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Oregon lawmakers take testimony on eviction, drought relief ahead of special session

Deschutes County Commissioner Patti Adair addresses drought relief funding  during online legislative hearing Saturday
Oregon Legislature
Deschutes County Commissioner Patti Adair addresses drought relief funding during online legislative hearing Saturday

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – Oregon lawmakers took public testimony at a livestreamed public hearing Saturday on several major issues to be addressed in the Legislature’s special session that begins Monday.

A joint interim committee heard comments on the key proposals:

  • Housing: $215 million to prevent winter evictions and transition to long-term, locally-delivered eviction prevention services, as well as an extension of safe harbor protections for renters who have applied for rental assistance.
  • Drought relief: Provide $100 million to help Oregonians impacted by this summer’s extreme heat and drought conditions.
  • Illegal cannabis suppression: Provide $25 million for a comprehensive, statewide plan to address the proliferation of illegal cannabis around the state and ease the associated humanitarian impacts. 
  • Afghan refugee resettlement: $18 million to support the resettlement of Afghan refugees in Oregon.

While about $180 million in emergency rental assistance has been distributed to more than 25,000 households over the past eight months, lawmakers were told that slow processing and distribution of the funds meant evictions still have occurred, with thousands more possible if the program isn’t restored soon and the pace of processing sped up.

Committee Co-Chair Senator Lee Beyer assured one critical speaker that lawmakers “do not look at housing providers as villains. We’re trying to get you your money.”

Several speakers told of work lost due to the pandemic, of health issues that have left them facing eviction and urging  more protections and outreach to tenants about the rental assistance online program that’s too complex for many to make their way through.

When the drought relief bill was discussed, two Central Oregonians were among those who testified.

Deschutes County Commissioner Patti Adair, a Sisters resident, say hay farmers in the area have seen their tonnage plunge 40 percent this year due to lack of adequate water to grow their cops.

More than 130 county residents have had to dig deeper wells this year because theirs ran dry, Adair said, pointing to canal-piping projects that have reduced seepage as a key factor.

“Wells that were 200 feet deep have to drill to 450 feet to get adequate water,” Adair said. One neighbor had to re-dig a well at a cost of $25,000, so she said of the $585,000 Deschutes County allocation, “I’m not sure that’s enough money.”

Adair also said she hopes lawmakers will address that 85 percent of wells in the state don’t have to report their water usage.

Madras-area farmer Gary Harris, a former 8-year member of the state Land Conservation and Development Commission, said Jefferson County has very few wells – “we have no underground water” – and are “totally reliant” on the irrigation system from the Wickup Reservoir system.

“The drought and the (spotted) frog is hurting us very badly,”  Harris said, urging lawmakers to “allocate as much funds as possible” to help farmers and ranchers survive.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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Barney Lerten

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