Corvallis’ State Lawmakers 2015 Session Review

Dan-RayfieldWith the five-and-a-half-month Oregon Legislative Session ending back on July 11, it is worthwhile to look back at the year Corvallis’ state Senator Sara Gelser and Representative Dan Rayfield had. While both legislators are new to their respective positions, Gelser has 10 years of experience as a representative.

Rayfield just completed his first year in Salem, filling the vacancy created by Gelser’s successful state senate run. He appears to have played an active role rather quickly; he served as co-chair of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Government Effectiveness. He also was a member of the House Committee on Rules.

As a freshman legislator, there’s definitely been a steep learning curve,” Rayfield wrote in an email, “but I’ve found that being an active participant has been the best way to learn and succeed.”

Though some of the bills he sponsored could be considered fluff, such as SCR15, which “commends the Oregon State University Beavers wrestling team on their exemplary intercollegiate athletic achievements” (for coming in 30th in this year’s NCAA Championships), Rayfield played an important role in this year’s legislative session.

HB3315, a bill that Rayfield introduced, helped settle an impasse between the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the State Legislature. “At the start of the legislative session, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife projected a $32 million budget shortfall for the next biennium,” explained Rayfield. “As a result, a number of important ODFW programs were on the chopping block.” Rayfield was among a group of legislators and ODFW stakeholders that developed a compromise budget package. Part of that package was HB3315, which allows ODFW to collect the cost of services given to other state departments over the next six years.

Through his position as a regular member on the Ways and Means Committee, Rayfield introduced a bill that would have alleviated financial problems for those with student loan debt through means of a state tax credit. The bill, HB3342, was not passed, despite a fair amount of statewide support. “I plan to continue to try to address the student debt issue, and will come back next session with another proposal to address the student debt crisis,” Rayfield said, “potentially looking at a system of refinancing loans that puts money back into the pockets of student debt-holders.”

Gelser, over on the state senate side, served as chair of the Senate Committee on Human Services and Early Childhood. She also served on the Committees for Education, Workforce, and Judiciary. Gelser is surely celebrating after SB 946 passed, a bill she both sponsored and carried, which establishes the position of LGBT veterans coordinator for the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs. The position is the first of its kind in the nation, and will provide support for thousands, particularly older veterans whose discharge status was tied to their sexual orientation. The cost of the position over its first two years is $182,787.

She also acted as a watchdog for victims of sexual assault, bullying, and harassment. Gelser was at the forefront of legislation that pushed back against institutions, most notably the University of Oregon, which weaken the privacy rights of victims. Additionally, HB3425, which is currently in committee upon this session’s adjournment, would require school districts to disclose demographic information regarding bullying, harassment, and cyberbullying.

Worth noting over the course of this legislative session are our legislators’ voting stats vis-à-vis their political parties. Both staunch democrats, Gelser voted along party lines 98.91% of the time, nearly identical to the Democratic Party average of 99.05% in the senate. Rayfield voted with his party less often than Gelser at 97.88%, but that is nearly half a percentage point above the state house average of 97.37%. Gelser was more present with her votes, missing only 24, while Rayfield missed 51. Rayfield sponsored 33 bills, while Gelser sponsored 97.

It seems Corvallis’ political representation in Salem had a fairly successful session in terms of productivity. For Republican voters, some or all of this may come as unhappy news, but such is the bifurcated nature of our political process.

Several attempts were made to reach Gelser for comment; neither she nor her office responded. 

By Matt Walton