The legislative session ended Saturday June 26th, with varying outcomes for the four legislative issues we have been working on for the last few weeks.
HB 5518- ODF Budget Bill
The budget passed without either of the two Governor proposed cost shifts to landowners, changing the funding for ODF Private Forests Division from 40% harvest tax to 50% and elimination of the state general fund paying for landowners share of ODF Fire Division administration costs. Stopping these two costs shifts to landowners was a high priority for OSWA this session.
The budget of $107,468,647 General Fund, $2,564,210 Lottery Funds, $289,752,162 Other Funds expenditure limitation, and $41,471,405 Federal Funds expenditure limitation for the 2021-23 biennium. The total funds budget of $441,256,424 and 1,221 positions (920.42 FTE) represents an increase of 27 positions (57.8 FTE) over the 2019-21 approved budget. The bill also establishes a Special Purpose Appropriation (SPA) of $14.0 million General Fund in the Emergency Board for ODF fire protection expenses, the allocation in 2019-21 for SPA was $4 million.
In the Fire Protection program, the package includes $2,018,553 General Fund, $3,191,693 Other Funds expenditure limitation for 17 new permanent positions (16.75 FTE). The Private Forest Division is a current services level budget which continues the upgrades and enhancements to the Department’s Forest reporting and notification system as required by SB 1602 (2020 1st Special Session). Finally, a one-time appropriation of $1.7 million General Fund is included in the package for continued eradication and containment programs related to Sudden Oak Death (SOD).
HB 2070 and HB 2434- Forest Products Harvest Tax Bills
The legislature adjourned without passing a bill to update the forest products harvest tax and extend the sunset for two years on three of the five components of the tax. In a wild turn of events, the House Revenue Committee passed out HB 2070 with the -8 amendment, which OSWA was opposed to. In response, the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee adopted the -A5 amendment to HB 2434, the version which we supported, and sent it to the full Senate for a vote. Once HB 2434 passed the Senate, the House sent HB 2070 back to committee but refused to agree with the Senate amendment to HB 2434.
This led to a conference committee recommending the Senate remove the forest product harvest tax from the bill and allow the original bill to be passed, leading to the outcome I described in the first sentence. This means it is highly likely we will be negotiating a harvest tax bill for February with a retroactive date so there is no gap in the services provided by these programs.
HB 2357- OFRI Reforms
After passing the House on a 32-27 vote, the bill to eviscerate OFRI died in the Senate without a hearing. A deal to amend the bill in a manner that was agreeable to the Senate (and OSWA) was rejected in the final days of the session by proponents of the bill. This sealed its fate for this session, but I am afraid not for long.
I predict this issue becomes part of the negotiations for February which are likely to include harvest tax, fire funding and OFRI. The timing will be more appropriate as the Secretary of State audit of OFRI should be completed in time for the discussions. Another possible resolution might be that the issue could become part of the Private Forest Accord, as the makeup of OFRI was part of an initiative which was set aside by the MOU which started the Accord.
SB 762- Omnibus Wildfire Reform Bill
This bill was drafted in response to the report issued by the Governors Wildfire Council and the devastating wildfires experienced last September. The bill passed on the final day of session and while not exactly the language we had advocated for, some last-minute changes make the bill at least workable on the short term .
The last-minute change allows ODF to define the Wild-Land Urban Interface, rather than use the definition from the original bill, which was seen as too broad to be applied equitably across Oregon’s varied landscape and climate. It provides statewide comprehensive strategies to promote wildfire risk reduction, response and recovery. It also appropriates $150,000,000 General Fund to various agencies, authorizes 235 new positions (190 FTE) with ODF and the State Fire Marshal, respectfully allocated 174 and 37 of those new positions.
The bill is certainly not a quick fix to ending wildfires in the state, but implemented properly it could create the framework for an improved firefighting response statewide. OSWA and others must remain vigilant and engaged as the rules to implement the bill are adopted. If not, Oregon’s world renown wildfire fighting system with ODF in the lead could be dismantled and lost.