Bills get down to business

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Capitol.jpg SALEM It’s the special legislative session that some are calling the “Seinfeld session,” a reference to the television show that was, as its creators famously described, about nothing.

That’s not entirely fair. While much of what’s on the Legislature’s plate from Feb. 4-29 is small or highly specific to individual issues, there’s a little heft as well — some of it with long-term effects on Oregon businesses.

By mid-December, many potential bills were still in the draft stage in specific committees. But the biggest issues were already apparent, and funding the Big Look Commission — as the land-use reform task force is known — is at the top of lawmakers’ and business groups’ agendas.

As Duncan Wyse, president of the Oregon Business Council, puts it, getting the task force moving is a “big deal” when it comes to revamping land-use laws — a sentiment echoed on both sides of the aisle.

“Oregon’s existing land-use laws just don’t recognize that the world has changed. We’re going to put our shoulder to the wheel to make [funding] happen,” says Bill Smith, an Oregon Business Association board member and president of William Smith Properties in Bend.

Another top priority for the OBA is a tax credit for companies that exceed environmental emissions standards. This will be OBA president Ryan Deckert’s first session outside of the Legislature; he stepped down as a senator last year to take the top job at OBA. He describes the credit as a bigger incentive for companies competing on a global scale to excel environmentally.

While they might have different solutions to the problems, both Democrats and Republicans are focused on other business-related bills. One is legislation aimed at combating the rising number of predatory foreclosure scams that have followed on the heels of the national mortgage crisis.

Another joint interest is water. Senate majority leader Richard Devlin calls it a “hidden topic,” but one that’s increasingly being seen as crucial to both urban and rural Oregon. Water storage and aquifer restoration in Eastern Oregon — a huge issue for farmers, fishermen and tribes — is the subject of a bill that both the governor’s office and Sen. David Nelson, R-Pendleton, are working on.

All in all, more than enough for the Legislature to make something out of so-called nothing.              

ABRAHAM HYATT



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