I don't think I've ever used "shenanigan" in a blog post, but I'm bringing out that word to describe what happened to HB 4095 at the end of the 2012 Oregon legislative session.
Yeah, that's what "passing" a bill through hidden backroom budgetary machinations rather than in an open deliberative legislative vote is -- a shenanigan.
HB 4095 was an attempt to begin dismantling Oregon's successful land use system by allowing counties to band together and come up with regional definitions of farm and forest land which permitted "pave it over" development.
1000 Friends of Oregon called it "the session's biggest land use threat." I testified against it. At the hearing I attended, the Oregon Association of Realtors was for the bill. Almost everyone else who appeared before the House Judiciary committee was against it, including farmers.
There was absolutely zero reason for HB 4095.
Regional definitions of farm and forest land already are allowed. If resource lands, farm or forest, have been misidentified under a definition, this can be fixed via remapping under a bill passed in a previous legislative session (HB 2229).
So given how little support HB 4095 had, and how there was no need for it, I was feeling good when I kept checking the Oregonian's bill tracker and finding it hadn't gotten any votes after passing out of the Judiciary committee on a near party-line vote.
(Modern day Republicans hate land use planning, even though G.O.P. Governor Tom McCall presided over the founding of Oregon's land use system in the early 1970s.)
In fact, HB 4095 didn't get a vote before the session ended. Yet much of the bill "passed" anyway. How? Through shenanigans, a.k.a. back room dealmaking.
I don't know how it happened -- I wasn't invited into the back room -- but a Ways and Means committee item in the budget rebalance bill, SB 5701, inserted at almost the last minute gave proponents of HB 4095 much of what they wanted, and couldn't get through public hearings, deliberative debate, and transparent voting by elected citizen representatives.
To support an anticipated Governor’s directive to pilot a regional land use planning project, $200,000 General Fund was added to the agency’s [Department of Land Conservation and Development, DLCD] budget to support rulemaking and related activities. In addition, $350,000 General Fund was appropriated to the Department for distribution to Jackson, Josephine, and Douglas counties through intergovernmental agreements. The counties will use these funds to complete technical studies, mapping, and preparation of materials required for preparing a petition to the Land Conservation and Development Commission for rulemaking to consider regional definitions of agricultural and forest lands.
When I asked Steve McCoy of 1000 Friends of Oregon what this meant, he explained to me that a Governor's executive order or agency rulemaking can't go beyond existing law. Since HB 4095 didn't pass, this means that whatever DLCD and Jackson, Josephine, and Douglas counties do with their $550,000, it will only be what's already allowed under current land use laws.
So if six county commissioners in those southern Oregon counties decide they want to pave over farm or forest land in a fashion that isn't permitted by Oregon statute, they won't be able to. Thus the Ways and Means committee handed them over half a million dollars to do what they can do currently.
Why didn't the legislature use the $550,000 to fund schools, keep state troopers protecting our highways, or provide inhome health care for seniors? Why give the money to three counties to come up with regional definitions of farm and forest lands when this could have been done by them at any time in the past?
Again, I don't know.
Likely Democratic leadership and the Governor's Office threw Republicans this bone in the course of end-of-session legislative horsetrading. Which sucks. Because holding good bills hostage so that bad bills can be passed is bad legislating.
I'm disappointed this happened. In an overly optimistic previous blog post, written before I learned about the HB 4095 shenanigans, I said:
Much of the Republican "jobs plan" in the 2012 session centered around trashing irreplaceable farm and forest lands for illusory short-term economic gain. Thankfully, neither the Oregon legislature nor Governor Kitzhaber fell for this B.S.
Well, I was wrong. In part, they did.
The above-mentioned budget item doesn't change the criteria for defining farm and forest land, as HB 4095 would have, but it still gives opponents of our land use system $550,000 to play around with unnecessarily.
Republican state Rep. Matt Wingard said on a post-session radio show that Gov. Kitzhaber likely soon will be announcing an executive order to reform Oregon's land use system. That's a stretch, since as noted above the Governor is bound to comply with existing laws.
But the budget note and forthcoming executive order put some wind in the sails of those who want to dismantle Oregon's environmental laws bit by bit.
They can claim that some counties now will have more local control over land use decisions, even though the control counties have after the 2012 legislative session is exactly the same as they had before.
Is this worth wasting $550,000 of precious taxpayer money? Is this worth engaging in backroom shenanigans which made a mockery of the normal legislative bill-making process? I say No.
Here's how 1000 Friends of Oregon sums up the current state of affairs:
On the final day of the session, the final budget rebalance bill included $550,000 for DLCD and the three counties for work “related to regional land use planning activities.” We will be working with the Governor, his staff, LCDC, the Department of Land Conservation and Development, and the counties to make sure that this money is spent in a way that supports the resource economies of Southern Oregon. We will keep you posted on opportunities to help shape this conversation.