Salinas navigates partisan divide in House to push help for Oregon agriculture

With just four words, U.S. Rep. Andrea Salinas intends to get help for Willamette Valley farmers from two federal agencies.

She made the move recently as a Congressional committee considered legislation directing the Energy and Agriculture Departments to work together on research.

Salinas, the Democratic congresswoman from Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, sits on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

One section of the pending legislation instructed the federal agencies to jointly use science to research “advanced crop science, crop protection, and breeding.”

“I’m considering what the future of farming and growing will look like in the Willamette Valley.”

–U.S. Rep. Andrea Salinas

Salinas got unanimous approval of the committee to add ‘‘including biological pest control” to the assignment.

The seemingly modest amendment was prompted by Salinas’s understanding of her farming constituents.

“I’m considering what the future of farming and growing will look like in the Willamette Valley,” and that means finding sustainable and less costly ways to deal with pests.

“I want to make sure growers have what they need,” Salinas said.

For Salinas, getting unanimous support for that change from Democrats and Republicans on the committee was satisfying. They also backed her idea to direct research as well into “the power sector’s role in fire prevention and mitigation and wildfire impacts on energy infrastructure.”

Utility systems have been blamed for catastrophic fires in Oregon and Washington.

Salinas, who took office in January, is focusing on that nitty-gritty of Congressional wordsmithing to make progress in a House now controlled by Republicans.

“It is possible to work in a bipartisan fashion” despite the national political rhetoric, she said in a recent interview with Salem Reporter. She reviewed the work she’s undertaken in Congress and what’s ahead.

Salinas also sits on the House Agriculture Committee, now considering the 2023 Farm Bill. The legislation affects agriculture, conservation and public food benefits. Committee members have until the end of April to suggest their changes. She’s using the spring recess now to gather ideas.

She’s considering “how can we build some kind of safety net” for those growers and producers who can’t get affordable disaster or crop insurance. Such insurance is more challenging to get in the private market as wildfire risks grow, she said.

“If it’s not available through private insurers, is there something from the federal level we can provide,” Salinas said.

She’s concerned with Republican proposals to cut back one of the most significant programs covered by the Farm Bill – federal food benefits. She said Republicans want to impose a work requirement as one way to trim the rolls of those receiving benefits.

But Salinas notes many recipients are already working. And cutting families off from help doesn’t make sense as grocery prices continue to increase.

She said the Republican proposal would also remove veterans.

“I’m not willing to take food way from them,” Salinas said.

She recently introduced her first Congressional legislation, clearing up a glitch in rights for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. The problem traces to the original survey for the tribal reservation, addressed by Congressional action in 1994.

The language passed then foreclosed the Grand Ronde from contesting federal land surveys. Salinas is proposing to erase that limit. The move has been joined by most of the Oregon House delegation and U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.

Recently, the freshman congresswoman found herself on the losing side in a House vote on a “really, really harmful bill.”

The “Parents Bill of Rights” imposes new reporting requirements on local schools, provides parents and others more access to information on school books and curriculum, and requires more parental involvement in school decisions.

“Parents have a God-given right to make decisions for their children,” according to a House Republican fact sheet. “Unfortunately, many school districts have been ignoring the wishes of parents while special interest groups try to criminalize free speech.”

The legislation requires schools to get a parent’s approval “before changing a minor child’s gender markers, pronouns, or preferred name on any school form” and “allowing a child to change the child’s sex-based accommodations, including locker rooms or bathrooms.”

Salinas is concerned the bill opens the way for censorship and book bans. She also views language as forcing transgender students to reveal themselves to parents against their wishes.

“It’s putting politics over people and parents,” Salinas said. “It felt like a real attack on our LGBTQ youth.”

The measure passed the House 213-208, with all Democrats and five Republicans voting no.

Oregon’s two Republicans, Rep. Cliff Bentz and Lori Chavez-Deremer, were on the winning side. Oregon’s Democrats opposing it were Salinas, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and Rep. Val Hoyle. Rep. Earl Blumenauer didn’t vote.

Senate leaders have said the measure won’t be considered.

Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected].

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Les Zaitz is editor and CEO of Salem Reporter. He co-founded the news organization in 2018. He has been a journalist in Oregon for nearly 50 years in both daily and community newspapers and digital news services. He is nationally recognized for his commitment to local journalism. He also is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon.