End of 2017 Oregon Legislative Session Update

(July 10, 2017) The 2017 Oregon Legislative Session ended with many successes for the land trust community. Since the formation of COLT, this can be considered our most successful, proactive, and engaged legislative session. Not only were we able to usher through a new conservation program for the state (OAHP), but we were also successful in our advocacy (defense and offense) on a number of other bills as well.

Below are brief highlights of the successful advocacy for some of the priority bills for COLT:

SB 181 – Property tax exemptions for nonprofits (deferred)
SB 181, which related to property tax exemptions for certain nonprofits (including land trusts), was deferred in the House Revenue Committee. COLT worked closely with the Nonprofit Association of Oregon and other partners to address our shared concerns about the bill. In the end, our collective voice was heard and the bill was pulled this session. COLT continues to work with NAO and the other partners on how to address the concerns that gave rise to the bill, as we expect that a revised bill will make an appearance during the 2018 short session.

SB 327 – Recreational immunity (passed)
SB 327 was enacted in the Chapter 449, 2017 Laws on July 4th. The bill restores recreation immunity for landowners that make their land available to the public without charge.  This bill was a top priority for COLT and its passage is a big win! A huge thanks to Nancy Duhnkrack and COLT’s Pro Bono Legal Program for negotiating amendments and to COLT members for reaching out to your legislators.

Reps. Witt and Buehler join OAHP partners at the June 22, 2017 Lobby Day

HB 3249 – Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (passed)
Another big win was HB 3249, which passed the House and Senate just shy of the the closing of this session! COLT and the OAHP Work Group partners hosted a lobby day on June 22nd, which brought important attention and urgency to this program. Our diverse group, about 40 people representing a range of backgrounds, met with 70 legislator offices that day. Lobby day was perfect timing as it helped increase support in the building and spark its movement. HB 3249 received a unanimous yes vote in both fiscal committees, and was granted $190,000 this biennium to help establish the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Commission and the rules for the program. The next steps for COLT will now to be to help establish the Commission, and work with partners to strategize long-term funding for the program. Particularly given the budgetary challenges this session for the state, passing the OAHP is an exciting moment as it is Oregon’s first voluntary conservation program to protect ranch and farm land. Something to celebrate!

HB 5040 – OWEB Budget (passed)
The OWEB budget passed with an 11.8% increase for the next biennium, largely from increased projections in lottery revenues. This was an enthusiastic sign that the legislature prioritized funding conservation despite the uncertainty of the state budget crunch limiting funding. In addition, the legislature recognized the great work done by land trusts throughout the state. The OWEB Board is set to approve the spending plan in upcoming weeks, which includes operation funding for COLT.

In conclusion, there are several takeaways from this session:

  • First, the impact of the dedicated individuals and the coalitions that formed to advocate for each bill made a huge difference.
    • Legislators were impressed by the diverse groups coming together to back legislation (primarily SB 327 and HB 3249), and they recognized the hard work put into forming those relationships.
  • Second, land conservation tours COLT and member land trusts have organized appear to be very effective in educating legislators about land trusts.
    • Related to the OAHP, a reoccurring trend this session was legislators referencing the land tours during hearings and in-person meetings they attended last summer that COLT and our partner land trusts organized.
    • Legislators mentioned the habitat restoration and conservation benefits they saw, along with the agricultural value of properties they visited.
    • It was encouraging to see the lasting impressions and the positive feedback that these tours have on legislators.
    • COLT and local land trusts are organizing additional tours this summer to continue the outreach and relationship building with legislators.

 

Finally, COLT extends a huge thank you to all our members and partners who were actively engaged throughout session by taking the time to call legislators, submitting letters of testimony, traveling to Salem to testify in-person, attend the OAHP lobby day, and connect us with community members and organizations to broaden the coalition. Because of your participation, we see these positive outcomes of this session; we are very grateful for our broad support network.

Cheers to wrapping up a successful legislative session!