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Oregon State Police funding to be held in reserve

SALEM — Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, predicted Wednesday that funding for 39 additional Oregon State Police troopers will be approved during the supplemental legislative session convening on Feb. 4.

But there's a catch. The money won't go directly to the OSP, Courtney said, but will be reserved in an emergency fund and appropriated "as needed."

"We're going to do it in a way that, when it's needed, it will be available," Courtney said.

That means further legislative scrutiny following the special session by the Emergency Board, which acts on funding requests during the interim.

Republicans, led by Rep. Bruce Hanna of Roseburg, the minority leader; Rep. Andy Olson of Albany, a former trooper; and Senate minority leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day, have been beating the drums for more patrols since the end of the 2007 regular session.

Last year lawmakers approved hiring 100 new troopers, but rejected a last-ditch move by Hanna to hire additional troopers to provide full-time highway coverage.

Of the line in the sand drawn by the GOP, Courtney said, "My point of view is that it's (the GOP media blitz) more political than anything else."

Sen. Alan Bates, an Ashland Democrat, will be a critical vote as a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which must clear the $2 million-plus request for additional troopers to the floor.

Bates said his position has been that the monthlong special session should be strictly limited to budget fixes, and one or two of what he described as "emergent" issues such as the subprime mortgage mess.

"But I can support it," he said.

Bates echoed Courtney in characterizing the GOP drumbeating "as more political than anything else. Doing political bills in this short a session is very questionable."

Bates said 24/7 coverage wasn't even raised by the public at a town hall in Medford on Tuesday held by Bates, Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford.

Hanna said the need is there now, and he has assurances from John Minnis, administrator of the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, and OSP Superintendent Timothy McLain that they can get the additional troopers into training now.

He said reserving the dollars was puzzling. "What is that, a code that we'll see when you get there?" Hanna remarked.

In a letter to Olson, McLain said that while recruiting efforts for the 100 new trooper positions were "slightly behind" initial goals, changes have been made "that we believe will allow us not only to meet but to exceed the goals of (our) plan."

"The need for full-time coverage by Oregon State Police remains a critical need in statewide law enforcement," wrote McLain, adding an additional 39 troopers will allow the agency to achieve that goal.

Don Jepsen is a freelance writer living in Salem. Reach him at djepsen34@yahoo.com.