“Day in the Life” with OFB at the Capitol

When the Oregon Legislature is in session, Farm Bureau’s Government Affairs team practically lives at the state capitol.

In contrast to last year’s month-long short session, the 2015 assembly is a full session, running from February and into July. For OFB staff, it requires long hours, an intense schedule, and careful tracking of hundreds of bills that could impact the lives and livelihood of farmers and ranchers.

“For the Farm Bureau lobbyists, the legislative session is like their harvest season,” said Jon Iverson, president of Clackamas County Farm Bureau.

The GA department is comprised of OFB Vice President of Public Policy Katie Fast (who is working for Farm Bureau through session while transitioning into a new post with Oregonians for Food & Shelter), Government Affairs Associate Jenny Dresler, and Public Policy Counsel Mary Anne Nash.

Oregon’s 78th Legislative Assembly has been a challenging one for agriculture, and OFB staff is working hard to get the best results possible for Farm Bureau’s 7,000 voting and supporting members. This session’s bills have touched on almost every aspect of OFB Policy, from labor and land use, to transportation and taxes, to water and wildlife.

To get a sense of a typical day during session for an OFB lobbyist, follow this journal kept on Monday, April 13, 2015.

7:30 a.m. OFB Board conference call
The day began with an early conference call with the OFB Board of Directors. The GA team reviewed bills on the docket for the coming week — which included legislation on a minimum wage increase, predators, aggregate, and agritourism — and got feedback on some bill amendments.

“Last Friday was the deadline to set committee hearings, and April 21 is the deadline for bills to move forward from committees in their chamber of origin, either the House or Senate,” said Fast. “If bills don’t move forward, they die. That means this week’s agenda is packed.”
8:05 a.m. GA staff meeting

In the Capitol Galleria, Fast, Dresler, and Nash gathered to review the day’s hectic schedule. Many Farm Bureau members were expected at the capitol throughout the day to give testimony at various committee hearings. There were meetings with lawmakers to discuss legislation, and with ag industry allies to discuss strategy. Bill amendments and floor letters had to be drafted and circulated.

“I’m really impressed with how quickly Jenny and Mary Anne have gotten up to speed on OFB policy,” said Fast. “Farm Bureau has a good reputation at the capitol, and both
of them have worked hard to maintain that credibility and establish relationships with legislators.”

With so much happening simultaneously in different chambers, the three are rarely at the same place at the same time. But they’re in constant communication with each other, and
with OFB President Barry Bushue and EVP Dave Dillon, setting spontaneous meetings as the need arises.
8:30 a.m. House committee hearing

If there was a theme for the day, it was “minimum wage.” The first of several hearings on the issue occurred at the House Business & Labor Committee.

Farm Bureau was among the groups specifically invited to testify on HB 2009, which would increase the minimum wage from the current $9.25/hour to $15/hour by 2018 — despite the fact that Oregon already has the second highest minimum wage in the nation.

OFB’s representative at this hearing was Pieper Sweeney, vice president of Yamhill County Farm Bureau and member of OFB’s Labor Committee. Fast and Dresler met with Sweeney beforehand to review her testimony.

“Katie and Jenny provided me great ideas for talking points, and I added details on how it would impact our farm,” said Sweeney.

During the hearing, Sweeney explained to lawmakers how most farms have no ability to set prices for their products because that’s determined by the commodity market. With such slim profit margins, it’s extremely difficult for farms and ranches to absorb or pass along such a substantial cost like this proposed minimum wage hike.

“We have 13 year-round, full-time employees, and 15 to 25 more seasonal employees,” Sweeney told the committee. “New people would start at $15 per hour, and we would
have to bump up our existing employees’ rates. I estimate that it would cost my farm an extra $90,000 to $180,000 in payroll. Where’s that money going to come from?”

OFB’s Government Affairs intern Shawne Sweeney, who also happens to be Pieper’s daughter, was able to watch her mom speak.

“It’s so important for legislators to hear from farmers who actually run
businesses and can talk about how these bills would affect them,” said Shawne. “It’s inspiring to see my mom testify. She always does a great job.”

The minimum wage hike is only one of many “job killer” bills identified by Farm Bureau and a coalition of 21 other agriculture- and business-related organizations. Other bills, like mandated paid sick leave and a required private retirement program, would be costly and unfeasible for agriculture’s unique labor needs.

10:30 a.m. Conference call

Fast participated in a conference call with other ag and natural resource partners about campaign activities in Benton County, among other issues.

Farm Bureau is a well-respected coalition builder, and this session is an active member in many groups formed to tackle specific legislation.

11:00 a.m. Meeting with House reps

As the House convenes, representatives can receive requests to leave the chamber for brief meetings in the lobby outside. OFB staffers used the opportunity to have a number of discussions with lawmakers on Farm Bureau’s priority bills.

Rep. Vic Gilliam spoke with Nash, Dresler, and Fast about a Farm Bureau-supported bill that would require a conditional land use approval for bike paths located within lands
zoned for EFU. Rep. Brian Clem discussed land use and ag production legislation. Rep. Andy Olson and Rep. Ken Helm also left the chamber to talk with OFB staff.

12:00 p.m. Timber lobby lunch

OFB joined a working lunch across the street from the capitol with lobbyists involved in Oregon’s timber industry.

Dresler reported on a letter in opposition to SB 952, which would restructure the funding of natural resource agencies, and she urged
other organizations to sign on.
1:00 p.m. Meeting with legal counsel

Nash set a meeting with the Office of Legislative Counsel to discuss some language in HB 2888, a bill that deals with claims of “nuisance” for certain activities involving animals.

“We would like to get some clarification that ‘reasonable’ animal handling and husbandry as noted in the bill is broad enough to cover industry standard practices,” said Nash. “And get that clarification submitted as testimony so it’s on public record.”

She sat down with Senior Deputy Legislative Counsel Chuck Taylor to discuss the wording and review its definition in other sections of Oregon law. The next step is to work with legislators to make sure this clarification is on the record and part of the official legislative history for the bill.

2:00 p.m. Senate committee

Farm Bureau’s opposition to the minimum wage hike was heard for a second time that day, this time at the Senate Workforce Committee.

Marion County Farm Bureau President John Zielinski, who also serves as chair of the OFB Labor Committee, was slated to testify. Before the hearing, President Bushue and OFB staffers met with Zielinski to review his statement.

“On our farm, we use hand labor for pruning, thinning, and picking quality produce for a market that is demanding and competitive. There are no machines to pick pears, apples, or peaches,” Zielinski told lawmakers. “There also are no machines to do much of the skilled, detailed work that is required in nurseries, strawberry fields, and other crops.”

He warned that such a high minimum wage would force farmers to abandon labor-intensive specialty crops, like fruits and vegetables, that Oregon is known for worldwide.

Just before the hearing, Zielinski was interviewed by Fox Channel 12 News, offering a farmer’s perspective on the issue. (Find a link to the video on OFB’s Facebook page.)

After thanking Zielinski for coming to the capitol to “agvocate,” Nash remarked, “I think Farm Bureau has phenomenal member engagement. If Farm Bureau opposes a bill, legislators know our members will show up and speak up.”

3:00 p.m. OFB testifies & works with partners

While it’s ideal when Farm Bureau members like Zielinski and Sweeney testify at a  ommittee hearing, they also have fields, livestock, and businesses to tend to. In that case, OFB staffers speak on bills on behalf of the organization.

That afternoon, both Dresler and Nash provided testimony at different committee hearings. Dresler spoke on a bill about the winterization of biofuels, and Nash testified on two land use bills (OFB-supported SB 204, which creates a task force to evaluate barriers to maintaining working farmlands, and OFB-opposed SB 748, which would undo some land use planning for several rural counties).

Meanwhile, Fast met with natural resource partners to review legislative proposals on pesticides, of which there are many this session.

5:00 p.m. Public hearing

At 5:00 p.m., Farm Bureau members began arriving in force at the capitol to participate in a public hearing on the minimum wage increase bills. (See photos on OFB’s Facebook page.)
The Oregon agriculture and small business communities were very well represented at the hearing, which drew hundreds. Panels of three to four people presenting the opposing or supporting sides took turns speaking, with each person getting only a couple of minutes to make their case to state legislators. The process took over three-and-a-half hours.

OFB had booked a room at the capitol to give farmers and ranchers a place to watch the hearing live on TV and relax before their turn to testify. Dresler offered members talking
points and tips on how to give an effective testimony.

OFB 2nd Vice President Angela Bailey was one of the many Farm Bureau members who traveled to Salem to testify as an ag employer.

“Somebody’s got to speak up. If I don’t do it, who else will?,” said Bailey. “The stories we share about how legislation would impact our farms and ranches influence the people making decisions on laws and regulations.”

Comments made by Linn County Farm Bureau’s Shelly Boshart Davis in her testimony were picked up by the Portland Tribune in an article that appeared online that evening.

The last Farm Bureau member to testify was Roger DeJager of Marion County Farm Bureau, who finally got his turn to speak at 9:35 p.m. At close to 10:00 p.m., Dresler herself was ready to leave.

Farm Bureau fighting for ag

After a long day that began at 7:30 a.m. and ended at 10:00 p.m., Monday, April 13 offered an inspiring display of how OFB staff and members work together to speak up for Oregon agriculture in the legislature. You can feel good about your representation at the state capitol this session, and throughout the year.

But there’s still much work to be done — and OFB needs your help.

“We as staff do a lot in the building and we meet with legislators all day long. But it matters so much that they hear from their constituents,” said Dresler “You can be guaranteed that
they’re hearing from the other side on all of these issues. It’s so important that Farm Bureau members respond to our calls to action.”
Make sure you’re signed up to receive OFB’s Legislative Bulletin email for updates and action alerts to contact legislators about specific bills, attend public meetings or events, help promote issues on social media, or submit testimony. To sign up, contact
annemarie@oregonfb.org or visit oregonfb.org/advocacy.

You can also track the progress of bills and watch videos taken at legislative committee hearings via the Oregon Legislative Information System (OLIS) website at https://olis.leg.state.or.us.