With the wildfires dominating the headlines, along with the pandemic, lawmakers have been busy working to find ways to help people impacted by the fires.
State Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, representing District 30, said Wednesday he has been attending Joint Emergency Board meetings which has been funding relief packages for those impacted by the fires. Findley spoke during a virtual town hall session held jointly with state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, House District 60, and Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, House District 59.
In one of its latest sessions, the Emergency Board, which handles fiscal matters when the Legislature is not in session, allocated $20 million for fire relief to help people and schools impacted by the fires, Findley said. While no school building burned down, some suffered smoke and ash damage.
Some 6,0000 to 8,000 homes have been destroyed, Findley said and because many of the property owners had not ever filed damage claims, the state housing authority had been authorized to assist them in getting through the process of the filing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance.
Bonham, for his part, said he was concerned the Emergency Board was overstepping its bounds and straying into policy issues, rather than sticking to budget matters.
“The state is trying to be everything to everybody,” he said, “ and will eventually come up short on the path.”
Bonham said the governor has been hinting at a post-election special session. He says that would be the wrong thing to do, as some lawmakers will be preparing to leave the Legislature by their choice or having been defeated in the election.
Getting children back in school
Another issue was schools, with Owens and Findley saying the three lawmakers are pushing for more flexibility in allowing local authorities to decide when more districts to open in-person classes.
They have been asking the Oregon Education Department and the Oregon Health Authority to give school district more room to maneuver. Owens said the ODE will be coming out with new guidance in a couple of weeks.
Parents need to have more opportunities to get their children back into school.
Transportation, carbon bill and other matters
Findley said he is also working with Oregon Department of Transportation officials to get Department of Motor Vehicles offices back open and asked for a road map on how services will be restored, noting with some people have had to drive 150 miles for a drivers test.
He is not fully satisfied with the response, he said, and will take it up with ODOT officials again when travel to his district.
Findley and Bonham said they have been told that a carbon bill is off the table for the next legislative session, with Findley commenting he hopes that is true but that there is no guarantee.
Bonham said he is hopeful that with the election the Democrats will no longer have a supermajority.
With the U.S. Census coming to a close, Findley again expressed concern that too few people in eastern Oregon are responding to the detriment of the region, noting the census affects redistricting and funding to local communities,
All three lawmakers expressed interest in continuing the town hall sessions after the election.