ONTARIO — A bill which will give residents in Malheur County preferences in public employment within the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Region received final passage on the Oregon House Floor Wednesday, the second time around. House Bill 2026 has now moved to the Senate Rules Committee.

As originally written, the bill would have given preference to residents in the border area for public jobs if the majority of the work would be done in the border region, which includes the area 20 miles within Oregon/Idaho border, from the Annex and Brogan areas south to Adrian. 

However, Mark Owens, R-Crane, chief sponsor of the bill and carrier of it on the House floor, changed course and had the bill referred to the House Rules Committee for amendment to help facilitate its passage.

The main amendments are that the main area of residency was expanded from the border region to the whole county, and that the required length of residency in the county from the date of hiring is five years. Failure to maintain residency in the county for five consecutive years will be considered voluntary termination of employment.

The bill passed on a vote of 53-to-5, on a bipartisan basis. An applicant can forgo the available preferences.

There were objections expressed about giving preference according to geography, however, Malheur County’s economic situation carried the day. 

Rep. Janelle Bynum, D.-Clackamas, said Malheur County’s position is economically opposite of Idaho, compared with her district, where there is weather area up against a power area. 

“We should be supportive and compassionate [toward all areas of Oregon],” she said.

Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, moved to her desk on the House Floor to support the bill, remarking how she and former Rep. Cliff Bentz (now Congressman) had created the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Region, and encouraged the board to come up with ideas to help the area. 

“We wish to support ideas,” Kotek said, allowing that she did not support all the ideas put forth by the board.

From the floor, Kotek read from a letter from Ontario businessman Ralph Poole, a former member of the Economic Development Board who had resigned. 

Kotek said Poole had complained that the board was not being listened to by officials on the west side of the state.

“We are listening,” Kotek said.

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