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Reps. Helt, Zika lay out priorities on eve of “short” session

State Reps. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, and Cheri Helt, R-Bend
State Reps. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, and Cheri Helt, R-Bend

Issues range from vaping and homelessness to affordable housing, opioids

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Two Central Oregon state representatives, both veterans of last year's headline-grabbing regular session, are laying out their priorities for the 35-day "short session" that begins Monday.

Bend Republican Cheri Helt of House District 54 and Redmond Republican Jack Zika of District 53 sat down with NewsChannel 21 ahead of the 2020 Legislative Session to talk about their plans and expectations.

Helt's goals are lofty for a 35-day session, zeroing in four bills she's working on with her district in mind. One is a potential total ban on flavored vaping products, which has been discussed in the past by the Legislature. Helt's in favor of a ban, given the health risks involved with vaping and its increased popularity among teens.

She said she also plans to introduce a bill tackling homelessness. It would focus on unaccompanied homeless youth in particular, which Helt says are growing in numbers, especially in Central Oregon.

Her next priority would be to regulate opioid prescriptions further, by building upon current tracking systems used by doctors and pharmacists alike. 

Helt says the opioid crisis hits home in Bend, after a well-loved dentist named Marika Stone was hit and killed by a driver deemed to be under the influence at the time of the crash. The investigation following the crash led to a discovery that the driver, Shantel Witt, apparently took a pain killer originally prescribed to her pet.

Helt maintains tighter regulation around reporting and record keeping would prevent this type of prescription drug abuse.

Lastly, Helt plans to tackle standardized student testing in Oregon. She believes students should not only be academically prepared for higher education, but also career-ready after high school. 

Helt said she believes current standardized testing may not reflect the true aptitude of every student, and a refreshed system would increase graduation rates over time. "We don't want them to get discouraged and drop out when it's really not accurate," she said.

When asked about a possible rerun of last year's climate bill introduction and walkout by Senate Republicans, Helt says she's interested in what details will be presented by Democrats this time around, and hopes cooler heads prevail.

However, Helt maintains any bill that "increases the cost on families and people that are already struggling really is something (she is) going to highly scrutinize," citing the increased cost of living in Bend in the 16 years since she moved to Central Oregon.

Meanwhile, Zika pointed out two bills he's looking to champion during the session. One would fight for more affordable housing across the state, and the other would address what Zika calls a "day care desert" in Central Oregon. Zika says for every 10 children in need of child care locally, there's only room for three.

"I think there's a lot of families out there that this puts a financial burden on them when you can't go back to work, and you're looking for quality day care, inexpensive, hopefully, and as it is now, it's not there," he said.

Zika also addressed the rules of a short session, where votes can be called without much notice. He expressed less optimism than Helt when it comes to seeing final votes on bills introduced this month, as he's been through the process before. This is Helt's first short session as a state representative.

Both Zika and Helt addressed Democrats taking another stab at a cap-and-trade bill to fight climate change.

Neither expressed total support just yet, given the potential cost-of-living increase on working class families.

Article Topic Follows: Central Oregon
Oregon Legislature

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Jordyn Siemens

Jordyn Siemens is a producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jordyn here.


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