Gov. Kate Brown whittled down her list of prospective vetoes to just a pair of line items last week, and ended up allowing a bill of considerable interest to rural Oregonians to stand, in addition to a bill that will allow work to proceed on a project to replace dams in Newport. Whether her actions mark the unofficial start of a campaign to reach out to that part of Oregon that's not the Portland metro area remains to be seen.
Friday was the governor's deadline to veto bills passed by the 2019 legislative session. Earlier last week, as the state constitution requires, Brown identified the bills that she was considering vetoing.
One of the bills, House Bill 2437, was supported by the Oregon Farm Bureau and farmers throughout the state. The legislation says farmers would need to give notice that they were going to clear an irrigation ditch, but would not need a permit unless they planned to move more than 3,000 cubic yards of material over a five-year period — a 60-fold increase from the current threshold of 50 cubic yards. The bill allows the material to be dumped in wetlands.
The bill was the result of a lengthy group process that included legislators (both Democrats and Republicans), county commissioners, farmers, state agencies and some conservationists, who were looking to add clarity to a process that often left farmers scratching their heads about what they needed to do to keep their irrigation ditches clean. In a letter explaining her decision to sign the bill, Brown said that the "current system is completely unworkable and unused."
Still, Brown offered a peace offering or two to the conservationists who opposed the bill on grounds that it undermined the state's efforts to protect wetlands — and who were outraged when she backed off her threat to veto the bill.
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"There is a possibility this bill goes too far," Brown wrote in her signing letter. But one of the factors she said persuaded her to sign the measure was the collaborative nature of the group that crafted the bill. "Collaborative problem-solving is the Oregon way," the governor wrote. (On a somewhat more down-to-earth note, she added that the legislation requires analysis and reporting to the Legislature on removal-fill activities on Oregon agricultural land, and she noted — reasonably — that such information could help inform the development of best practices down the road.)
We also were gratified to see Brown back off an earlier threat to veto a $4 million appropriation in state funds for a new dam in Newport. The city of Newport gets its drinking water for reservoirs created by two dams that could fail in an earthquake. Brown had said she wanted to wait for a statewide analysis, but there's no doubt that the Newport dams would have landed at or near the top of any list of the state's most at-risk dams. With local officials hoping to use the state appropriation to leverage federal money, there was no need to wait any longer on this project.
The governor has plenty of work ahead to repair her tattered relations with rural Oregon. But her decision to ease off on these veto threats is a small step in the right direction.
As for a bill that we had hoped the governor would block, Senate Bill 761, it never showed up on the list of measures she was considering vetoing and it has yet to appear on the list of bills she's signed. This is the bill that the Legislature slid through near the chaotic end of the session that essentially makes it harder (possibly much harder) for voters to put an initiative on the ballot. Our guess now is that the bill will become law without the governor's signature, and that's a shame. (mm)