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Oregon Legislature passes several ag bills

Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

The Oregon legislature has concluded its 2014 session having passed several bills related to agriculture.

Analysis


SALEM — A redrawing of urban and rural reserves in Oregon’s largest metropolitan area was the signature agriculture-related accomplishment of the 2014 legislative session, but several other bills will also have an impact on farming.

The legislative fix to a Portland metropolitan area land use dispute initially seemed like a long shot, but quickly gained momentum due to a court ruling.

Previously-approved boundaries for urban and rural reserves were thrown out by the Oregon Court of Appeals.

The ruling meant the plan would have to be reconsidered, leading to possible years of administrative and legal squabbling.

A revised plan converted several large swaths of land from urban to rural reserves, closing those areas off from development for 50 years.

A couple of smaller parcels were opened for eventual development and the urban growth boundaries of several cities were expanded.

Portland's Metro regional government backed the amended bill and it passed the legislature unanimously, with Gov. John Kitzhaber vowing to sign it.

• A less visible bill with farm impacts also passed the legislature unanimously: SB 1541, which reinstates a tax credit for crop donations.

Kitzhaber has indicated he will sign the bill, which increases the tax credit rate from 10 percent to 15 percent and extends it until 2020.

• The governor has already signed a bill that creates a task force to study the effects of pesticides on pollinators.

That legislation, HB 4139, was initially opposed by the Oregon Farm Bureau because it proposed restricting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

Those provisions were stripped from the bill in favor of creating the task force, after which it moved smoothly through the legislature.

• Some proposals proved too controversial for the short legislative session, which adjourned on March 7 after roughly a month.

Several bills that would have affected the authority of state water regulators died in committee. The bills — HB 4044, HB 4064 and SB 1572 — didn’t gain traction after agricultural groups said they were divided about them.

The legislation would have prohibited water regulators from shutting off a well unless proven to interfere with surface water rights.

The bills were supported by some irrigators in the Upper Klamath Basin who fear regulators will shut off wells this year based on regional hydrological models.

The Oregon Water Resources Department thought the testing requirements would be too expensive.

The Oregon Water Resources Congress, which represents some irrigators, opposed the bills out of concern they would hinder regulators’ ability to enforce senior water rights.

• A bill related to mandatory labeling of food made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, also stirred up debate but ultimately went nowhere.

The legislation, HB 4100, would have put a labeling initiative before voters in the 2014 general election.

Though the bill died in committee, the underlying issue may still wind up on the ballot, as supporters of GMO labeling are currently gathering signatures for an initiative.

• A bill related to reforestation that wasn’t subject to much controversy nonetheless failed to move to a vote on the Senate floor.

SB 1513 would have provided funding assistance and tax incentives for forest owners who replant trees after catastrophic fires.

The bill was approved by the Senate’s Committee on Rural Communities and Economic Development. After being referred to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, though, it didn’t receive any further hearings.



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