CORONAVIRUS, Forest Grove, politics

Oregon Legislative News: Rep. Susan McLain on the challenges of legislating during COVID-19

The Oregon Capitol building in Salem. Photo: Chas Hundley

Oregon House District 29 Rep. Susan McLain (D-Hillsboro) said the 2021 legislative session, which is being held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, is, to say the least, a challenging year.

Hearings on new bills in the coronavirus era still take place in all of the committees that extend from both the Oregon House and Senate, but in this 160-day session the public process plays out online because the Capitol is not open to the public, which presents a set of challenges the Legislature never has experienced — among them making sure transparency is at the forefront of each body’s actions. 

Citizens testify remotely and send written testimony via email (here is how to make your voice heard), but being able to make sure the public has the opportunity to hear the meetings and participate in public testimony is challenging because even though the internet is ubiquitous in the business world it’s never before been used like this in the democratic process.

“To be able to do that everything takes a lot longer, and it can be trying because the amount of information is just so dense,” McLain said. “We get online at 7 or 8 a.m. and our meetings run until at least 6 p.m. and often later. It’s just so dense. There is a lot to do to make sure people can get online, and we try to be sensitive and wait but it can be challenging. I basically have given out my phone number to everyone that wants to have it. I get texts at all hours (every day). This session is really about learning to be flexible and utilizing texting and email and phone calls — everything as much as possible.”

McLain enters her fourth term serving on some pretty heavy-hitting committees — she co-chairs the Joint Committee on Transportation and the Joint Committee on the Interstate-5 Bridge, and she’s on the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, and the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources. McLain’s district encompasses the cities of Forest Grove, Cornelius and portions of Hillsboro, and some rural areas adjacent to those cities.

She talked a little bit about legislation introduced this year in her committees. 

McLain said much of what’s before the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, on which she’s served in each of her four terms, is focused on forestry management in the aftermath of the 2020 wildfires that scorched more than 1.2 million acres across the state.

The Joint Committee on Transportation is looking at several bills that deal with the future of electric vehicle technology, including the creation of charging stations strategically placed along highways across Oregon and also in state parks, she said. 

House Bill 2290 would require the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the Public Utility Commission, and the Department of Energy to develop a plan to install and service public electric vehicle charging stations in parking spaces in state park facilities, including at “ocean shores, scenic waterways, trails, and historic sites throughout the state of Oregon.”

McLain also is a chief sponsor of House Bill 2955, which would establish a product stewardship program for household hazardous waste. 

“We need to have fewer things to recycle, fewer things to put in landfills,” McLain said. “We need to keep household hazardous waste products out of streams and stormwater drains. There should be certain places where those products can be sent and disposed of responsibly in a protected space so that they are not going into our water sources.”

HB 2955 declares it is in the best interests of Oregon that manufacturers of household products that contain hazardous waste “take responsibility for developing, financing, and implementing a statewide system” to collect and store such waste with environmentally sound practices. 

Household hazardous waste as defined by the bill includes batteries, lamps and thermostats containing mercury, pharmaceutical drugs, insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides, and electronic devices. 

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