DEFAZIO: COUNTY MAY GET MILLIONS
October 03, 2000 11:00 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. A bill that may provide an additional $3.5 million annually to Curry County appears to have reached its final form and is headed for congressional votes in one of two ways, according to Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

DeFazio told the Curry Coastal Pilot Tuesday that Senate Bill 1608, which offers federal aid to counties with federal lands, was the subject of a hastily arranged meeting Monday that ironed out the final disagreements over details.

We never had a conference committee, DeFazio said of the differences between House and Senate versions of the bill. We were worried about a conference, so there have been a series of informal discussions.

At issue, he said, were concerns over how counties could spend funds on projects. The final agreement Monday was that counties could spend the funds both on county or federal lands projects in the same year.

The meeting over the issue was called by Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, said DeFazio, noting he had to cut short his weekend in Oregon to make it back to the capital for the session.

The bill, which will replace the timber support payments Curry County has received in the past, will mean an estimated $3.5 million on top of the $5.5 million the county already receives annually from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

DeFazio said he was careful to insert language specifically approving use of the funds for search and rescue operations, something that had been sought by the Curry County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioner Cheryl Thorp reacted to the news Tuesday with caution. She said the Senates version of the bill was more friendly to environmentalists.

I hope thats the one thats going for a vote, Thorp said, If it doesnt have environmental precautions, environmentalists will try to stop it. Theyre OK with the Senate bill.

Commissioner Bill Roberts said he was very, very happy with that.

He heard the reconciled bill might be on the presidents desk by Friday, with some funds reaching Curry County in December.

But first, the bill must go back through both the House and Senate in the waning days of the congressional session. Some members, DeFazio said, are hoping for adjournment as early as Oct. 13.

One method to adopt the package could be by attaching it to the appropriations bill for the Agriculture Department. However, that bill contains two controversial issues export of food to Cuba and import of prescription drugs from Canada that might jeopardize its passage, DeFazio said.

The second method is straight submission of the bill with a new number and title to both the House and Senate, he said,

In other legislative action, the congressional attack on Oregons assisted suicide bill, which had once been tied to the county payments bill, appears to be losing momentum, DeFazio said.

The two issues were separated before the congressional break in August. Since then, DeFazio credits Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden for working to erode support for closing down Oregons law through a limit on prescription drugs.

The assisted suicide issue might just go away, DeFazio said. Wydens peeling people off one-by-one; thats good news. Hes been working hard on this.