By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

ONTARIO — Malheur County residents can testify next week to a state legislative committee taking up a proposal to help the local economy.

A video link between the county and the House Committee on Economic Development and Trade is being arranged for the hearing on House Bill 2012. Details are still being developed on where local residents can go to “appear” at the committee’s 9 a.m. Monday, March 20, hearing.

The legislation creates a seven-member Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board. The board will manage a loan fund of $10 million so businesses and local governments can train new workers and complete projects that create jobs. The bill is also intended to streamline local requests for waivers on land use laws that hamper local growth.

The bill comes from collaborative effort between state Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, and Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland.

Only three or four residents will be selected to testify but Bentz said he hopes a large crowd will be on hand.

“I have been working with the speaker and meeting with folks from her team to make sure that the committee hearing is advertised so that everyone has the opportunity to at least listen to the hearing,” he said.

Bentz said he and Kotek will testify on the bill.

Bentz said HB 2012 will be a pillar in the effort to build a stronger local economy. However, he said, money is tight at the state level.

“Every bill in this session that has anything to do with money is a long shot. That is because our budget is extremely constrained and these kinds of investments need to be looked at very carefully to make sure they warrant the expenditure,” he said.

Bentz said Kotek’s sponsorship should help its chances.

Bentz said the bill could help create a local trans-load facility. A trans-load facility moves product from one mode of transportation to another. Such a facility locally would boost shipment of onions and other products out of the Treasure Valley.

“People who support the trans-load facility will be at the meeting and will be testifying to the value of that kind of investment to our region,” he said.