2017LEGISLATURE - WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW Budget gap, transportation top priorities in 79th Assembly TRACY LOEW | STATESMAN JOURNAL
Oregon’s 2017 Legislative session begins Wednesday. The stakes have perhaps never been higher: Will lawmakers fill an unprecedented $1.7 million budget gap by cutting services or raising taxes? Will they ease congested highways and repair unsafe bridges, or punt again on a transportation package? Can they help residents struggling with high rents and low vacancy rates? And how will they deal with massive changes coming from the new administration in Washington D.C.? Answers to those questions will affect every resident, meaning citizen participation is more important than ever. So we asked our local legislators: What can your constituents do to catch your attention? What’s your “insider tip” for navigating the session?
What is your top goal?Their top tip: “OLIS. OLIS. OLIS,” as Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas said.
OLIS, the Oregon Legislative Information System, is a web site where you can view schedules, read bills, and submit testimony. You can also livestream or watch recorded hearings and floor sessions.
It’s used by everyone from lobbyists to citizens to lawmakers themselves, and is a far cry from the days when schedules and bills were printed on paper each morning, copies of exhibits and testimony were limited, and hearing rooms overflowed into hallways.
Communicate Call, write, stop by or attend town halls, but in the end, email is best.
“Phones will be buried as there is only one full-time staffer and committees occupy most of a legislator’s time,” Boquist said.
And be sure to identify yourself as a constituent. “Constituents go to the head of the line,” said Rep. Jodi Hack, R-Salem. “Voters hold the ultimate power in government, and that is through their vote at the next election,” said Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem. “My constituents are the reason I am here, and I want to hear from them,” said Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn. No form letters “I advise against using the 'pre-fab' emails that come from special interest groups that have you sign your name and add your email,' Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, said. “I know for me, though I answer every email, I don't pay as much attention to the ones that are the exact same email over and over and over.”
“It is helpful to hear in the person’s own words what they are concerned about,” Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, said. Be nice “Starting an email with, ‘You’re all a bunch of idiots’ is not the best way to get someone to listen to you,” Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, said. “Make your point and then ask them to clarify or share the facts that they used to make their decision. It’s amazing how many times I’ve had a constituent tell me they didn’t know the whole story.'
“In general, respectful dialogue is more effective than disrespectful or threatening dialogue,” Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, said. “I appreciate those who speak respectfully to me or to my staff,” Winters said. Know the issues “If at all possible, stay engaged and up to date on the bills being discussed,” Clem said. “Often people call months after a bill has already failed.” “It is also helpful if constituents understand the difference of the work we do in the State Legislature versus Congress,” Winters said. “All people, volunteers as well as highly paid professional lobbyists, can make an impact in the legislative process in Oregon,” Evans said.
Go to StatesmanJournal.com to read the full list of responses from Marion and Polk county legislators.
A few lawmakers didn’t respond to emails and phone calls, but that’s not necessarily a sign of their communication style.
Senate President Peter Courtney, DSalem, for example, already has a packed schedule preparing for the session.
Rep. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, and Rep. Vic Gilliam, R-Silverton, are squeezing in a last family trip before the madness of the next five months begins.
Also at StatesmanJournal.com, you'll find a fun video guide to participating in the process. You’ll learn where to park, where to eat, and everything in between.