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Preparing for the regular session as 2016 draws to a close


Commentary from Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, on the closing of 2016 and a preview of the February legislative session

FILE PHOTO - Rep. Brad Witt Best wishes to you this holiday season and all year-round. I'm looking forward to working for you in the 2017 Legislature and am honored to represent House District 31 in Salem.

This month, I spent three days in Salem for our quarterly "Legislative Days," when the members of the Legislature gather to prepare for the full session in February. During the last session, various taskforces were formed with specific mandates to research and come back to us with recommendations for possible legislation. These taskforces reflect the work of professionals proficient in their various fields and we depend upon their expertise to bring us information that is fact-based and dependable. It is invaluable in our efforts to make sure that the legislation we propose reflects reality.

My own Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee heard reports from the Oregon Shellfish Taskforce, which is working to reduce the effects of ocean acidification on Oregon's valuable shellfish population. This is a critical aspect of the coastal economy, not to mention the entire state. We also heard from the U.S. Forest Service and our own state forester regarding the Federal Forest Restoration Project. As an agent of the Forest Service, we have "Good Neighbor Authority" to help in the restoration of woodlands after the devastation of fire and disease. We learned that 3 million board feet has been salvaged from the Canyon Creek fire, and we have acted to restore both rangeland and watershed capacities. Finally, we heard about our state's wine industry and the work of the Oregon Hatchery Research Center. If you would like more specific information about any of these topics, I will send it along.

In other parts of the Capitol, equally interesting topics are being investigated. The Department of Education presented information to the Senate Education Committee regarding dyslexia, and two taskforces reported on a study of class sizes and on the results of a campus safety work group. The Senate Human Services Committee listened to a report from the director of Human Services regarding vulnerable populations. We have read a lot about the vulnerability of foster children, but the director also reported on safety issues with seniors and people with disabilities who may also fall prey to abuse and neglect.

The House Health Care Committee listened to a report on Mass Care/Mass Displacement as the result of a catastrophic event such as an earthquake or tsunami, and another report on the role of animal agriculture in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In response to the housing crisis throughout Oregon, the Human Services and Housing Committee listened to studies on emergency housing, homeless assistance and rent stabilization. I am confident that legislation reflecting the urgency of these issues will be front and center in the next session.

Finally, on the local scene, Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, and I met with the Columbia County Board of Realtors a couple of weeks ago to listen to their description of a crisis in the housing industry involving the timely performance of appraisals when houses are being sold. At the root of this upheaval is a change in educational requirements for appraisers on the federal level and it is causing delays, sometimes lasting months.  Unfortunately, we cannot make any changes on the state level to these regulations, so Senator Johnson and I have written to our federal delegation to ask them to address this issue immediately.  Senator Johnson and I are also chief sponsors of a Memorial to Congress urging them to take action.  This is not just a problem in Oregon, it is a national emergency and they need to fix it now.

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter, and have a wonderful New Year!