ONTARIO—Malheur County residents will get a rare opportunity later this month to have a say in how state lawmakers spend the budget for the next two years as the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee stops in Ontario.
The legislative committee will appear in public session at the Four Rivers Cultural Center on Friday, April 28, from 5 to 7 p.m.
Hosted by Treasure Valley Community College, the powerful Ways and Means Committee sets the state’s biennial budget, governing on everything from state police to child welfare to highway work. State Sen. Lynn Findley, a Republican from Vale, serves on the committee.
According to Andrew Rogers, communications director for House Speaker Dan Rayfield, such public sessions were a tradition before the pandemic. However, lawmakers last held face-to-face meetings in 2021.
The purpose of the public hearings, Rogers said, is to give people an opportunity to make their voice heard during the budget-setting process.
He said legislators typically finalize the state budget in May and June before it takes effect for two years beginning July 1. Rogers said anyone interested in testifying could sign up online at the Oregon Legislature’s website.
Ahead of the public hearing, the Ontario Kiwanis Club will hold a training session on Wednesday, April 19, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Four Rivers Cultural Center on registering to testify before the commission, submitting written testimony and how the process works.
Organizer Sarah Ray Groberg, who has testified previously before the Ways and Means Committee, said many citizens have never testified in person or by written submission. She said the free workshop, open to the public, allows people to learn about the process.
Groberg noted that Malheur County was one of 11 counties in the state that voted to have their county leaders meet three times a year to consider shifting portions of Oregon to Idaho. She said they did so because they feel lawmakers in Salem do not listen to their concerns.
The workshop and public hearing are an opportunity to ensure their voices are heard.
“We need to work together,” she said. “And since the legislators are coming to Malheur County, what a great opportunity to have your voice heard and not have to travel to Salem.”
Candace Shock, Kiwanis president, said it made sense for the organization to get behind the workshop, given its educational value.
Shock said that most people would not know where to begin to testify before legislators. Now, she said, those interested in speaking for the committee can learn the steps of the process of registering at no cost.
“How many of us have ever testified before a committee?” she said. “We wouldn’t know what you had to do ahead of time.”
Groberg said about 100 people have called with interest in attending the workshop. Those interested can reach Groberg at 541-350-8404.
Residents will also have an opportunity to talk to committee members after the session too. Dana Young, president of Treasure Valley Community College, said that legislators on the committee will attend a no-host dinner at Fiesta Guadalajara in Ontario at 336 S. Oregon St following the public hearing.