The Oregon Legislature adjourned its 2015 session a little more than two weeks ago and Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, is pleased about making progress on several issues despite his party’s minority status.
Ranked at the top of his achievement list was scoring $1 million that Mosier can use to stop residential and orchard well levels from rapidly declining.
“The level of Mosier’s wells has fallen 200 feet in the last seven years,” said Huffman. “There are 150 leaky wells and the city well that was capped last year was losing at least 75 gallons a minute. The total loss of water for this community is huge.”
He said the leaky city well was abandoned, filled with concrete and replaced by a new well.
The money provided by the state, said Huffman, will be administered by the Oregon Water Resources Department, which will write rules for a grant program.
He is also working with Energy Trust as another potential partner on wells that get electricity from one of its providers.
Three major factors were identified in a U.S. Geological Survey analysis of the situation sought by the Mosier Wastershed Council and Wasco County Soil and Water Conservation District in 2005:
• Pumping at rates that are not sustainable;
• Well construction practices that have resulted in leakage from aquifers into springs and streams; and
• Reduction in aquifer recharge resulting from long-term climate variations.
Another positive moment, said Huffman, was passage of two bills to boost juniper harvest.
His District 59 includes Western Wasco, Wheeler, Jefferson and Northern Deschutes counties, areas where junipers thrive.
The species has encroached on between six and nine million acres in Eastern and Central Oregon, and is sucking up water needed to grow grasses for livestock forage and provide sage grouse habitat.
According to state biologist reports, one juniper tree utilizes an average of 30 gallons of water each day.
“Junipers can be harvested and milled to produce a beautiful wood that can be turned into something,” said Huffman.
Huffman was co-chief sponsor on a bill that renamed the crime of patronizing a prostitute to “commercial sexual solicitation,” which makes it easier for district attorneys in Oregon’s 36 counties to pursue criminal cases.
Another bill establishes a fund that can be used to help children who have been sexually exploited for commercial purposes.
For example, Huffman said a home opened in Portland several months ago to provide living space for girls, ages 11 through 15, who had been victims of sex trafficking. The young women are provided with assistance to deal with the trauma they have experienced and build a new life.
Huffman continued his work to protect citizen privacy with the evolution of technology.
Several years ago, he formed a special work group of legislators, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, defense attorneys, civil rights advocates, aviation officials and industry representatives to discuss issues related to drones and storage of data obtained through electronic means.
“When information is collected, we have to determine how long it is kept and who will have access to it, among other issues – and if that access, such as downloading data off a phone, will require a warrant,” he said.
He is also pursuing development of rules to stop use of drones from impeding on the privacy of citizens on their own properties.
“People should have a reasonable right to privacy in their own backyards,’’ said Huffman. “We have a lot of hobbyists with drones now, as well as more agencies using them, so this is an ongoing conversation.”
He said there have been 27 complaints in Washington County alone about drone use since the start of 2015.
He said there were reports that a drone had been used to capture video footage of fireworks during the second annual July 4 celebration in The Dalles.
However, he said it would have been a violation of law for a drone to be hovering over the Columbia River, a federally navigable waterway, without permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“These are not the old remote control planes, they are sophisticated pieces of equipment with cameras and we have to figure out how to use them without violating security or personal freedoms,” said Huffman. “And then we need to make sure that everyone knows what the rules are.”
Huffman co-sponsored a bill that dedicated Highway 395 to World War I veterans.
That follows his successful quest to dedicate Highway 97 to World War II veterans in 2009 and Interstate 84 as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway in 2013.
In 2014, he got a bill approved that dedicated a 35-mile stretch of Highway 26 that runs through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation as the Warm Spring Veterans Memorial Highway.
Interstate 5 is known as the Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway and the Purple Heart Trail, and US Highway 101 as the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans Memorial Highway.
“I am very proud to have been part of this effort to honor Oregonians who have served,” said Huffman, who is a disabled Army veteran.
Topping his list of concerns for small businesses in years to come is approval of a fee at the pump to implement the low carbon fuel standard. That fee is expected to be at least 19 cents per gallon and as high as $1 by some estimates.
“Not one dime of that money will be used to repair Oregon roads and bridges – an actual need — and, at best, the benefit will be miniscule,” said Huffman.