SALEM — The first Legislative session for representatives Paul Evans (District 20) and Mike Nearman (District 23) is under their belts.
With it brought some victories, challenges and disappointments.
The Itemizer-Observer followed up with both representatives to find out what they thought of it all. Nearman did not respond.
Evans said it was a historical session because of both internal and external events.
“Our transition of governor, internal politics between rural and urban, and an end game largely between the House and the Senate,” all presented some challenges, he explained.
The difference between the House and the Senate was illustrated when the $30 million Capitol bonding measure failed. Members of the Senate, many of whom have been elected longer than those in the House, had been a part of the conversations and assumed the bonding would go forward, Evans said.
“The House, Republicans and Democrats, were concerned about the message it would send if we were putting money into the Legislature rather than schools or seismic investments or other bonding because of electoral consequences across the country,” Evans said. “The fact of the matter is we can do both.”
He said the bonding is important, particularly when Oregon experiences that 9.0 earthquake.
“Everyone knows this building is something more than just a building,” he said. “There are certain symbols that we need back up and running again.”
Five bills were presented regarding Measure 91, the legalization of recreational marijuana, passed by voters in November. Evans said he voted no on all of them.
“The people of Oregon voted on the Measure,” he said. “I may not have understood or agreed with some elements of it, but I didn’t want to get in the way. Most members (of the House and Senate) tried to do a very good job of refining it, but sometimes when the committee gets together to make a horse, it ends up with a camel. I didn’t want to be a part of that.”
When it came to investing in education and veterans, Evans is pleased with his progress.
“I think the state of Oregon will look back on this session and say we did a lot of really important investments,” he said. “We put close to $300 million in seismic investments between schools and public buildings; we created a state resilience officer (emergency preparedness); we put about a million more dollars into veterans outreach.”
“We’re certainly working on the bureaucracy (veterans face), but the outreach piece is important,” Evans added.
House Bill 2838 establishes a task force to identify incarcerated veterans to help get their families benefits promised to them. When a veteran is in jail, he or she is not eligible to receive benefits, but his or her family is, Evans said. Additionally, the task force would be used to help veterans with housing and transitioning out of jail.
Also, a women’s veterans coordinator has been established, as well as a LGBT coordinator, which became more of a political “lightning rod” than Evans expected, but he is proud it has been established.
“A lot of folks had their honor stolen by a very different view of conduct and behavior,” he said. “At the end of the day, if you wore the uniform and you served this country, you should be judged on what you did, not who you were or who you are. We have evolved, I think, as a society to recognize that orientation is who you are, it’s not conduct to be judged by others.”
In February, the start of the Legislative short session, the Speaker of the House has told Evans he will put priority on another bill presented: dedicating between 3 and 5 percent of Oregon Lottery bonds to veterans, which would mean more veterans officers on campuses and in counties, as well as some housing initiatives, “things that the feds just aren’t getting done.”
Evans helped pass some bills regarding safety, including one that would help keep guardians of endangered children safer. When a child is in protective custody because of a bad family situation, including abuse, sometimes the adults who take care of those children are stalked and threatened, Evans said. House Bill 3391 will allow the Department of Justice to intervene and make it more difficult for stalkers.
“The bill I’m most excited about and surprised by is HB 2459,” Evans said. The bill is not huge, and won’t go down as a landmark bill, but it will increase the number of free fishing days offered to Oregonians by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“ODFW is having a heck of a time meeting its obligations because people aren’t buying licenses,” Evans said. “Our society’s changed a lot. If you’re not raised in the fishing culture, you’re not just going to go and buy a fishing license if you haven’t had the experience.”
HB 2459 increased the number of free fishing days from two to four, which means more opportunities for families to get out there and try it.
“We might just get ’em hooked,” Evans said.
He voted yes on one bill that he said wasn’t the “politically smart” thing to do, but it was the right thing to do, was on Senate Bill 941 regarding additional background checks for firearms.
“In the last five years, Oregon became one of the fastest growing Internet based sales of firearms, meaning other states were putting these (checks) in place, and people were doing Craigslist and other types of advertisements, meeting in parking lots and selling guns to people they didn’t know,” Evans said. “I felt that, even though it will be a little uncomfortable in some ways to adhere to this law, if it would save one life from some felon not getting a gun as easily – do I think they could still get a gun, probably, but will enough people follow the law that it will make it harder, yes – and if it makes it harder and perhaps saves one life, and I’m inconvenienced a little, I can live with inconvenience.”
Partly because of his choice to vote yes on SB 941, and partly because District 20 is a swing seat, Evans expects a tough campaign for 2016, but he’s ready to keep fighting for his seat.
“Overall, it has been an unforgettable experience,” he said. “The session didn’t end the way I wanted it to, I’ll be honest, there are a couple things I wished we could have gotten done. We may not have gotten everything right, but we did everything we could.”
Nearman’s record may be found oniline at https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2015R1/Measures/list/#.