The Almeda Fire leveled Bear Lake Estates in Phoenix. Dave Killen / The Oregonian
Wildfire bills were discussed in Salem
Forest fires and the Jackson County’s housing crisis fueled Salem lawmakers at this session.
“Legislators recognize the need to invest in forest fire recovery,” said Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland.
Marsh has sponsored nearly a dozen bills aimed at preventing forest fires, promoting affordable housing, and helping hard-hit schools. She believes there is enough momentum to overtake her.
“What we mostly need is money,” she said. “The big test will be to see if we can get the money to do the job on site.”
In particular, House Bill 3160 is a blueprint for fighting forest fires, but it will come at a heavy price, and Marsh awaits a debate on how much needs to be invested in long-term efforts to reduce the risk in the forests.
Other bills she has proposed address Jackson County’s affordable housing crisis, made worse by the destruction of 2,500 homes in the Almeda fire.
“In our Jackson County case, housing is paramount,” Marsh said.
Marsh provided a summary of the bills she proposed that would directly affect southern Oregon.
HB 3160 would set up the Oregon Wildfire Preparedness and Community Protection Fund by adding a $ 10 surcharge on homeowner, commercial, and fire insurance policies, but not on rental, mobile home, or auto insurance policies.
The bill would generate an estimated $ 40 million a year.
Funds would be shared between three agencies, including 50% for the State Fire Marshal, 25% for the Oregon Department of Forestry, and 25% for the Watershed Enhancement Board to provide grants for wildland restoration.
House bills 2571 and 2572 would provide a framework for increasing controlled burns in Oregon that would be modeled on other states that selectively burn millions of acres per year in winter to minimize summer forest fires.
HB 2571 would address obstacles to overcome insurance and legal concerns about controlled burns.
HB 2572 would create a nationwide certified burn manager program to conduct controlled burns on private land.
After a fire, property taxes are the last thing property owners want to think about when rebuilding.
House Bill 2341 would bring about a proportional reduction in property taxes in the year following a disaster.
The Phoenix Talent School District and other local school districts are hard hit by the Almeda fire.
House Bill 2630 would provide stable funding to the three school districts hardest hit by the September 2020 fires.
More consumer protection for those making insurance claims after the fires would be provided under House Bill 3272.
According to the bill, a homeowner would receive an estimate every time the replacement cost insurance for a structure is renewed.
The reconstruction time would be increased to three years instead of two, and the cost of living would be increased to three years.
Homeowners could also remodel or buy in a new location.
Outbuildings and other structures could be covered to the political limit under the bill.
Marsh sponsored four bills that deal with the housing crisis.
House Bill 2842 would provide grants and other assistance to assist low-income families and low-income home owners with repairs and security improvements.
In recent months, two Jackson County motels – the Super 8 in Ashland and the Redwood Inn in Medford – have begun converting two motels into homes for fire survivors and the homeless.
House Bill 3261 would help convert more hotels and motels into low-income housing. This would limit government restrictions on certain properties for emergency shelters or affordable housing.
Fire survivors have encountered obstacles in replacing prefabricated houses.
House Bill 3218 would ensure that manufactured home programs are accessible to forest fire survivors.
To make it easier to rebuild after wildfire, House Bill 3219 would give prefabricated house owners greater rights and clarify the legal obligations of tenants and mobile home park owners.
Senator Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, has endorsed Senate Draft 762, which proposes a number of changes to create more shelter, pass better building standards to limit the risk of forest fires, reduce the severity of forest fires with hazardous fuel reduction programs, and one to create Oregon Wildfire Workforce Corps for teens and young adults.
The bill would require $ 150 million from the state general fund.
Golden said his collective bill had been in the works for more than two years and addressed a variety of issues related to forest fires.
He said the bill has many proposals that address air quality concerns, including grants that would enable people to obtain air filtration systems in homes and public places.
The bill also focuses on creating so-called fire-adapted communities, which would require building materials and other steps that would enable structures to better deal with forest fires.
Golden said he expects several forest fire bills to be approved by the legislature and Governor Kate Brown, but he expects some consolidation of the bills pending the adjournment of the legislature.
Golden also endorsed Senate Draft 282, which the Senate approved last week, extending the grace period for people who were unable to meet their rent payments.
He said the federal government will provide money to states to help with rent payments as a result of COVID-19.
“There is a real expectation that landlords will get well,” he said.
The bill was designed to meet federal requirements to secure payments to landlords.
“If we don’t get it right, we could lose federal dollars,” said Golden.
Golden ran for office with a promise to tackle campaign funding reform, and he backed Senate Bill 336 despite a competing bill making its way through the House.
He said he was concerned that the final version might not achieve its goals.
“Will it be a balanced bill or one that is structured to help the unions,” Golden said. “People don’t trust the government. I think we are going to waste that trust if we pass a law that favors the unions. “
Rep. Kim Wallan, R-Medford, said she had a problem with Golden’s proposed bill to require defensible spaces around homes.
“Defensible is not free,” said Wallan. Government regulations are already increasing housing costs, and she said more regulations could add that cost even further.
Creating defensible space could also violate land use laws, especially for lots that are close together.
“It’s not just the house in the woods that needs to have defensible space,” Wallan said.
She said she disagreed with Golden on how to effectively reduce the risk of fire in forests.
Rather than relying on ongoing government funding, agreements would have to be made with logging companies to clean up the forests while increasing the logging work to incentivize them.
“Cutting down the forests has to be self-sufficient,” she said.
Wallan said she supported many of the ideas in the Wildfire bills submitted, although she had reservations.
“Some things that look simple are a lot more complicated when you scratch the surface,” she said.
She is concerned about HB 3160 which, in her opinion, does not provide enough clarity on how the money will be spent other than creating a slush fund for government agencies.
“It’s hard for me,” she said. “It’s also a tax. There are many people who do not want to pay the supplement. “
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.