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Marsh sees chance for productive 'short session'

State Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, told an audience of some 150 people Saturday that she hopes the 35-day “short session” of the Oregon Legislature, which begins today, can conduct its business without the partisan rancor that led to last summer’s walkout by members of the Republican caucus.

“I’m really hoping for a full chamber on both sides,” she told those attending a town hall meeting at the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall in Ashland.

A legislative quorum is two-thirds of members present. Democrats lack that, so if Republicans walk out, as they did last year to block a cap-and-trade bill over gas emissions, Democrats can’t pass anything.

Democrats, meanwhile, have considered passing a bill that would allow decisions to be made by having a simple majority of the Legislature present.

Marsh was showered with questions from audience members for two hours about a range of issues — including “climate collapse,” health care funding, anxiety about health issues related to 5G wireless technology, and the state’s ability to prevent and fight wildfires.

Legislators will revisit the controversial and bitterly fought “cap and invest” plan that would put a lid on greenhouse gases, seeking a level 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Marsh called it a “market-based system” that gives emitters the opportunity to limit, trade and purchase permits. It starts in the Senate where “significant negotiations” have been going on, and some, she said, have weakened the bill.

Marsh bashed the proposed Jordan Cove natural gas pipeline, when she called one of the top half-dozen potential carbon polluters in the state.

“(Since it would be) owned by a Canadian company, passing through the state of Oregon, under many rivers,” she asked, “to be exported to some other country, as yet unknown ... what’s wrong with this picture?”

Marsh emphasized “our state government regulators are doing good work on this, take it very seriously” and, despite it hitting many stone walls, “it’s clear the story is not over yet. We’ve got to get our greenhouse gases down.”

Oregon had a respite from wildfire smoke last year but, with global warming, “we’re still seeing an impact, even in years with good snowpack,” said Marsh, a member of the Council on Wildfire Response.

The council, created at the start of the 2018 Legislature, is working on a report about strategies for dealing with “inevitable” wildfire and smoke — including climate resiliancy, forest restoration, land use, curbing development in the urban interface, effectiveness in putting out fires, and adequate firefighting capacity of Oregon Department of Forestry.

When one citizen expressed doubts of climate change, Marsh said “I experience it every day and the vast majority of scientists, 97 percent, believe it’s real.

“This has been the hottest decade ever and fire season has grown by 50 days,” she added. “If we fail to act, we are risking life on this planet as we know it. Climate is my very first priority.”

Marsh bemoaned the partisan chasm and rural-urban divide, “It reflects the federal level, the feelings of frustration and anger there and on social media.” She said it’s “become unproductive and we have to figure a way to create opportunities to partner.”

In the House lounge, Marsh said she joins the other side in “regular conversation, because we can’t let conflicts come between us. We Democrats tend to over-involve ourselves in all the details, sometimes to the detriment of (getting along). But we have to look at ways to engage urban and rural in addressing climate change.”

House members are each allowed two bills and Marsh said hers will be:

  • A Rural Communication Investment Act with a service fund to maintain infrastructure on 400,000 landline phones, while establishing rural broadband through federal grants and loans
  • A clampdown on sale to minors of vaping products on the internet, which, she says is quite easy for youth with a gift card or credit card.

On other issues:

  • Jackson County has a huge number of manufactured home parks, which Marsh said are “a significant part of the housing market,” but are vulnerable to being sold to development with inadequate payout from park owners. The Legislature will be looking at a rent cap on such parks.
  • State mental health and addiction services are overwhelmed, as are beds at Oregon State Hospital. Increased funding is needed and the focus needs to be in our communities, not upstate. “It’s about money,” she said, and “one possibility is revenue from taxing of beer and wine. We’re a state that loves our beer and wine — so this is controversial.”
  • Marsh urged a yes-vote on a ballot measure this November for a cigarette tax ($2 a pack) and 65 percent of wholesale price on vaping products, to fatten the Oregon Health Plan, making up for federal Medicaid cuts.
  • Marsh seeks increased affordable housing with support for increased urban density, such as building duplexes and triplexes in present single-family zones.

Rep. Pam Marsh takes questions from constituents during a town hall meeting at the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall in Ashland Saturday. (Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune)
{ }Rep. Pam Marsh takes questions from constituents during a townhall meeting at the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall in Ashland Saturday. (Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune)