We’ve officially reached the two month milestone in the 2023 legislative session!
After six years working in Washington D.C., being back in state politics has been refreshing, fast-paced, and exciting. This is my first state legislative session since I was an intern for Representative Spencer Frye in the Georgia State Legislature back in 2014!
This legislative session has already seen movement on our top conservation priorities, so let’s take a look at where things are and what we expect for the rest of the session.
Legislative Session Summary
The 2023 legislative session kicked off on January 17 with new legislators, leadership, and committee makeup. They hit the ground running—almost 2,000 bills were introduced before the first week ended.
In early February, the Governor’s Recommended Budget (GRB) was released and included significant investments in housing, houselessness, behavioral health, and education. Although many of our natural resource budget priorities were not included in the GRB, the March economic and revenue forecast predicted a strong revenue forecast for 2023-2025 and gave us hope for a little wiggle room to fully fund our conservation priorities!
In Salem, legislators have been laser focused on passing two early session housing packages and investing $200 million in the semiconductor industry to receive federal funds from the CHIPS Act. Last week, the House Package passed out of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means and will now head to the House floor.
We are now moving towards several committee deadlines that will determine the priorities for the remainder of the session. By this Friday, March 17th, most policy bills will have to receive at least a notice on a committee agenda for a work session or they cannot continue towards passage. Bills must also be approved by a policy committee in their respective Chambers by April 4th. We expect that many of our priority bills will meet these requirements. Check Bill Updates below to learn the latest on bill movement!
COLT Conservation Priorities
As a refresher, let’s take a look at COLT’s top priorities for this legislative session.
Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board
$10 million for grants and $800,000 for administration of the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program
- Updates: This funding was not included in the Governor’s recommended budget. COLT worked with Rep. Helm and Rep. Owens to introduce HB 3366, a bipartisan bill that would fund the OAHP at $10.8M over the next 2 years. HB 3366 had a hearing on Tuesday, March 14th and was passed out of committee!
- Next steps: COLT will advocate for this funding during OWEB’s Committee budget hearing during the week of April 10. More information to come!
Oregon Department of Forestry
Increase the Forest Legacy Program Coordinator Position from 0.75 FTE to 1.0 FTE
- Updates: This funding was not included in the Governor’s recommended budget. COLT testified at the Department of Forestry budget hearing in support of this funding on March 2.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Make permanent the OCRF Coordinator position and deposit $3 million in general funds for the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Fund.
- Updates: No additional funding for the Conservation and Recreation Fund, but the Governor’s recommended budget does make the Coordinator position permanent.
- Next steps: COLT will plan to testify at the ODFW budget hearing on March 22.
Oregon Water Resources Department
Create a position that would develop relationships with Tribes to engage in tribal water issues and the work of the agency. Invest in three complex basin coordinator positions to coordinate on complex issues around groundwater and surface water resources that are shared with other states.
- Updates: Governor’s recommended budget invested $1.5M in complex basin coordinator positions for work related to the Confederated Tribes Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) water rights settlement. COLT will plan to testify once the budget hearing is scheduled.
So far this legislative session, COLT has supported multiple bills that will advance land trust and conservation priorities and programs. Our two top priority bills are HB 3366, the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program Funding bill, and HB 2813, which creates a grant program for water suppliers and communities to acquire, restore, and protect forest lands that include sources of drinking water.