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Legislators eager to tend to business in special session

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

April 19, 2006

Sen. Rick Metsger. D-Welches, and Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, were pleased about last week’s attendance at a Medicare Part D enrollment event in Hood River.

Twenty people showed up at the Coe Primary Building to get more information. And eight of these individuals signed up online for one of several prescription drug plans.

The state officials helped organize the forum for area seniors — in spite of a scramble to rearrange their work schedules for Thursday’s special session.

In order to show up in Salem as directed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Metsger, a public relations consultant, will catch a red-eye flight home tonight from a business trip to Louisiana. Smith, a rancher, has arranged for her husband, Leroy, to take on her usual task of delivering calves — 37 to date.

Smith is pleased that House Bill 3507, of which she was the chief sponsor, is the only policy backed by the House that will be on the table for consideration. It triples the mandatory minimum sentence for adults that sexually assault children under the age of 12 — and puts predators on post-prison supervision for life. In 2005 the GOP-controlled House approved the bill, but it died in the Democratically controlled Senate.

However, 18 out of the 30 Senate members are now expressing support for HB3507 or similar legislation.

“This is a good bill and we need to step up and make sure it goes through this time,” Smith said.

Kulongoski has pledged to sign off on the bill if it makes it to his desk. The measure is known as Jessica’s Law because it was modeled after a Florida bill enacted following the rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford last year.

Kulongoski has called lawmakers back to Salem to patch a $137 million hole in the budget of the Department of Human Resources. Elected officials will also authorize the disbursal of about $43 million in unexpected lottery profits to state public schools.

In addition, Kulongoski wants legislators to consider Senate Bill 1105 that limits the rates payday loan lenders can charge customers. He is also seeking answers about how to help the Portland School District overcome its severe budget shortfall.

A proposal will be reviewed to restore a Portland school property tax that expired last year, which is expected to give the district more than $15 million in capital next school year.

Both Smith and Metsger anticipate a productive session with plenty of bipartisan cooperation. Metsger believes that Hood River County School District will receive about $321,900 from its share of the added lottery profits. He said that extra capital should help administrators meet operational costs for the 2006-07 school year.

“We want to get those allocations out because we’ve got the extra money and we think that would be holding faith with the people,” he said. He and Smith believe that new DHS Director Dr. Bruce Goldberg is already an asset to the beleaguered agency. The loss of anticipated federal dollars and a higher-than-average caseload has drained DHS coffers. The agency provides health care, food stamps, cash assistance and other services to one in 10 Oregonians. But Smith and Metsger commend Goldberg for already shaving $25 million from the deficit by streamlining operations. They expect that remaining general fund and emergency dollars will be turned over to the agency. And then the focus will turn to staving off another large shortfall. “I think the hope is that we will find better ways to forecast revenue for DHS – and the agency will have new accountabilities in place,” said Smith.

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