Wow. This 2012 short session of the Oregon legislature is even more screwed-up than sessions usually are. And that's saying a lot, giving the dysfunction evident in normal legislative deliberations.
This is the first even-year session, as Oregon has done away with the archaic practice of having the legislature meet every two years. A lot needs to be accomplished in 35 days, but some (translation: mostly Republicans) are doing their best to focus on pet dream bills rather than on pressing immediate priorities.
Case in point: HB 4095, which Republicans have introduced before in different guises. It's an attempt to gut Oregon's highly successful land use system, which 62% of Oregon voters supported in 2007 by saying "Yes!" to Measure 49.
Doesn't matter to Republicans, who have this bizarre notion of "two Oregon's" in their democracy-fearing minds. Meaning, statewide votes don't count, because people in the Willamette Valley have no understanding of the supposed unique specialness of what lies geographically beyond.
So HB 4095 is an attempt to carve off three southern Oregon counties, Josephine, Jackson, and Douglas, from the statewide land use system.
Republican sponsors of the bill want politicians in these counties (just nine county commissioners) to be able to redefine "farm" and "forest" land so subdivisions and shopping centers could sprout where crops and trees grow now.
After listening online this morning to the audio stream of the House Judiciary Committee hearing on HB 4095, I'm glad I decided to stay at home rather than testifying again against the bill, as I did on Monday. It was infuriating to hear how citizens were treated by Republican legislators, and how eager these legislators were to short-circuit what should be an open, transparent, and thoughtful bill-making process.
The charade of a public hearing reminded me of the Seven Deadly Sins, albeit with different names owing to the special nature of iniquity in the 2012 Oregon Legislature. (I've only got four; got to keep this blog post halfway short.)
Disrespect. On Monday the Republican co-chair complained about how most opponents of HB 4095 lived in the Willamette Valley. Today several people came up from southern Oregon to testify against the bill, including a Douglas County farmer who informed the committee that the Douglas County Farm Bureau successfully urged the Oregon Farm Bureau to oppose this threat to family farming.
But at first the Republicans didn't want to allow anyone to testify about the bill in general. They just wanted to hear testimony on some amendments that put off implementation of the bill until 2013. "So what if people drove for hours to testify at 8 am?," they said. "We legislators have a lot to do and can't take time to hear from the public." Fortunately, wiser minds prevailed and some people (but not all) got a few minutes to testify -- universally, I'm pretty sure, in opposition to HB 4095.
Hypocrisy. One legislator threw a mini-tantrum about how, if HB 4095 made it out of this committee, it would go to the Joint Ways and Means Committee, as apparently all bills in this short session will. He probably was upset that Democrats have a 13-12 advantage over Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee.
Also, that the $600,000 price tag of this bill will look ridiculous given that proponents of HB 4095 weren't able to provide a single perusasive reason why it is needed, given that rezoning/re-mapping of farm and forest land already is permitted under existing land use laws. The legislator wanted HB 4095 to be heard by a substantive committee.
But the House Judiciary Committee shouldn't be handling land use bills either. I've been told that HB 4095 ended up here because it had a better chance of getting out of committee (this "pave it over" concept has been rejected by committees who deliberated in a full legislative session, so proponents are hoping to ram HB 4095 through in as sneaky a fashion as possible.) Live by the sneak, die by the sneak.
Duplicity. Few had seen the amended HB 4095 before arriving at the hearing. Not even most of the legislators on the House Judiciary Committee. One plaintively said, "Shouldn't we know what we're voting on?"
Amazingly co-chair Rep. Wayne Krieger (I believe it was; couldn't be sure since I only had audio to go by) told his colleague, in effect, "Don't complain. Health and education bills are being pushed through the legislature this session, and nobody knows what these bills will do either. So deal with it."
Again, wow. Other legislators are trying to ramrod bills into passage without informed deliberations, so the House Judiciary Commitee is proud to do the same.
So what if only lobbyists such as Dave Hunnicutt of Oregonians in Action get to see amendments ahead of time? (In fact, it was noted that Hunnicutt apparently wrote the amendments.) So what if environmental organizations representing the majority of Oregonians who favor protecting farm and forest land were shut out of the process? Just trust us. And the Oregon Realtors Association, which is one of the few supporters of HB 4095.
Bad vibes. Hey, I'm a child of the '60s -- both the decade and, now, my age. A woman opposed to HB 4095 testified about how her eyes had been opened to how the Oregon Legislature operates after coming to hearings this week. She was disgusted at what she saw, previously not being familiar with what goes on in the not-so-hallowed halls of the Capitol.
I know what she means. Whenever I go in there to testify at a hearing, the atmosphere feels creepy. It's a place where lobbyists, politicians, businesspeople, and other "suits" feel comfortable. Ordinary citizens don't. For good reason, because little is done to welcome them.
As noted above, at the beginning of today's hearing the Republican co-chair tried to stop people who had come a long way from testifying at all on the substance of HB 4095. Then he made an absurd mini-speech about how he was disturbed at how previous testimony had impugned the motives of bill proponents, and he didn't want to hear any more of that sort of stuff today.
Oh, gosh. Sorry, teacher. Rap my knuckles. I'll forget about free speech and the first amendment. Forgive me for exercising my right to express my opinion about a stupid, expensive, unnecessary bill aimed at doing away with Oregon's highly popular land use system.
Fortunately, people ignored him. They spoke their minds. Forcefully, respectfully, factually.
They weren't intimidated by Republican attempts to ramrod through this poor excuse for legislation. It was approved on what I think was a 6-4 vote. Hopefully the Joint Ways and Means Committee will give HB 4095 the death that it so richly deserves.