Status (overview) of bill:https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2020R1/Measures/Overview/HB4041
Committee assigned to bill:https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2020R1/Committees/HVET/Overview
This bill renames the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) as Oregon Department of Emergency Management and establishes the department as a state agency independent from the Oregon Military Department (OMD).
– Vests in the new Oregon Department of Emergency Management emergency authority regarding public health emergencies, emergency quarantines and conflagrations.
– Transfers rulemaking authority regarding nuclear emergencies from State Department of Energy to Oregon Department of Emergency Management.
– Establishes Local Government Emergency Management Advisory Council to provide advice and recommendations to Oregon Department of Emergency Management regarding the department’s emergency preparedness and response functions.
– Transfers Oregon Emergency Response System from Department of State Police to the new Oregon Department of Emergency Management.
Renames office of State Fire Marshal as Department of the State Fire Marshal and establishes the department as a state agency independent from the Department of State Police.
– Transfers search and rescue functions from Office of Emergency Management (previously under the Military Department) to Department of the State Fire Marshal (previously under Oregon State Police).
Transfers Oregon Homeland Security Council from Office of Emergency Management to Office of the Governor. Adds seven members to council and expands duties of council.
– Establishes Emergency Preparedness Advisory Council to advise and make policy recommendations to Oregon Homeland Security Council regarding federal emergency support functions. Becomes operative on July 1, 2023.
This grows Oregon government very noticeably, creating two new State Departments (Emergency Management and Fire Marshal) from offices previously subordinate to other agencies, growing the Oregon Homeland Security Council by 7 members, and and creating two new advisory councils: the Local Government Emergency Management Advisory Council and the Emergency Preparedness Advisory Council. Is this degree of growth and reorganization truly required?
The justifications listed are:
1. The Department of State Police’s difficulty in returning to 1980s trooper staffing levels while managing ever-increasing wildfire operations with a subordinate office of fire marshal and the Oregon Emergency Response System
2. The Oregon Military Department’s difficulty in handling both the recent wartime deployments and its subordinate office of emergency management functions.
These sound plausible on the surface but there are reasons for concern:
1. It removes authority for specific response types from the agencies which have possessed the specialized knowledge in those areas for several decades: transferring nuclear emergency response from the Department of Energy which has had authority for nuclear power and nuclear waste emergencies for decades to a new department, and transferring public health and quarantine emergencies from the military which has had specialized knowledge and training in this area since the chemical weapon use of World War I.
2. It moves the Oregon Homeland Security Council from the office (now to be Department) of Emergency Management, to the office of the governor. This move alone is enough to oppose this bill: the current governor of Oregon as well as the immediately previous governor, have established reputations for corruption and non-transparency. Moving any state functions to be under the immediate control of the office of the governor could be described as a self-inflicted wound and this bill has the possibility of disaster of biblical scope.
There are already 7 amendments aimed at addressing some of these concerns. This bill needs the time of a long session for legislators to be able to absorb the information from and the motivations of all involved parties.
This bill has the stated aim of increasing cooperation and coordination between state and local emergency response personnel but it has the potential to damage that coordination as much as improving it, with the standard fog involved with creating new agencies, publishing their guidelines and getting systems and communications in place between them and the other agencies they need to be in immediate and effective communication with. A change this large should have had prolonged public input but the planning which led to this bill appears to have taken place only over the last six months, and among a fairly small group without coordination with and input from all local emergency response personnel.
Legislators will be tasked with voting on this extremely impactful bill during the short session which was only intended (and proposed to Oregon voters) as being for minor budgetary and spending modifications.