By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Oregon Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli challenged Senate Democrats to support agricultural water-development this session, saying it is a perfect opportunity for the party to create jobs in rural Oregon.
In their 2013 session agenda, Senate Democrats ranked putting Oregonians back to work and strengthening rural Oregon communities as priorities.
With Gov. John Kitzhaber, tribal interests and others on board for winter water withdrawals from the Columbia River, Ferrioli said the opportunity is ripe to boost water storage in the state and conduct other water-development projects.
"The means are at hand," Ferrioli said. "We are just wondering if the Democrats are serious about doing any job creation or doing anything to strengthen agriculture. If they are, this is such an obvious thing to do.
"It would bring Oregon into alignment with other states that have water rights on the Columbia, and, frankly, it could double our agricultural capacity out of the state of Oregon," he said.
Among Senate Republican priorities, Ferrioli said he hopes this session to boost funding for agricultural research above levels proposed in the budget of Gov. John Kitzhaber.
"If Democrats want (economic) recovery, they have to make investments in things that actually produce jobs," he said. "And if you wanted to do something for rural communities, you would double the budget that goes into the agricultural experiment stations."
State funding for Oregon's three statewide public services was held steady in the governor's proposed budget, while the Oregon University System received a 7 percent increase.
In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform on a federal level, Ferrioli said he expects to support a proposal aimed at reducing the number of unlicensed, uninsured motorists in Oregon -- a number that has grown as driver's licenses expire for undocumented aliens who populated the state's farm workforce.
Under current law, applicants must show legal presence to obtain a driver's license.
The proposal under consideration by the Republican caucus calls for Oregon to create a motor-vehicle operating permit.
"(Applicants) would need to demonstrate competency and familiarity with the rules of the road, and have insurance and a residence where the permit can be mailed," Ferrioli said.
"And if you can demonstrate all those things, you don't get an Oregon Driver's License, which implies the right to vote and permanent residency, but you should have some documentation to show who you are and that you are competent to operate a motor vehicle," Ferrioli said.
"To ignore the fact that we need those guest workers just ignores the reality of our situation," he said.
"We are a producer state: From Christmas trees to pears, from grain to forest products, all of it depends on a well-trained workforce who wants to work in the sector," he said.