Despite unknowns of a new session, ag lobbyist is hopeful
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- A new Senate committee and a new head of the House Agriculture Committee could be instrumental in helping the natural resource industries survive and even thrive in the 2013 Legislature.
Paulette Pyle, grass roots coordinator for the farm and forest advocacy group Oregonians for Food and Shelter, said she is optimistic about the fate of the natural resource industries, despite the fact the more agriculture-friendly Republican caucus lost four seats in the House.
The party makeup in the House went from a 30-30 split in 2011 and 2012 to 34-26 in favor of Democrats in 2013.
Pyle said her optimism hinges on some unknown factors.
For one, Pyle said she hopes Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, funnels agriculture- and forest-friendly bills through the newly created Rural Communities and Economic Development Committee.
The committee, chaired by rural Democrat Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay, offers hope for an agriculture and forestry lobby that last session had several bills die in the Senate without ever obtaining a vote after being assigned to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
The Senate Environment Committee is chaired by Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland.
"I'm hoping (the new committee) is going to give us a way to get some of our ag and forestry bills into a different venue," Pyle said. "We would appreciate it if Sen. Courtney would direct the bills to Sen. Roblan."
Roger Beyer, who lobbies for several agricultural industries and for the small woodlands industry, said he, too, hopes agriculture and forest-friendly bills are assigned to the new rural committee.
"I certainly hope that is the case," Beyer said. "I think Arnie would be more favorable to good, positive legislation than Sen. Dingfelder has been in the past."
Another unknown is whether newly elected Washington County Rep. Ben Unger, D-Hillsboro, proves a backer of bills that support economic development in agriculture and forestry.
Unger, who defeated Republican Katie Eyre in the November general election, comes from a farm family but was not endorsed by the Oregon Farm Bureau in its 2012 Election Guide.
"I am optimistic he can help agriculture and forestry," Pyle said. "He is from a wonderful farm family."
Unger serves on an expanded agriculture committee that is chaired for the first time by Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie.
Witt replaces former chair Brian Clem, D-Salem, who received an A-grade and backing from the Oregon Farm Bureau in its 2012 Election Guide. Clem will chair the newly formed House Land Use Committee.
Witt, who is entering his fourth term in the House, is a former secretary-treasure of the AFL-CIO, a former member of the Oregon Board of Forestry and a hay farmer.
"Brad actually has a fabulous forestry background," Pyle said. "If bills that relate to ag and forestry are assigned to that committee, I am pretty optimistic."
Beyer, too, said he has worked well with Witt in the past and likes the makeup of the committee.
"I think it is a committee we can work with," Beyer said.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, expanded the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to nine members, up from seven last session.
Unger also will serve as one of three House representatives on the joint Ways and Means Natural Resources Subcommittee, which helps shape budgets for natural resource agencies and the Oregon State University Extension Service, Experiment Station and Forest Research Laboratory.
He is joined by Reps. Jules Bailey, D-Portland, and Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, on the House side of the subcommittee.
Bailey, who is starting his third term in the House and studied environmental studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, also is serving as chair of the House Energy and Environment Committee.
On the Senate side of the Ways and Means Natural Resources Subcommittee sit Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, Dingfelder and Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River.
Edwards has experience in the forestry industry, Pyle said, and Thomsen is a pear grower.
The 2013 session starts Jan. 14.