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Legislative leaders agree on 7 spending plans on energy efficiency, rural areas and more

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By LYNNE TERRY/Oregon Capital Chronicle — Legislative Democrats and Republicans have been working behind the scenes to devise spending packages for rural communities, energy efficiency programs, homeless services and education.

House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, said $100 million will be devoted to rural infrastructure. That package came out of meetings last week among Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

“Rural Oregon was an area that we looked at and said this is an area that we wanted to target investment in terms of infrastructure and economic development,” Rayfield said during an online news conference with reporters on Monday afternoon.

The Democratic majority essentially gave Republicans budget-writing authority to decide how to spend the money. That move, first reported by OPB, marks an apparent smoothing of the often divisive relations among the two parties.

But Rayfield said it was not an olive branch but rather a practical move because Republicans represent many of the rural areas of the state. He said Democrats don’t expect anything in return.

“There (are) absolutely no strings attached,”  Rayfield said. “This is about making meaningful change in communities across the state.”

The Republican-led plan would be part of the legislative appropriation for several hundred million dollars in unexpected tax revenue.

Rayfield said other spending packages were also worked out with Republicans.

“I do expect a lot of what we are going to do will have bipartisan support,” Rayfield said.

Legislative leaders planned to release details later Monday on $100 million in climate-related spending and will follow up with more announcements, including $100 million on public safety. One bill that’s now before Ways and Means would spend about $200 million on behavioral health facilities to help them hire and recruit staff.

Money will also be spent on helping victims and on community organizations working to prevent violence.

“We’re hoping to have a fairly substantial package released on Wednesday,” Rayfield said.

Housing is among the Democratic priorities, Rayfield said. So is workplace training. Gov. Kate Brown proposed spending $200 million on training to prepare people for careers in construction, health care and manufacturing.

One of the most controversial bills this session is a proposal to pay overtime to agriculture workers after a 40-hour workweek. That bill passed out of the House Committee on Business and Labor on a party line vote, and is now in the House Revenue Committee. Rayfield said it would move out of that committee to the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which works on the budget.

He said Democrats hope to get to a point where Republicans can support the proposal. It includes tax credits for employers for six years. He said a new committee has been formed in the Senate and that another is being formed in the House to try to reach an agreement between legislators representing farming interests and those pushing for the extra pay.

“We’re trying to understand how we can get to a ‘Yes,’” Rayfield said.

Farmworkers have been denied overtime since the 1938 federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Farmworkers and their supporters say the law was racist, originally targeting Black farmworkers in the South, and that they need to get overtime like most other workers.

Republicans have insisted that the proposal will put family farms out of business and prompt corporations to scoop them up.

Rayfield indicated that Democratic leaders are seeking a better working relationship with Republicans..

“The philosophy of our office and what we’ve communicated and what our office believes is to honor and respect the Republicans and their right to be able to protest on the floor by reading bills,” Rayfield said, referring to a process requiring a full reading of sometimes lengthy bills.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is a nonprofit Salem-based news service that focuses its reporting on Oregon state government, politics and policy.

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