Nov. 1, 2017 —
Oregon Sen. Arnie Roblan (District 5) and Rep. Caddy McKeown (District 9) held a Town Hall meeting on Saturday at the Siuslaw Public Library.
The Democratic legislators wanted to update the community on work done during the most recent legislative session and to answer questions from local constituents.
Roblan and McKeown each made brief presentations recapping the regionally relevant issues and bills dealt with during the 2017 session before outlining the issues to be debated in the next legislative session.
During the meeting, both officials highlighted their long-standing relationship and similar governing philosophy.
“Caddy and I are part of the Coastal Caucus, which is a group of legislators that have part of their district on the coast,” Roblan said. “We are the only caucus, other than the Democrats and Republicans, that has actually survived over the years. We have been going for 25-30 years, and we make sure that as Democrats or Republicans, senators or representatives, regardless of what else is going on, we represent the coast.”
McKeown echoed Roblan’s feelings about the bi-partisan group and believes the goodwill among the group is unusual.
“We meet regularly in Salem and the communication between members of the caucus is excellent. It is truly a group that works well together and always puts the interests of our constituents first,” McKeown said.
One of the cornerstones of the region represented by the Coastal Caucus is the fishing industry, which is experiencing difficult times, particularly in smaller traditional fishing communities like Florence, Winchester Bay and Coos Bay.
One of the most negatively impacted parts of the fishing economy has been the farming of oysters. A few years ago, there was an almost total collapse of the industry due to unexplained deaths of many coastal oyster beds.
Roblan lives in Coos Bay and knew first hand the impact the loss would have up and down the coast. He also worked with marine biologists from the Hatfield Marine Science Center and educators from Oregon State University (OSU) to investigate and identify the causes of the collapse.
This work spurred the development of solutions by introducing legislation to provide information to avert future problems in Oregon fisheries.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of bills over the years, but this last session I was involved in the issue of ocean acidification,” Roblan said. “This started when it was discovered that we lost almost a complete harvest of oysters a few years ago. … Scientists at OSU figured out the problem — as the acidic levels in the ocean rose, the little oyster embryos couldn’t make shells and they would just die.”
The solution to the acidity situation involved the development of a new water filter to reduce the acidification in the water where embryos develop. The research that went into discovering the problem was undertaken at OSU.
Roblan then co-sponsored a bill to provide solid information to state legislators tasked with ocean oversight in the future.
Senate Bill (SB) 1039 establishes the Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia. The bill was introduced last spring and made its way through the legislative process over the summer.
In August, the bill was signed into law. It mandates the mission and establishment of the council, which will investigate the effects of climate change on all aspects of Oregon fisheries. The multi-discipline advisory group will be based at OSU and conduct field studies from the Hatfield Marine Science Center.
The marine biologists at the center will accumulate research findings and species data that will serve as a base line to better inform members of the legislature on ocean-related issues.
The council will have 13 members with representatives from the Governors Office, Oregon Fish and Wildlife, Department of Environmental Quality and the director of Land Conservation and Development, with additional members from the fishing industry and conservation groups.
This group will now be responsible for a wide variety of research projects that affect coastal communities.
During the town hall, another of the main topics was education. Both McKeown and Roblan are former educators, as McKeown served on the Coos Bay School Board for 11 years and Roblan is a former teacher and principal.
Education continues to be a topic they are both involved with as they said they are keenly interested in the state’s educational system.
One of the accomplishments of the 2017 session cited by the visiting legislators was
SB 13, which is education related and will impact many coastal communities, including Florence.
“We recently passed a bill on Native American education so that local tribes can make decisions about the kind of knowledge that kids get about their local tribe,” Roblan said. “Native tribes have been here for 10,000 years or more and it would be good to impart some of the knowledge that they’ve learned over the years to the to kids so they have a better understanding of the peoples that live here.”
Oregon Innovation Officer and Department of Education Interim Director Colt Gill and Oregon Department of Transportation Regional Manager Frannie Brindle also gave brief presentations Saturday, updating attendees on relevant developments from their departments.
Gill is the state’s first Education Innovation officer and he discussed his intention to work closely with local educators to improve graduation rates. Under Gill, the Department of Education will work to identify and develop policies and plans that better prepare high school graduates to excel in either the workplace or at an institute of higher learning.