I spent Wednesday of last week in the Capitol with my mentor as she met with legislators, and other lobbyists. It was great to meet with and bump into legislators as we walked around the Capitol as it provided me with a very different look at the lives and work of our lawmakers than the somewhat bizarre communications I had, had with them via email during my final project in Patrick’s Globalization class. It became clear throughout the day that I had somewhat unreasonable expectations of them all given the pressure they are under to work both in the capitol and as private citizens to sustain themselves. The system is such that legislators are paid ludicrously low amounts during the legislative session years (odd numbered years) and even less in interim years (even numbered years), this means that they can barley afford to keep on their chiefs of staff in interim years such as this and unless they are retired must attempt to maintain a second job so that they keep their families afloat. The restraints of the job means that there is a dearth of young professionals elected as our legislators and those that do run often voluntarily turn over their seats at much faster rates than their older compatriots. As my mentor suggested it seems like the easiest fix would be to raise legislators wages so they can commit more time to the job and the money is such that young doctors, lawyers or otherwise qualified young people would want to remain in the legislature. Unfortunately, a legislator advocating for increasing his or her own wage is political suicide making any fix to the current system difficult to obtain.
Apart from meeting with legislators I was able to sit in on two committee meetings, one held by the Senate Interim Committee on Health and Human Services and the other by the Senate Interim Committee on Natural Resources. In the health and human services committee I heard an update on the Cover Oregon website debacle where the Oregon Department of Health and Human Services is working to terminate the current Oregon health insurance market place. At they moment they are spending millions to convert the website into little more than a redirect page for HealthCare.gov. The failure of the program has certainly been a major embarrassment and several of the senators on the committee wanted assurances that department would make a plan C by contracting with private companies that could provide the same redirect service that the new website is supposed to later this fall in case of another mishap. In the natural resources meeting the committee heard about the case of pesticide spraying in Goldbeach, a small costal town where a cocktail of pesticides meant for two different clear-cut sites was sprayed on citizens of the town by a low flying helicopter. First we heard from the government agencies that had conducted an investigation into the illegal spraying including the Oregon Health Authority, the Department of Forestry and the Department of Agriculture. The three organizations testified as to the process for investigating pesticide sprays and the curious case in Goldbeach where the helicopter operator lied to them about the amounts and types of pesticides used in the spray. When they finished their unemotional testimony three men from Goldbeach took the stand to describe the effects of the pesticides on their health, they claimed that they were still sick and one of the men talked of his father who was unable to testify because he had died earlier in the year, apparently from complications to his health condition caused by the spraying. Although the testimony lacked clarity it was clearly emotionally charged with several of the men claiming their continuing health problems were the fault of the government because their investigation had failed to stop the spraying. Unfortunately, their message missed the mark due to the lack of facts and clarity, as it was unclear whether they were there to call for the legislators to conduct a review of pesticide investigation practices, the reason the meeting was called, or because they wanted the government organizations involved in the spraying to press criminal charges against the operator, not an unreasonable request given the way he had blatantly flaunted the law. Either way it resulted in an uncharacteristically liberal response from Rep Krieger, their own representative and a guest of the committee, who said there were far to many ‘unanswered questions’ and called for a greater investigation into the use of pesticides on forestry land.
I’ve attached some pictures of the senate and house floors, which weren’t in use on this legislative day.