Amid rapid developments in the Oregon legislature Tuesday, several Eastern Oregon counties got good news out of the capital construction committee.
Two capital construction bills, headed for a vote in the House and the Senate, contain several million dollars for Eastern Oregon projects — including $1.6 million for a renovation of the Umatilla County Jail.
“I’m elated,” Sheriff Terry Rowan said.
He had lobbied for the funding in 2017 but did not get it.
The project will help the jail better accommodate inmates brought in with a medical issue, drug addiction or mental illnesses. Rowan said that “volatile” population was landing in jail more often these days and the current setup inside the jail isn’t equipped with an area where inmates in crisis could be temporarily housed while they were stabilized.
Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, said the jail funding was his “number one issue” going into the capital construction funding process.
The jail in Pendleton lies outside of District 57 but serves much of Smith’s district. He said he worked with Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove, and Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, on getting the jail and other priorities for the region funded.
“I think folks are going to find we had a pretty successful session,” Smith said.
There had been some rumors floating around that a walkout by Senate Republicans might damage their districts’ prospects of getting projects like the jail funded, but Hansell’s district ended up with several projects in the capital construction bills even though he was still out of state as of Tuesday afternoon.
Hansell left Thursday, when all 11 GOP senators left to avoid a vote on House Bill 2020, which would implement a cap and trade program meant to fight climate change by taxing carbon emissions.
Pendleton had cause for celebration after the capital construction committee included roughly $5 million to Blue Mountain Community College for an indoor riding arena project that will benefit the college and Pendleton Round-Up.
Another $1 million was earmarked for a surface water-pumping project in Umatilla County benefitting agriculture.
Smith said in the past he was often focused on funding for “roads and pipes” but this session he was focused on projects that would help children and families more directly.
If the capital construction bills pass, Umatilla Morrow Head Start will get $1 million to expand access to early childhood education for working families in Hermiston and Morrow County. The Port of Morrow will also get $1.4 million to expand its early learning center.
Eastern Oregon University will see a windfall of $3 million to replace the grand staircase in Inlow hall and $14 million for a residence hall.
Smith, who sits on the capital construction committee of the Joint Committee of Ways and Means, has drawn scrutiny during the session for how his influence as a legislator interacts with his private job as an economic development consultant. One of his contracts include running the Small Business Development Center at EOU.
As House Bill 5050 and 5005 passed out of committee Tuesday afternoon, there was still a question of whether it would get a vote on the Senate floor as Senate Republicans remained out of state.
Reached at an undisclosed location outside of Oregon, Hansell said on Thursday that Republicans were prepared to stay away until the constitutionally-mandated end of the session June 30. On Tuesday morning, however, Senate President Peter Courtney said there were no longer the votes on the Democratic side to pass the cap and trade bill, prompting talk of the missing senators returning.
On Tuesday morning Hansell said Courtney’s pronouncement boded well for Republicans returning to the Capitol before the end of the week to wrap up budget bills and other important legislation that got stalled by the walkout.
“We’re moving in the direction of returning,” he said.
Hansell said even though he and other caucus members were in different locations they were in contact by phone as caucus leaders discussed negotiating with Democrats for a return.
Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr., R-Grants Pass, released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying Courtney’s assertion that House Bill 2020 would not pass was “good news, however we are still trying to sort out the process.”
“The bill itself has been second read and a vote will have to take place,” he said. “Republicans must be assured that the vote or motion will guarantee the bills complete end. We need to have further conversations so that the Republicans feel comfortable with the process.”
Smith said he hoped to see Senate Republicans return to pass the capital construction bills and other important legislation, particularly budget bills.
“I’m excited to have my colleagues back in the building,” he said. “They did a good job standing up on an important issue, but we have constitutional obligations.”