Merkley's first bill seeks timber county study

Freshman Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon has introduced his first piece of legislation.

The bill introduced today would establish a 15-member task force to develop proposals to help timber-dependent counties in Oregon.

The bill, co-sponsored by Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, would direct the task force to determine the best way to provide counties with a dependable source of revenue after the current "county payments" program expires in 2011.

Merkley said he promised during last year's campaign that county payments would be the subject of his first bill. He said the long-term success of Oregon's rural counties is one of his top priorities.

Congress last year extended the program through 2011. The law gives a total of $3.3 billion to 700 counties in 39 states.

— The Associated Press