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Legislators reflect on 2014 session in Salem


Despite sessions brevity, key bills gain approval

Although this year’s session of the Oregon Legislature lasted just over a month, western Washington County’s legislators were generally pleased with what was accomplished.

State Rep. Joe Gallegos (D-Hillsboro) was especially happy with the support two of his priority bills received from his fellow legislators.

“I’m incredibly proud to have led a bipartisan effort to pass House Bill 4116, my ‘Aspirations to College’ bill,” said Gallegos, the chief sponsor of the bill. “In Hillsboro and throughout our state, I’ve met students who have the drive, intellect and passion to succeed in college, but they’re held back due to their family finances and unfamiliarity with the college process. This bill secured funding to provide more students with scholarships and college success tools to help them succeed at community colleges throughout Oregon.”

HB 4116 provides funding for grants to community colleges to develop scholarship programs and support services for students from low-income backgrounds or for those who are the first in their family to go to college.

Gov. John Kitzhaber recently came to Portland Community College’s Rock Creek campus to sign the bill into law with Gallegos present.

Another of Gallegos’ priorities — HB 4114, which provides special advocates to help protect seniors from abuse — also won passage.

“This legislation will expand safeguards to Oregon’s most vulnerable, particularly seniors with cognitive impairments and adults with developmental disabilities,” Gallegos said.

Gallegos added that he believes many basics were covered during the session.

“This session, the focus was on what we need to do to keep Oregon moving forward, and I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish,” Gallegos said. “We delivered strong results for our students, supported the growth of local businesses, invested in our work force and passed policies to put Oregonians back to work in order to support our recovering economy.”

Gallegos said his biggest disappointment was the failure of the Legislature to come up with a way to construct a new bridge over the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

“Last year, the Oregon Legislature took action to replace the I-5 bridge across the Columbia River — a project that has been the most important transportation infrastructure need facing our state and the Pacific Northwest,” Gallegos said. “The bridge is in need of replacement. It’s seismically unsound and it doesn’t support the transit we need for our region’s economic growth. Plus, the negative impacts from traffic and pollution on residents neighboring the bridge are intolerable.”

Gallegos pointed out that the state of Washington dropped the ball on the bridge project, and Oregon was not in position to go it alone.

“When the Washington Legislature failed to follow our lead and hold up their end of the bargain, the Oregon Legislature regrouped — but in the end, Washington again failed to step up,” Gallegos said.

State Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) also expressed disappointment in the failure of the Columba River Crossing (CRC) project.

“It’s unfortunate,” Starr said. “At the end of the day, there were not the votes in the Washington Legislature, and not enough in the Oregon Legislature for an Oregon-only plan. So it was put on the shelf, and we’ll see what happens moving forward. The biggest challenge is, the federal funding will go to another state that qualifies for a major project.”

State Rep. Ben Unger (D-Hillsboro) took a shot at the Washington Legislature for letting ideology — many Republican legislators objected to including a light rail component on the bridge — derail a major infrastructure project.

“The infrastructure needs are still there,” Unger said. “We just need a better plan — and a better northern partner.”

Despite the Legislature’s inability to find a way to move forward with the CRC, Starr said he believed the session was productive overall. He pointed out that two of his priority bills were approved.

“The solar bill passed, and I’m excited about that,” Starr said. “That should create new opportunities for small-scale alternative energy projects.”

Starr was referring to Senate Bill 1520, legislation designed to make it easier to set up renewable energy projects by creating cooperatives that allow groups of individuals to share project costs.

Starr said state officials will soon create a rule-making process for the creation of co-ops to enable the solar projects to go forward.

“It will be a few months before it’s ready to go (into effect),” he said. “I feel really good about it. The concept was brought to me by a constituent, and it’s good for all of Oregon.”

SB 1531, another bill Starr co-sponsored, also gained approval. The bill allows local jurisdictions — cities and counties — to ‘impose reasonable regulations’ on marijuana dispensaries.

“Hillsboro and other cities were contemplating banning them outright,” Starr said. “This won’t allow an outright ban, but it allows communities the chance to put significant time and location restrictions on the dispensaries.”

One bill Starr was strongly supportive of — transferring Cornelius Pass Road to the state as a way to garner sufficient resources to maintain it rather than have two counties (Washington and Multnomah) oversee different sections of it — fell short.

“Ultimately, the bill did not pass, but we’ll continue to work on that next year,” Starr said.

And Starr said the passage of HB 4078 — the land use bill that finalized rural and urban land designations in Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties — was a boon for the entire metropolitan region.

“We can’t talk about the session without noting the large success with the land use decision made and the certainty that provides,” he said. “That’s ultimately the biggest policy adopted that impacts Washington County. That was the biggest success of the session.”

Unger agreed HB 4078 was critical to the region.

“I’m really proud of our ability to protect vital farmland and promote economic growth by passing the land use bill,” Unger said. “That’s a decision that will maintain the crucial economic balance in our region between farms and tech for the next 50 years.”

Unger also praised the passage of HB 5201, which “increases and decreases certain biennial appropriations ... to specified state agencies and Emergency Board.”

One portion of the bill will provide $2.45 million to go toward construction of a new Cornelius library — a project that will include two stories of residential housing for seniors above the new library.

“I am equally enthusiastic about the money we won for the Cornelius library and senior low-income housing project,” said Unger. “Having grown up in Cornelius, I’ve watched it struggle all these years. This library will be the new town center; the foundation with which our community can build a brighter future — and I couldn’t be more excited for my hometown.”

Unger, who announced shortly after the legislative session ended that he would not be seeking another two-year term, said the session was a mixed bag.

“We did some good things, but the challenges we’re facing are so severe, so permanent, that it’s hard to feel great about what we’ve done,” he said. “Until we get a full school year, with reasonable class sizes, I don’t think I’ll be satisfied.”