While some legislators believe the State can solve unemployment in rural Oregon by fast track approval of mines and power generating facilities, perhaps rural Oregonians would be better served by positioning themselves for the emerging marijuana market.
Two bills – Senate Bill 1578 and House Bill 4153 – are in play this legislative session to encourage job development in cities and counties with high unemployment rates. These bills will provide a free pass for land use approvals to develop mines and power generating facilities, among other uses. In both bills, areas of high unemployment are defined as those areas where the unemployment rate is seven percent or higher for a period of 12 consecutive months.
The bills allow local governments to adopt ordinances establishing criteria under which the government body may approve an application to site and use an industrial manufacturing or natural resource facility in an area of high unemployment, notwithstanding the statewide land use planning goals, comprehensive plans or land use regulations. Only one public hearing for such application would be required and once the local government acts, all other affected State agencies, counties, cities and political subdivisions would be required to issue appropriate permits, licenses and certificates and enter into intergovernmental agreement as necessary for the construction and operation of the facility.
Senate Bill 1578 is the most far-reaching of the bills and has the most legs, as it is already scheduled for a public hearing and possible work session. Senate Bill 1578 authorizes a tax credit for the project owner’s ability to create jobs – the creation of even a single full-time job as a result of the project will entitle the project owner to a tax credit.
While both bills provide that the decision of a local government under such an ordinance would not be a land use decision, and appeals would be expedited to the circuit courts, Senate Bill 1578 would require that circuit courts give priority to proceedings that arise under this bill over all other matters before the circuit court. Anyone who participated in a Measure 37/49 proceeding in circuit court should flinch a little at this proposal – and the idea that land use matters should be considered by judges who have little experience in this area of law.
Over the past few years, we have witnessed several attempts to provide for industrial supersiting and solutions for areas of the state with high unemployment rates. Instead of pursuing these special interest bills, perhaps we should focus on new markets. If rural legislators are really looking for market share and job development, perhaps they would do better by positioning themselves to benefit from marijuana-related efforts. Rural areas are primed to make land available as “shovel-ready” for agricultural production and supply chains to medical marijuana facilities or recreational users. Keep an eye on Senate Bill 1531 governing the location of medical marijuana facilities and Senate Bill 1556 suggesting that persons over age 21 should be able to possess, transfer or produce marijuana, as well as other initiatives aimed at legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. If Senate Bill 1556 is passed, the vote of the people in the next general election will be required before it takes effect. Oregonians have mastered the art of viticulture, and now it appears that more opportunities to provide for the consumption of specialty farm products may be in our future.
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