Final action on all pending legislation to be completed by August 9
Salem, OR—Governor Kate Brown today provided notice that she is considering vetoing one bill and three line-item appropriations passed during the 2019 Legislative Session. Under Article 5, Section 15 of the Oregon Constitution the Governor must provide at least five days' notice before vetoing a bill. The Governor released the following statement:
Since the close of session my office has reviewed and processed remaining bills, including feedback from legislators, constituents, and other stakeholders on the efficacy of the new policies passed.
In the review of those concerns, I am considering vetoes on bills that allocated public funds without appropriate public accountability measures and without ensuring the responsible use of taxpayer dollars.
Article V, section 15b(4) of the Oregon Constitution requires me to announce publicly the possible intention to veto bills passed by the Legislature, which are still pending after adjournment, at least five days before issuing a veto.
In performance of that duty, I announce that I may veto, in whole or in part, the following bills:
House Bill 2437
This bill changes the removal-fill law for agricultural operations. Under current law, farmers need a removal-fill permit from the Department of State Lands (DSL) in order to remove more than 50 cubic yards of material from wetlands. HB 2437 lifts this threshold to 3,000 cubic yards and provides the ability to dispose of the dredged material in other wetland areas. Additionally, the bill shifts the program from DSL to the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA).
This bill goes too far in its changes. It eliminates consultation with wildlife agencies, significantly increases the allowed removal and disposal of materials in wetland areas without scientific basis for the new limit, and it includes intermittent streams in the definition of channels, among other changes. Concerns have been raised that HB 2437 may undermine the state’s ability to assume federal wetland permitting authority. Collectively, these changes could have a significant impact on our wildlife populations and wetland habitats, including potentially adverse effects on our native salmon populations.
The wetland workgroup that crafted HB 2437 deserves recognition and my thanks for the hard work that produced not only this bill, but HB 2436 and HB 2438 as well. Despite some stakeholder concerns, I have signed HB 2436, which directs state agencies to evaluate assumption of Clean Water Act Section 404 permit authority in certain cases.
Although the bill includes a future study of the effects of the policy change, given the irreversibility of the policy’s effects on our state’s wetlands and fish populations, I believe a much narrower approach is needed at this time.
I encourage stakeholders to continue working on striking a balance between protecting native wetlands and the biodiversity they support and the need of farmers to clear agricultural ditches. If they choose to continue, I will support several concepts that the work group has discussed. Those concepts include: moving the program with more limited changes than those described in HB 2437 from DSL to ODA, initiating a pilot program that increases the amount of removed material for which a permit is not needed, and creating a separate definition for converted wetlands that further protects native wetlands.
Several members of the work group have stated that this work simply needed more time. I concur.
House Bill 5050
Article V, section 15a of the Oregon Constitution grants me the power “to veto single items in appropriation bills… without thereby affecting any other provision of such bill.” HB 5050 contains numerous appropriations. While not required to separately identify each item I am considering vetoing, the following items are of particular concern to me:
Section 82 (1) (1) City of Newport for planning, environmental permitting, and design costs of replacing the Big Creek Dams: $ 4,000,000
Oregon currently has no financial plan or rules to help communities with failing dams that pose safety risks. My recommended budget proposed almost $2 million to study Oregon’s most dangerous dams and prioritize them according to condition and risk. Further, my budget created a dam safety task force with legislative involvement to develop rules and plans to help communities finance dam replacement and repairs. The Legislature did not fund either of these proposed programs.
I intend to line-item veto this project because we need to study all of Oregon’s dams, prioritize them for repair, and develop funding mechanisms before dedicating funds and planning work on any specific dam, potentially obligating the state to further spending with no plan to address the larger needs that span communities across the state.
The Big Creek Dams are only two of what could be several dams across the state that may need critical repair. Oregon currently has 969 non-federal dams subject to Water Resources Department (WRD) inspection. Of these, 72 dams are currently rated as high hazard, meaning that if they were to fail they would likely result in fatalities and damage to property downstream. Based on existing information from WRD, as of February 2018, 15 high-hazard dams were in poor condition and six were in unsatisfactory condition. Currently, WRD only has resources to conduct regular visual inspections of dams, and does not have resources to conduct more in-depth assessments of dams for safety. As a result, very few high-hazard dams have had a comprehensive assessment of their safety, while our understanding of seismic and flood risks has improved in recent years. I would ask the Legislature to fund both the dam study and the dam safety task force in the February 2020 legislative session so we can proceed quickly in addressing this significant need across the state.
Section 115 (11) Association of Oregon Counties for urban growth boundary planning grants to Eastern Oregon Counties: $500,000
This is an appropriation that was not included in my recommended budget. Based on information received from the legislative branch, the purpose of this appropriation is to allow the Association of Oregon Counties to give grants to counties in Eastern Oregon to plan for urban growth boundary adjustments newly allowed by SB 2 from 2019. I have signed and support SB 2 and its policy goals; however, the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) already prioritizes grants for counties for this type of work. DLCD’s prioritization process includes contracting standards to ensure appropriate use of state funds and ensures accountability to the public. Based on the information received from the legislative branch, this appropriation does not include those same safeguards for use of public funds and therefore I am considering a veto.
House Bill 2377
House Bill 2377 contains several appropriations. Again, while not required to separately identify each item I am considering vetoing, the following items are of particular concern to me:
Section 6 Notwithstanding ORS 677.290, the amount of $5,000,000 is transferred from the Oregon Medical Board Account to the General Fund for general government purposes. The transfer shall be made on May 31, 2021.
This item was not included in the Governor’s Recommended Budget (SB 5522). I am considering a line-item veto because I am concerned that removing $5 million of the dedicated licensure fees and charges of the Oregon Medical Board (OMB) damages its financial security and jeopardizes several health care provider well-being programs in Oregon, which could adversely impact public safety.
This sweep represents 55 percent of the Board’s cash reserves, its rainy-day fund. The Board needs financial reserves for several anticipated significant expenses, including: replacement of agency-wide business software used for investigation management and licensing, which is anticipated in the 2021-23 biennium; legal expenses related to current investigations, hearings, and appeals; and implementation of recommendations from the Board’s 2019 audit by the Oregon Secretary of State.
The Board’s Other Funds revenue comes from fees and charges imposed upon its licensees; no funding comes from the state General Fund. (See the Board’s enabling statutes in ORS 677.) The fund sweep will require an estimated 15 percent increase in licensing fees for the 2021-23 biennium; without the sweep, the Board forecasts licensing fees would be stable for several biennia. Large fee increases create barriers to practicing medicine in Oregon and foster distrust between the Board and our licensed physicians, physician assistants, and acupuncturists.
With reduced funds, the Board may have to consider eliminating or reducing funding for the Oregon Wellness Program, an independent program promoting the health and well-being of Oregon health care professionals. The Board may also need to re-evaluate the return on investment from the Health Professionals’ Services Program, a program assisting health care providers with substance use or mental health disorders so they may continue to safely serve the people of Oregon.