Hansell visits chamber after hours event

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer October 23, 2013 12:40 pm

ENTERPRISE — The Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce received a special visit from State Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, at its fall after hours event.

Hansell talked about the special session held last month in Salem and the success of passing four bills into law.

Hansell said the Legislature’s leadership was working on something called “the Grand Bargain” last spring that included Public Employee Retirement System reform and tax breaks for small business. 

“Discussions broke down last spring, but just before we adjourned in July, we sat down and hammered out a deal, but House Democrats walked away and we adjourned without any of this coming into play,” he said.

In the interim, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber knew where he had to go, Hansell said, so a special session was called and five bills were put together in hopes the bills would pass. PERS reform was handled in two different bills, revenue reform in two bills, and the final bill passed was regarding genetically modified organism seed.

“Republicans are strong on PERS reform and we wanted to have a small business tax cut,” Hansell said. “Sixty-three percent of all the jobs in Oregon are small business, and 75 percent are 10 employees or less.”

A deal was made to reduce PERS by eliminating all new legislators from the system.

The Legislature also approved a tax increase on tobacco that will go to support mental health services, Hansell said.

Also on the list during the special session was whether to let counties regulate genetically modified organisms or leave it under the state’s control. Hansell said the supervision of seed production in Oregon, including conventional, landmark and GMO, is currently under state control, but GMO has taken on a life of its own.

Jackson County had an initiative that may determine whether or not GMO crops will be allowed to be grown. 

“It is fraught with all sorts of problems like the right to farm and laws regulated by the federal government,” Hansell said.

When GMO wheat seed was found in Milton-Freewater in May that came out of Walla Walla Grain Growers, Hansell said 19 sets of boots were on the ground and no one found another plant. The Legislature decided the regulation is going to stay at the state and federal level.

This past spring, during the legislature’s regular session, the Wallowa County Chamber sponsored monthly video conferencing with Hansell and House Rep. Bob Jenson of Pendleton. Hansell credited these conferences for helping get Senate Bill 2 out of committee, onto the senate floor, and eventually passed into law.