Coast Cash: Congressional legislation for Oregon rural, coast areas

Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley has announced key provisions in the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Committee bill that will help rural communities across Oregon.

“I’m in every county every year, and across rural and coastal Oregon I hear about ways we can create jobs and strengthen communities,” Merkley said. “This bill reflects a lot of those insights, from strengthening the coastal infrastructure to bolstering salmon recovery efforts to more money for communities to hire police officers. I’ll keep using my seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to make sure our small towns and rural communities have a voice when these decisions are being made.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.

Key elements of the legislation that will impact Oregon include:

Addressing Violence Against Women: The bill contains $500 million, the highest funding level ever, for grants provided by the Office on Violence Against Women. This funding supports multiple grant programs that support training for police officers and prosecutors, state domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions, rape prevention programs, domestic violence hotlines, and women’s shelters and transitional housing support services.

Economic Development Administration (EDA): Merkley led a successful bipartisan effort to secure $319.5 million for the program, a $15.5 million increase in funding. The EDA, which was zeroed out in President Trump’s budget, leverages existing regional assets to support economic development in rural communities.

Research Vessels: Over the last three years, Merkley successfully preserved funding for the National Science Foundation Regional Class Research Vessel Program. This year, the bill includes funding for the operations and maintenance of these new vessels. The vessels are being developed by Oregon State University and will greatly bolster the U.S. marine science research capacity for the next 40 years.

Salmon Management: Salmon population management programs, including the operations and maintenance of Mitchell Act hatcheries and the implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, received $56 million. The Committee included $34.5 million to support the implementation of Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Salmon Recovery: The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund received $65 million. The President’s budget proposed eliminating this vital program. The competitive grant program is designed to address declining Pacific salmon and steelhead populations by supporting conservation efforts in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

Sea Grant Program: Merkley secured $75 million for the Sea Grant Program, a $7 million increase. The program, targeted for elimination in the Trump budget, is a priority for Oregon State University and uses targeted local investments to create economic growth, sustainable fisheries, and resilient coastal communities.

Coastal Zone Management: The Coastal Zone Management grants were funded at $76.5 million, a $1 million increase. The program works with Oregon and other coastal states to address some of today’s most pressing coastal issues — climate change, ocean planning, and planning for energy facilities and development. These grants help protect natural resources, improve public access, facilitate coordination between state and federal authorities, and manage hazardous areas.

Industrial Hemp: Merkley successfully included language that directs the DEA to ensure the subsequent drug codes and scheduling guidance is updated to reflect that the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act. The cultivation of commercial hemp is projected to bring in more than $1 billion in economic input to Oregon this year.

Tribal Grants and Victim Assistance: Historically, the Native and Tribal community in Oregon has been disenfranchised in law enforcement, health outcomes, and victims’ rights. To address these critical issues, the committee approved a total of $77 million in grant funding for various programs, including $38 million for tribal assistance, $27 million for tribal resources, and $4 million for the Office of Violence Against Women for a special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction program.

Office of Community Policing: Merkley secured $335 million for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Within that, $245 million has been set aside for COPS Hiring Grants, which help local and tribal law enforcement agencies hire additional police officers—an urgent need for many law enforcement agencies across Oregon.

Regional Information Sharing Activities: The program received $38 million to support the activities that enable the sharing of nationwide criminal information and other resources. After hearing from police departments across the state, Merkley was able to secure a $1 million increase for the program that supports the Western States Information Network.

On Thursday, Sept. 26, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted the bill out of committee. The next step for the bill is a full Senate vote, and eventually merging with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.