House District 55 Representative talks recent Oregon Legislative session, mask and vaccine rules and more

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Vikki Breese IversonOn the heels of the Oregon Legislature's long session, Prineville native Rep. Vikki Breese Iverson (R) hosted a local town hall.

The event, scheduled Wednesday evening at the Bowman Museum community room, drew a crowd of about 70 residents whom Iverson updated on the 2021 session and ongoing state issues.

Iverson led off the town hall covering much of her activity during the legislative session. She noted that the biggest issue discussed revolved around dealing with the amount of power the governor possesses. The House District 55 Representative noted that Gov. Kate Brown has issued multiple executive orders, most of them associated with COVID-19 mandates and restrictions.

"Her ability to issue an executive order supersedes our ability to do anything else," Iverson said.

Legislators also extensively discussed mask mandates, Iverson said, spurring a lot of conversation among lawmakers and a lot of testimony. She said that the governor was reluctant to change mask mandates during the 2021 session and waited until it ended – in late June – to lift requirements.

Vaccine passports got discussed among legislators, Iverson said.

"We were assured we weren't going down that road," she said, adding that recent developments, such as vaccine requirements for state employees, seem to suggest otherwise.

Iverson went on to highlight the passage of another bill, Senate Bill 744, which has drawn considerable public attention recently. The legislation, she said, removes the requirement of high school seniors to pass tests for reading, writing and arithmetic prior to graduating.

She went on to lament the fact that the bill got little media attention, despite efforts by her and other Republican colleagues to engage the public.

Iverson talked at length about the lack of public engagement in the 2021 legislative process, much of which she attributed to the closure of the Oregon capitol building to the public. She said that Democratic lawmakers were OK with the closure, but that Republican legislators were not because it limited the amount of public testimony on bills and the number of staff who could be in the building to support different legislation.

She acknowledged that people could participate in virtual hearings on legislation, but said it limited the amount of people who could testify and the amount of time they could be heard.

"We need people to be back in person in that building," she said.

Iverson went on to note that the Democratic supermajority in the House has made it difficult for her and her Republican colleagues to pass their own bills and combat others introduced by Democrats that they oppose.

"There were many bills we tried to bring to the floor to force a conversation," she said, but that often didn't happen. Democrats would not engage.

Despite facing these challenges, Iverson was pleased to reveal some legislative "wins" during the 2021 session. She told the audience that one bill secured $150,000 to help Bowman Museum renovate the former Hans Pharmacy building it purchased for a new exhibit.

"We are going to get a new justice center," she added, telling people that $12 million in state funding has been provided for the new facility in Prineville. She hopes to secure more funding, she added, calling the funding a first infusion.

Iverson later launched into a question-and-answer session, where several themes emerged. People expressed concerns about natural resources, namely the Lemon Gulch mountain bike trail proposal in the Mill Creek area and the River Democracy Act. Iverson acknowledged that both projects were under federal jurisdiction, but she encouraged locals to organize and work to make their concerns known as the process for both proposals continues.

Audience members expressed frustration with the mask mandates and other executive orders imposed by the governor, views with which Iverson agreed.

"You guys deserve the right to decide if you wear a mask or not," she said. "Same with vaccines."

The town hall officially concluded in about 90 minutes, but Iverson invited audience members to stick around if they wanted to for some additional conversation.

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