The Source Weekly - Bend

Wyden Holds Town Hall

It’s town hall number 15 for Wyden, who pledged to visit every Oregon county every year

Jack Harvel Mar 14, 2023 16:16 PM
Sen. Ron Wyden responded to Central Oregonians’ questions at a 90-minute town hall in Central Oregon Community College’s Wille Hall on March 11 — where he spoke about drought, dams, immigration and more. Wyden pledged to do a town hall in all of Oregon’s 36 counties every year, and thus far he’s has held one in 15 counties, mostly in the northwest part of the state. He said it was his 1,042nd town hall in his career, and that he uses them to connect Oregonians to Washington, D.C. and to learn more about the issues facing his constituents.

“Where we're sitting is 3,000 miles away from Washington. And for a lot of Oregonians, D.C. might as well be Mars for all the connection there really is. So, these meetings are about you educating me, bringing me up to date,” Wyden told attendees.

Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang and State Representative Emerson Levy moderated questions. Attendees entered a raffle to ask questions, and most focused on issues with a local impact. Two local elected officials had their number drawn to ask a question. The first was Jeff Walla, a board member of the Deschutes County Soil and Water Conservation District. He asked the senator to consider easing restrictions on establishing commercial solar power on private land after the agricultural use dwindled during the drought.

Jack Harvel

“I chair the Finance Committee, we work together on bringing funds to Central Oregon, particularly to mitigate drought impacts and divert water that allows us to wring every bit of value out for farmers and communities and fish and wildlife. We got additional money in this omnibus bill that passed in December. The fact of the matter is, though, even with the kind of winter we've had, we're going to have another drought,” Wyden told Rolla.

Wyden said he’d arrange a meeting between Rolla and the Bonneville Power Administration to talk about supplying kilowatts to the energy system. Bend-La Pine School Board member Marcus LeGrand also asked about increasing teacher pay, improving access to mental health care and passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a 2021 bill that the U.S. Senate rejected. Wyden pointed to provisions in a gun safety bill that increased funding for suicide prevention services, behavioral health training and going after insurance companies that don’t cover mental health. He also advocated for a middle-income housing tax credit for middle class workers who are priced out of home ownership. And on police reform he pointed to alternative policing structures he supported.
Jack Harvel

“I've been very proud of is we got passed the first federal alliances between law enforcement and telehealth, called the Cahoots Act, modeled after Eugene,” Wyden said.

The youngest questioner, a seventh grader, asked what Wyden would do to increase school safety, to a round of applause from attendees. Wyden said a gun control bill that didn’t make it through last session would have funded school safety, and that he’s hoping to pass and approve it in the upcoming session. Levy added that she’s working on Alyssa’s Law in Oregon, which is a pilot program that would install silent panic alarms in Oregon schools.

“What we're trying to do is change how to change the behavior of the first three minutes of an emergency,” Levy said. “I ran for office to make school safe, and you have a commitment from me and I'm pretty sure every elected here to make sure that you're going to be safe at school.” Wyden ended the event by encouraging people to continue to engage in both grassroots activism and with their elected officials.