E-Newsletter Volume 7, No. #25




Representative Brad Witt
District 31

Phone: 503-986-1431    900 Court St. NE, H-374, Salem Oregon 97301
Email: rep.bradwitt@state.or.us    Website: http://www.leg.state.or.us/witt
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October 30, 2013              E-Newsletter              Volume 7, No. 25

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Hi Everyone,


Earlier this month, Senator Betsy Johnson and I held town halls throughout our district; we were in Clatskanie in the morning, and then in St. Helens and the Skyline area in the afternoon.  We were pleasantly surprised to have Rep. Val Hoyle, House Majority Leader, join us during our last two sessions.  All three town halls were well attended, and we had a great opportunity to discuss some of the legislation passed during the recent Special Session of the Legislature, as well as talk about matters of local concern.  Here is some of what was covered:

First of all, people wanted to know more about the changes that will occur next year to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).  We explained that the changes focus on the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), and that they will minimally affect those who receive $60,000 or less per year in retirement benefits. The Legislature was mindful of the need to protect lower income workers who depend upon this money, along with social security, for survival.  Nevertheless, those savings will allow public employers to reduce their unfunded liabilities by $4.6 billion dollars over the next 20 years, which will mean additional funding for schools, city and county services, and other public responsibilities.

It’s important to note that along with the adjustments to PERS, the Legislature also made adjustments to the corporate tax structure, gaining an additional $244 million for schools in the 2013-15 biennium.  We also increased the tobacco tax by 10 cents per pack, with the majority of this revenue dedicated to mental health care programs, the first time the mental health care system in Oregon will have its own dedicated funding source.

Moving away from questions of finance and taxation, we also fielded questions about the so-called “GMO” bill that we passed, SB 863.  We received a lot of letters and emails during the session, as well.  The question before the Legislature was whether to allow all 36 counties to create their own rules and regulations regarding genetically modified organisms, or to reserve that right to the state.  In the end, we opted for the latter based on expertise, resources and ability to enforce local measures.  Rep. Hoyle indicated that in her area, Linn and Benton Counties, some seed growers actually cross over two different jurisdictions.  If each county created its own protocols for growing, labeling and processing seed products, it could compromise the entire industry.  Governor Kitzhaber has promised to create a taskforce to further study this issue and report to the next full legislative session in 2015. 

Attendees at the town halls, particularly those in Clatskanie and St. Helens, raised concerns about the development of Port Westward, rezoning of property close by, and the impact of increased train traffic through the communities in South Columbia County.  At the outset, both Senator Johnson and I want to assure our readers that coal trains no longer appear to be a consideration since Kinder Morgan has indicated that they are no longer interested in the site.  That doesn’t mean, however, that traffic along the rails might not increase based on the movement of other products.  Meetings with the Portland and Western Railroad have centered on what they can do to improve safety, especially through Rainier and Linnton.  They have also met with first responders throughout the county to try and improve access to medical and fire services.  Senator Johnson and I will continue to meet with them to address issues of mutual concern.

Finally, we met for the first time with citizens from the newer part of our district, the Skyline area of northwest Multnomah County and northeast Washington County.  It was a delightful meeting at the Skyline Grange, and in addition to the issues that were described above, they also raised concerns about the safety and congestion along Cornelius Pass Road.  Since so many of those who use the Pass come from Columbia County, we certainly have a common interest in seeing that improvements continue to be made.  Many who attended the town hall would like to see this road become a state highway.  It is clear that something must change given the number of trucks that are diverted from Highway 26 and I-5, because they are carrying hazardous materials.  This is something that Senator Johnson and I will pursue.

Thank you to all of the people who made these town halls such a success and who facilitated these meetings with generous hospitality:

     The Clatskanie PUD
     The Sacagawea Health Center in St. Helens
     The Skyline Grange

We look forward to our next opportunity to visit with our constituents, and please continue to contact us with any questions or concerns that you might have.  Have a great weekend and enjoy these beautiful, sunny days of autumn!

 Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter…have a great weekend!



 townhall pics

 rainier ceremony