SPRINGFIELD – With a few months to reflect on Oregon’s controversial legislative session, Rep. Charlie Conrad, Rep. John Lively, and Sen. Floyd Prozanski debriefed their experiences with City Club on Sept. 21.
There were some issues which multiple legislators touched on during the presentation, but the majority of their time was spent on work that directly correlated to their committees.
Fellowship Among Legislators
Conrad, a freshman legislator, admitted there has been a major learning curve as he began representing eastern Lane County, but he said having Lively and Prozanski in his corner has been encouraging and helpful.
“One of the greatest benefits of seeing (what really happens in legislature) is being able to work with the two gentlemen here, having those relationships, being able to talk to them and to know that certainly the three of us don’t have to agree on policy, but to have good people that you can actually talk to, to have intelligent conversations and learn from them,” he said.
Prozanski shared a similar experience from when he began his career in Oregon legislature in 1995.
“I had individuals I considered my mentors: three were Democrats, and two were Republicans. The two Republicans were Neil Bryant and Del Parks, and both of those individuals sat me down and said, ‘Leave your partisan stripes at the door. You come in, and you work with the other 89 people. You represent your district the best you can and realize that we’re here to work for Oregonians,” Prozanski said. “That was very powerful for me to have two of the other people coming and telling me that, and they would stop whatever they were doing when I showed up on their doorstep to give me counsel.”
However, Prozanski noted that he sees politicians losing this element of professionalism between Democrats and Republicans. He hopes that the 22 new legislators are like-minded to Conrad in realizing that “it’s very important for us to build these relationships.”
“That’s one of the reasons I started a caucus called the Oregon Craft Brewers caucus. I kept on seeing this divide further and further away,” he said. “We weren’t having what I call fellowship with our fellow colleagues because basically you’re on the floor; you’re off the floor. There’s no time to get together, so we started, 10+ years ago, with the caucus to try and get people out of the building, just to get together and learn about who you are, who your family is, so you can build those relationships that Charlie’s talked about.”
Prozanski emphasized this by reminding the audience that since Oregon legislature is run via committees – and since no representative or senator is capable of fully analyzing and comprehending all 2,970 bills – it’s important for there to be enough trust between colleagues to appreciate their insight.
County fair funding fail
A percentage of the Oregon lottery currently goes toward county fairs. Lively discussed HB 3079’s failure on the floor. This bill allows the ability for county fair funding to take more than the current allotment by removing the requirement that percentage-based allocation of lottery proceeds cannot exceed a certain amount.
“Fairs continue to be a big deal around the state, especially in rural Oregon, and I think most people know that their facilities, in many cases, are old and need to be replaced,” he said.
Although Lively said he and Conrad don’t always agree on issues, Conrad thought back on his emergency management experiences to explain why he supports adding more to county fair funding.
“This is where Rep. Lively and I completely agree,” Conrad said. “When Oakridge was evacuated a couple years ago, and I was working there as operations supervisor, we had a fire camp there. … The folks that were in assisted-living facilities, as we put them into the expo centers, we (realized we) had no ADA restroom facilities. … The money that (Lively) was talking about, a lot of money can go to capital infrastructure to help so that when you do have a city that is evacuated and folks that need basic necessities, that facility can provide that basic necessity. I would love to see that go through.”
Having bills “die” on the floor was a theme of this session, as only 615 bills were signed, meaning only one in five measures passed. Lively brought up HB 3194 A as an example of this.
“The bill would have shared lottery revenues with the nine federally recognized tribes. They have casinos, and they have done studies that show: As our lottery revenues go up, their casino revenues go down,” Lively said. “We’re creating a problem for our tribes, so I introduced legislation based on future growth, monitoring how we might share those revenues with the tribes in order to help prevent this decrease in earnings.”
Lively said he was approached by Speaker Dan Rayfield who said the BIPOC caucus had concerns about the bill, which sent it back to the house committee.
He also mentioned working on three other bills which “died” regarding the cannabis industry, saying it’s ironic he was in favor of them considering he grew up when marijuana was considered a gateway drug.
“That’s the era that I grew up in. When I was in the military, I actually served in a branch of the service that you couldn’t get a security clearance if you ever did marijuana, and if they found out you’d used it when you had the security clearance, you would lose it,” Lively said.
Although there are different perspectives on the cannabis industry, Lively said he was in favor of the bills because “these are small businesses in this state that we need to support.”
Conrad said he was “very excited” to be part of several bills – like SB 339, SB 957, and SB 974 – about sex offender treatment and crimes.
“There are some gaps in the law with sex crimes where there are some sex crimes that really have a sexual component to it, like harassment. Judges weren’t able to put people on sex offender supervision for that – just because the way the statutes went until we corrected that. Now, judges have a little bit more authority to get people on supervision.”
HB 2426, the bill which allows the option of self-serve gas, was quite controversial. Having moved to Oregon from California, Conrad said he was happy this one passed, although many people did not feel the same.
“It was a very polarizing bill. I wanted to pump my own gas, and I couldn’t, so I’ve been waiting for this bill since 1990,” Conrad said. “I’ve gotten a lot of emails from folks who are so upset, and it’s only 50/50. A lot of people were upset, a lot of longtime Oregonians. That was an odd one because I’m so in favor of that one.”
Conrad mentioned that he worked to support veterans to give preference to veteran-owned businesses in public contracting with HB 2295 and established Highway 30 to be an Oregon Gold Star Family designated highway with SB 659, but he also said there’s more work to do.
“There’s a couple things that we did and really focus on the vets. It’s the one thing that really is a bipartisan (issue),” Conrad said. “There is nobody out there, no group out there that doesn’t want to help support vets.”
The two hot topics which Prozanski said posed a risk for democracy were walkouts and recalls.
“My colleagues on the Senate side walked out for 42 days, six weeks of time where we were not able to do stuff on the floor,” he said. “I mean, being a minority for seven years, my first seven years serving in legislature, sometimes it can get frustrating,” Prozanski said. “But also know that if you roll up your sleeves, and you work with other people and work to unify the causes that are common for all, you can in fact move forward and be successful.”
Prozanski mentioned Paul Hovey – who has represented District 8 in the House since 2004 and won his most recent election with 84.7% of the vote – and how voters are currently filling out ballots for his potential recall, which has cost “well over $300,000… $200,000 just to get the valid signatures and the number he needed. That comes out to $40 per signature.”
“The reality is this is a childish perspective where you have a group that didn’t get their way, and now they’re going to use a recall for something I believe that most of us would think should be reserved for someone who breaks the law, someone who has malfeasance in their office,” Prozanski said. “Those are reasons why you would be wanting to recall some, but not because you didn’t get your way.”
He continued this discussion by mentioning Cottage Grove’s potential recall of councilors Chalice Savage, Jon Stinnett, and Mike Fleck.
“I do believe that we need to maintain the continuity of our system for our democratic process because if we don’t get us back together, working hand in hand, side by side, we’ll continue to see our state take the same path that many other states have,” Prozanski said. “The party polarization will be the game, and we will not actually be able to build those relationships to the point where you can work together and actually bring positive change for the citizens of the state.”