By Pat Caldwell
An Eastern Oregon Republican legislator said the GOP's goals will be limited but a number of critical issues will take center stage in the short legislative session that begins today in Salem.
District 60 Representative Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario), whose district includes Baker County, said the five-week session will present the Republican minority with an opportunity to review a number of initiatives set by Democrats.
"We (Republicans) are in the minority so when you are in the minority your goals are modest because you're not in charge," Bentz said.
Bentz said a careful scrutiny of proposed Democratic legislation will be a centerpiece of the GOP plan for the short session.
"Many of the concepts that have been introduced by the Democrats have made their way into bills and we will take those into committee hearings and point out any problems in them," Bentz said.
One item already earmarked for special consideration revolves around a large tax cut for small businesses that the Legislature passed last autumn. The goal of the bill was to spark growth in small business and ignite an ambitious plan to create jobs.
Bentz said the proposal - while approved by the Legislature - is already taking fire from across the aisle.
"We just put it into place four months ago. Now the Democrats are trying to unwind it," he said
Bentz said the small business tax cut legislation furnishes communities across the state with a viable weapon against a dismal economy and few jobs.
Bentz said he will support two of his own initiatives at the 35-day session - one regarding economic development in Malheur County and another designed to provide cattlemen limited protection with an exemption to Oregon's Public Records law.
House Bill 4092 is a proposed piece of legislation specifically directed at Malheur County and is designed to give local county commissioners the authority - under certain restrictions - to green light a new industrial business outside of the urban growth boundary.
"It is basically set up to give Malheur County a 5-year window to respond with great alacrity if someone comes in and says 'I need industrial land,' " he said.
Rather than a blatant land grab, the bill contains a number of limitations.
"The poverty rate has to be above 20 percent," Bentz said.
The bill also stipulates that county elected leaders in Malheur County can approve an application from a business only if the application commits to furnishing 50 new jobs and water and sewer service is available. A number of limitations are also framed within the bill but Bentz said the proposals provide a good foundation for future economic development.
"It allows a community to respond to an opportunity. When they do come, you can show them you can get there quickly," he said. "What we are really doing is changing the system in a way that allows Malheur County to compete with Idaho."
The second bill Bentz supports calls for a public records exemption for ". . . reports on proposals for mitigation related to sage grouse habitat voluntarily submitted to the State department of Fish and Wildlife . . ."
"The sage grouse bill applies across the district," Bentz said.
The key slice of the bill orbits around what are known as CCAAs, or Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances. These voluntary habitat enhancement programs allow a cattle rancher to apply specific conservation measures on non-federal land to protect species.
"The bill will help anyone who chooses to utilize that device," Bentz said.