a big impact … on jobs and everything else,” she said.
The session is scheduled to end June 30. Bills require passage in both the House and Senate, as well as the signature of Gov. Ted Kulongoski, to become law.