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Oregon Legislative Update

Matt WingardCascade Commentary

Summary

The 2007 Oregon State Legislature is in full swing and it’s getting ugly fast for those of us who believe in individual liberty, economic opportunity and personal responsibility. Stay tuned for more updates from Cascade Policy Institute.

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The 2007 Oregon State Legislature is in full swing and it’s getting ugly fast for those of us who believe in individual liberty, economic opportunity and personal responsibility. One month into the session and Oregon’s new majority is already moving the following proposals:

Education: SB 392 requires every Oregon parent to send their child to Kindergarten, expanding the public school system by an additional year and ultimately expanding the Oregon Education Association, the public employee union that represents teachers. There is little evidence to suggest the additional year will dramatically change 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th grade test results.

“The Oregon Department of Education finally admitted publicly that they are trying to close Oregon Connections Academy, the state’s largest online charter school.”

The Oregon Department of Education finally admitted publicly that they are trying to close Oregon Connections Academy, the state’s largest online charter school. The Department sponsored a bill last session that requires half of the students in any online charter school to reside in the district which chartered that school. This will keep other online schools from starting up, and could require ORCA to close in 2010 when its charter comes up for renewal. Supporters are trying to move HB 2037 that removes the 50 percent resident restriction, but the teachers union (OEA) opposes the bill. As it stands, the 1,500 students who already attend the charter school and want to graduate from ORCA have no champion in the Oregon State government.

At a hearing on the bill held on February 6th, I joined others in defending the educational rights of students and families to choose the best school for them, even if it’s an online school outside their own district.

The teachers union also will be pushing a bill this session to strangle all charter schools and force them into the union’s collective bargaining units. We’re still waiting for that bill to appear.

Energy: Legislators are moving a package of bills to give income and property tax breaks to ethanol and biofuel producers and users (HB 2210, HB 2211, HB 2212). These types of “incentives” will not likely produce the outcome government planners desire, and they seldom do more than enrich a few business people and farmers. Last session Democrats called tax credits such as these “Tax Expenditures” and cried that they stole money from public education. This session they are important and necessary and the loss to school funding has not been mentioned. Cascade President John Charles challenged the House Energy and Environment Committee on this issue.

Taxes: Besides all the hidden tax increases headed your way, there are a few that legislators won’t be hiding, such as ending the Corporate Kicker and putting it into a fund for education (SJR 3 and SB 48). They also intend to increase the cigarette tax to pay for health insurance for every child in families earning up to $75,000 (HB 2201). More tax increase ideas are sure to crop up as the session progresses.

Democracy: Two movements are underway at the Capitol that should give pause to anyone who supports democracy. The new Democrat majority in the Legislature is considering doing away with or greatly curtailing the ability to amend bills in committee and on the House and Senate floor. So called “Minority Reports” allow members to offer substitute language for bills facing a final vote before the entire membership. Without them, the process becomes far more dictatorial and less deliberative.

“There are too many bills to list this session that expand the scope and influence of the public employee unions….This is only the beginning.”

Secondly, the House Elections, Ethics and Rules Committee is holding hearings on how to “fix” Oregon’s initiative process. One concept being considered would require 10,000 signatures before petitioners could even receive a ballot title from the Secretary of State. That should give you a pretty good idea what they are after. HB 2082 is a classic example of legislation designed to make it harder to collect signatures and easier for the Secretary ofState to throw those signatures out. Any legislation that comes from this committee’s work will be designed to cripple the initiative process. These two items are direct attacks on the very concept of democratic rule.

Public Union Expansion: Portland Senator Kate Brown has sponsored a host of bills to expand public unions by including most supervisors (SB 400, SB 401, SB 402). This is concerning to organizations such as the League of Oregon Cities, but they are already exploring how to “compromise.” There are too many bills to list this session that expand the scope and influence of the public employee unions. As an example, Senator Ryan Deckert has a bill to create the Oregon Educators Benefit Board (SB 426) which would have the state providing health care packages for every teacher in the state (they are currently provided by each district).

This is only the beginning. After all, this is Oregon, where “we love dreamers!” Stay tuned for future updates from Cascade Policy Institute.

Matt Wingard is Director of the School Choice Project at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s premier public policy research center. To read other publications of the School Choice Project, visit www.cascadepolicy.org.

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