A lot of Democrats/progressives in Oregon consider the just-completed 2016 legislative session to have been a success.
But in my view the passage of HB 4040, which aligns our state with science-denying, anti-environment right-wing extremism that I'd hoped would be confined to Congressional craziness, is a huge negative that takes away from the positive steps taken: increasing Oregon's minimum wage, eliminating coal as an energy source, promoting more affordable housing.
Here's how the Center for Biological Diversity describes the bill, which awaits Governor Brown's signature.
The Oregon Legislature passed a bill tonight ratifying the delisting of wolves in Oregon and effectively preempting the right to any legal challenge. The 17-11 Senate vote to pass HB 4040 follows the bill’s passage in the House two weeks ago. The bill was introduced by Republican proponents of delisting on behalf of the livestock and sports-hunting industries seeking to block judicial review of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s illegal wolf-delisting decision last November.
There's so much not to like here.
(1) Ratifying the delisting of wolves in Oregon. This was a highly controversial action by the Fish and Wildlife Commission -- taking wolves off the list of endangered species in Oregon. As the Center for Biological Diversity points out:
In November 2015 the Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4 to 2 to strip gray wolves of state endangered species act protections, despite having received comment letters from 25 leading scientists noting significant disagreement with delisting, and 10,000 public comments, 96 percent of which opposed the delisting.
(2) Preempting the right to any legal challenge. HB 4040 fulfills the dream of irrational wolf haters. It made wolf management in Oregon a political matter, rather than a policy issue founded on solid scientific facts and judicial review.
In December the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands and Oregon Wild filed a legal challenge to the commission’s decision. Shortly after the 2016 session of the Oregon Legislature convened earlier this month, bills were introduced by Senate and House Republicans to ratify the commission’s decision in order to block judicial review of the delisting decision.
(3) The 17-11 Senate vote...introduced by Republican proponents. Oregonians have elected Democrats to lead our state and reflect our values. So how did an anti-wolf bill pass, given the strong support for environmental protections in Oregon?
Because HB 4040 was a legislative "bone" thrown out to Republicans as part of session deal-making. Meaning, Democrats knew it was substantively a bad bill, but politically some D's felt inclined to vote for it.
In the end, the bill passed with about two-thirds Republican votes, even though Democrats have majorities in both houses of the legislature. In the Senate, 11 R's and 6 D's voted yes; in the House, 23 R's and 10 D's voted yes.
Editorial page editor Dick Hughes wrote in the Statesman Journal:
Republicans showed they had the parliamentary wits to tie the Senate in knots. R's saw themselves as stacking against the D's hijacking of the legislative session. D's see the R's as hijacking the legislative process. Finally, both sides agreed to session-ending compromise.
Then came the wolf bill... the political symbolism was huge, which is why the Democratic leadership provided sufficient votes for the minority Republicans to pass House Bill 4040. The wolf bill was a chance to give Republicans a bone after they had been run over by high-profile Democratic legislation.
...HB 4040 is not good policy. But signing it would be good politics for Oregon.
Well, I disagree with Hughes (as I usually do). HB 4040 establishes a horrible precedent for this state.
If this bill becomes law, legislators can point to it as justification for ignoring facts/science when making other environmental decisions, and denying opponents of those decisions a right to challenge them judicially.
What if -- scary thought coming -- Republicans took over the Governorship along with both the state House and Senate? Then they pass a bill saying it is the official policy of the State of Oregon that human-caused global warming does not exist, and this (erroneous) conclusion can't be challenged in court.
They can point to HB 4040, should it be signed by Governor Brown, as a precedent that supports politicians making final decisions that, up to now, have been challengeable through our judicial system.
The wolf bill is bad for Oregon in many ways. Please urge Governor Brown to veto it.
Phone her at 503-378-4582. Email her via the Governor's web site.
Tell Brown you are opposed to HB 4040 both because it enshrines ill-considered wolf policy, and sets a dangerous precedent for ignoring science and cutting off the right of citizens to challenge state agency decisions in court.
If you need more convincing that HB 4040 is a bad idea, check out Quinn Read's opinion piece in the Oregonian, "Governor should veto anti-wolf bill."
Put simply, if Oregon wants to maintain its national leadership role in wolf conservation, Gov. Brown must veto this anti-wolf bill. She must show her constituents that Oregon's imperiled wildlife are not political bargaining chips and that decisions about wildlife management should be based on the best available science, not politics or the wishes of powerful special interests. A veto of this bill will allow Oregon's wildlife officials to get back to the real task at hand: ensuring robust protections are maintained for Oregon's fragile population as the wolf plan is updated.