June 20, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Legislators asked to support Oregon’s most vulnerable in disasters

11 min read
Sen. Floyd Prozanski suggested setting up reserve funds to help residents recover from ice storms and other disasters. He also said he will support Sen. Jeff Golden's proposal for a timber severance tax for wildfire-related funding.

With the legislature about to convene a short session, City Club members have questions. On Jan. 26:

Sandra Bishop (City Club program coordinator): Sandra Bishop here. Welcome to City Club. There’s a lot of places you could be today and I’m so glad to see so many of you here interested in the legislative process. So our speakers today are Oregon Sen. Floyd Prozanski and Oregon Rep. Charlie Conrad.

We also are taking questions online, so, we had a question that came in that I’m going to kick it off with, and that is that there’s wildfire funding under discussion. There are several proposals that are out there. One of them is from Sen. (Jeff) Golden. And this is a proposal for how to get more funding into firefighting for the wildfires, and his proposal also includes restoring the timber severance tax. Would one of you like to answer whether or not you’ll be supporting that proposal or not?

[00:01:06] Sen. Floyd Prozanski: Thank you for the question. There are actually three funding bills that are proposed that I know of, the one that we just heard from Sen. Golden. Also one by Rep. (Paul) Evans and one by Sen. (Elizabeth) Steiner. Sen. Steiner actually put a group together and they came up with a plan that I now understand that the actual bill that was introduced does not have it, but one of them they were thinking about was having every property owner pay $10 into a fund to fight fires. That got a lot of pushback, and so she’s pulled that out. So, all of these things are works in action.

[00:01:40] I am at this point supporting Sen. Golden’s proposal. This is one that is built on Rep. (Paul) Holvey, who’s been working on this issue for, I want to say six to 12 years, and trying to come together and really do a balance.

[00:01:53] And I think once you see the numbers as to how much is actually being paid by the timber industry as to what is the cost on the insurance that we pay, it’s time for an adjustment and I think the numbers will show that it’s appropriate to go with the proposal that Sen. Golden has.

[00:02:10] Kitty Piercy (City Club member): Kitty Piercy. My question has to do with the recent ice storm. If you recall (Hurricane) Katrina years ago, no plans were made for the elderly, and a lot of them suffered terribly during that. And I sort of feel like we’re still in that place in Oregon about what happens to homeless people or unhoused people during occurrences like this and how do we address that and how do we—you could say it’s a local issue, but I think it’s a local and a state and a federal issue. I think we need to prepare for everybody because they’re all our citizens.

[00:02:47] Sen. Floyd Prozanski: Kitty, thank you for the question, and you’re right, and we are learning as we go, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done. I’ve had the opportunity, Charlie may have had some other contacts with some of the emergency service providers. I do understand that there were some outreach that did occur for those who have been working in the streets as to being helping to get people, but what we don’t have is a designated area or means that people know where you can go in this scenario.

[00:03:17] Because you lose power, you can’t get communications, you lose internet, I mean, a lot of people lost power, they may have had internet or vice versa. And so there is a need for, I think, each and every community to have an action plan. And with Charlie, this is an area that he has for emergency response. And yeah, there’s a lot more we can do and a lot more we have to do.

[00:03:41] Rep. Charlie Conrad: Thank you very much for that question. What this storm really showed is how, even regionally, localized, the intensity can vary. So out in Dexter, I had ice. I had no snow. I had an inch of ice on my trees. Not nearly what East Springfield had. Not nearly what Creswell and Cottage Grove has had. And when you have a substation that goes out, that gets damaged like that happened in Creswell, it really changes the dynamics of what you can do.

[00:04:02] The same reason why you can’t leave your house is the same reason why an emergency responder can’t get to you. So how are you going to help your neighbors? How are we as communities going to be able to get food? It’s one thing to be out of power for two days. Most people can store water for two days.

[00:04:16] You know, fill up your milk jugs. Do all the things that you need to do. Have all the candles. Have your flashlights ready to go. A little bit of non-perishable food. We were eating cans of chili and soup and getting creative with what we had in our cupboards. But when you get to four, five, six days, what are you going to do?

[00:04:29] Cottage Grove is running into the issue where their generators are running out of fuel. They’re risking having sewage back up into homes. They had to be able to get some of, fortunately they had a 250-gallon tank that they were able to fill and refill the generator so they could keep the sewage flowing.

[00:04:44] Once you get to four, five, and six days, as system-wise, infrastructure-wise, you start to get into some significant issues that don’t happen at two and three days. So as a state, that planning, we need to make sure that we’ve got funding for, through our SPIRE grants or through our other grants, so we’ve got generators, but you need fuel.

[00:05:01] And we need people to be able to deliver that fuel. Cottage Grove, I was down there all day yesterday talking about this, and they came together and they had somebody deliver firewood. They brought their community together and they started handing out firewood for folks. So it is a community response.

[00:05:15] But the preparation needs to happen at that state level to ensure that that community has those resources that they need through resiliency hubs, through tanks, water tanks, fuel tanks, whatever it is. But it’s got to be that conversation and we can do it going forward and I plan on having that and delivering that message whenever I can.

[00:05:30] Patty Zachary: My name’s Patty Zachary. With the ice storm, so many power poles dropped in Springfield, and with all the fires, I’m wondering if there’s any conversation anywhere about putting power lines under the ground for this state.

[00:05:50] Rep. Charlie Conrad: The back of the envelope number that I was given is $1 million a mile to bury.

[00:05:53] And so if we are going to do that, it’s going to be very, very expensive. So, if that gets rolled out and it gets financed by whatever mechanism we want to finance it, we need to be very strategic and hit those high areas, hit those areas that otherwise don’t have another way to protect those lines. And that also means, you know, we need to look at right of ways and make sure that we are helping our utilities to be able to trim back the trees, to be able to reduce the hazards, and it might be more cost-effective.

[00:06:19] And then when there’s no other option, okay, then, then let’s spend that money to go ahead and start burying those lines where it makes sense. But it’s going to have to be a strategic approach.

[00:06:28] Sen. Floyd Prozanski: I’m going to springboard off of that and just what you just said. SUB (Springfield Utility Board), which is the provider for Springfield utilities, electric, in the last ice storm, they had six poles that went down. Six. This time, 80. So it is a war zone, in the sense of when you get out to East Springfield, which is now part of the district I represent in the Thurston area.

[00:06:48] I think the real issue that we have, that we’re going into this session: What, if anything, can we as a state do to help those individuals that have been impacted by the storm and actually have some resources available. I’ve got some plans or thoughts with it, that I’m trying to get in with the governor to see if she would be encouraging to move forward about maybe setting up some reserve funds that we can actually utilize to help people.

[00:07:15] Because this is what I didn’t know: You have a tree that goes down, it’s a 120-foot tree, it goes across your property, knocks out your two fences, and then you call your insurance company. My understanding, the insurance company will clear the tree to fix the fence, but that big log that’s in the middle of your yard is for you to take care of. There are many, many individuals in this community that will not be able to do that And so we need to look at how we as a state work to help each other. And this is one of the areas I think we can.

[00:07:46] Andrew Kalloch (City Club president): A follow-up from the audience to what we were just talking about: Many of these extreme weather events are being fueled at least in part potentially by climate change. So, are there climate resilience or climate action items that are on the agenda for the short session?

[00:08:00] Rep. Charlie Conrad: I don’t know of anything that will address that in the immediate future.

[00:08:05] Sen. Floyd Prozanski: Yeah, I’m not sure all the bills that have been followed if there’s one there, but the climate resistance has been an area that we’ve been working on. I’m not sure if anything has been dropped for the 2024 session.

[00:08:17] Jerry Smith: Jerry Smith, City Club member. All the health and welfare programs that we have were based on federal funding, originally. Sometimes 90%, sometimes 75%, and it’s all gone. And for the state or our local charitable community to try to carry on the work, we’re failing tremendously on homelessness, mental illness. And I just see these people who have no idea where to go or how to get help.

[00:08:52] KelliAnn Stiles: Hi. I’m KelliAnn Stiles and I’m the mother of a victim of sex trafficking and so my question is, can you please add some extra services, wraparound services especially, for survivors of sex trafficking, especially more help for current survivors and help prevent more sex trafficking of all ages.

[00:09:15] Sen. Floyd Prozanski: The Judiciary committees, both House and Senate, have been very astute to this issue, have been working, will continue to work. This is an area that we do need to put more and more time and efficiency and as the questioner asked to make certain that we have services that are wraparound that actually does in fact provide those services that are needed for that individual. Each and every victim of these type of crimes have different needs. And so you need to have a menu of opportunities to actually help those individuals transition through that tragedy.

[00:09:50] Rep. Charlie Conrad: As Sen. Prozanski talked about, it’s those wraparound services. And it’s not just for the person themselves, it’s their support systems, it’s the people around them, whether they might have children, whether they have families, and so I am a strong advocate for that. There are some programs that I’ve learned about recently throughout the state, and if I can advocate for funding for them to keep them up and going, and/or let them expand their services.

[00:10:10] Our behavioral health system throughout the state is horrid. We are bottom in the nation for delivery of services, and we’re one of the top in the nation for mental health and substance use disorder. We have done a horrible job, and it’s been decades of lack of investment, and this is the time that we need to actually do something different and start closing those gaps and being the highest in the services and lowest for the addiction and mental health.

[00:10:30] Tom Bowerman: Tom Bowerman, City Club member. I’m really pleased to see you two together. I admire you both. One is very new to the legislature. One’s one of the oldest hands in the legislature. Which leads to my question: We the people have witnessed some real policy struggles in the last several sessions and walkouts, stalemates. What do you think, if you could choose one thing, the most important game-changer policy to adopt or to enact in some way, that would facilitate the operation of policymaking in the legislature?

[00:11:16] Sen. Floyd Prozanski: Well, that’s a big question, Tom. Thank you very much.

[00:11:20] Tom Bowerman: You must dream, right? (laughter)

[00:11:24] Sen. Floyd Prozanski: So it is interesting. I am the longest-serving legislator in Oregon at this point. My first seven years was in the minority. And I was taught in that time—and it was a very collegial setting—we had Democrats and Republicans working together, duking it out in committee or on the floor, but afterwards, getting together and not having it become personalized.

[00:11:48] So I can’t legislate not making stuff personal but that is one of the areas because what we know is that it’s, Charlie and I have worked together on a few things since he’s come in. If you sit down and talk, you may have differences, but the reality, you probably have more commonality than you think.

[00:12:04] And so we can, in fact, work together. And it’s one of those things that a bill that we pass is a living document. And what I mean by that is that you take it, you work it, you move forward. And if it doesn’t hit the mark, you come back and make modifications. We can’t get everything perfect the first time. So I hope that we can do that. And the other part, we’ll see what’s going to happen.

[00:12:26] As most people know, the voters passed Measure 113. It’s in the courts right now. And that is going to determine whether or not individuals who have in fact walked out are going to be able to return for another session. Are they not going to be able to join us. So I really do hope that we get to a point where we were in the past of having much more cooperation working together because we are there to serve the people.

[00:12:50] And I will just say, in my very first session, I had five different mentors. Three were Democrats and two were Republicans. I was fresh, I was new, I had wet behind the ears. And those two Republicans, one was the Senate chair of Judiciary and the House chair, they stopped whatever they were doing when I walked to their door and said, ‘Help.’ And they helped me. They said, ‘You leave your partisan stripes at the door when you come in here for session. You work with the other 89 people. You do the best you can representing your constituents, but think about the state as a whole.’ I wish and I hope that we can get back to that.

[00:13:26] John Q: About a week before the short session gets underway, local legislators take questions at the Eugene City Club. In the aftermath of the ice storm, many local residents asked about future support in emergencies.

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