Short-session issues will come back to haunt 2019 Legislature
The Legislature crammed a lot of action into its tumultuous 28-day short session. Some bills passed, more bills died and almost everyone involved vowed to return in 2019 to right wrongs and pick up where 2018 left off.
Constitutionally, the Legislature may meet for 35 days during even years, but legislators wrapped up early on March 3. OSBA’s main priority from the opening on Feb. 5 was the defeat of House Bill 4113.
The bill would have made class size a mandatory subject of bargaining between school districts and teachers union representatives, raising the specter of strikes and likely increasing district salary costs without necessarily helping students.
The bill did not become law, and it is important to be clear why: the hard work of OSBA members. We asked you to call, and you answered. Hundreds of OSBA members responded to action alerts and called their representatives and senators to let them know how damaging HB 4113 could be to Oregon’s students.
Another high-interest bill for schools, Senate Bill 1566, passed both chambers. One of Gov. Kate Brown’s priorities for 2018, SB 1566 is a first attempt at addressing the ongoing Public Employees Retirement System funding challenges.
The bill establishes the Employer Incentive Fund with approximately $25 million in one-time money. The Employer Incentive Fund will allow one-time matches of 25 cents for every $1 on contributions made by all municipal employers to pay down existing unfunded PERS liability costs.
The measure also establishes the School Districts Unfunded Liability Fund with approximately $115 million. The fund will be distributed by the PERS board to offset rising PERS costs for school districts in the upcoming biennia.
The intent is for both funds to receive ongoing funding, but that will be up to future legislatures.
Multiple other bills passed that will impact education, including:
- HB 4036 gives K-8 charter and homeschool students the right to access before- and after-school activities at their local district school. The bill permits the school to charge the charter up to 5 percent of the state’s per-student payment.
- HB 4130 and HB 4059 fund student transportation. HB 4130 grants $250,000 for “activity bus” mileage reimbursement. HB 4059 will, among many other things, dedicate about $1 million annually to student transportation pass funding, beginning in 2019.
- HB 4067 adds “developmental delay” to a list of categories for which K-3 students may receive special education services.
- HB 4150 adds reporting requirements for schools related to sexual assault investigations.
- SB 1520 makes technical changes to education statutes, including continuing the dorm-schools correction in the funding formula for another two years.
- SB 1522 changes statutes to ensure that modified diploma students will be able to receive transition services through their local districts through age 21.
Some education policy bills that did not survive the session will likely be back in 2019, including:
- HB 4113: Class size as a mandatory subject of bargaining will almost certainly return.
- SB 1540: The bill passed into law, but only after being stripped of age-related provisions regarding mandatory reporting. The concerns began with training in Salem-Keizer Public Schools. Under current law, mandatory reporters (including teachers, doctors, barred attorneys and legislators, among others) must report any suspected sexual contact involving a minor. This includes consensual activities, such as two 17-year-olds kissing. The law includes a defense when the activity is consensual and the individuals are within three years of each other’s age. SB 1540 sought to deal with this problem by changing that defense into an exemption. However, the House and Senate could not agree on an appropriate lower-end age: age 12, as requested by the medical community, or age 14, as requested by some law enforcement groups, specifically district attorneys. So, the mandatory reporting challenge remains and will likely only become more challenging for the Legislature as more school districts train staff about the recent, strict interpretation of these reporting requirements.
- SB 1521: The bill would have extended open enrollment student transfers by one year, with the hope of having an extended conversation about interdistrict transfers in the upcoming interim. OSBA supported the bill, but unfortunately it did not receive enough support from legislators to get a vote, and 2018-19 will be the last year of open enrollment transfers.
Beyond the education committees, two major bills for Gov. Kate Brown will become law. SB 1566 establishes Public Employees Retirement System matching funds, and HB 4145 closes the “intimate partner loophole” for gun purchases.
“Cap and trade” bills to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, a major priority of the Democrats, failed. Democratic leaders and supporters vowed to enact the policy in 2019.
Republicans did not tout specific bills as victories, but rather pointed to policies and bills that were killed.
There will be new faces in the House and Senate in 2019.
Seven House members and two Senators will not return. Reps. Phil Barnhart (D-Eugene), Deborah Boone (D-Cannon Beach), Knute Buehler (R-Bend), Sal Esquivel (R-Medford), Bill Kennemer (R-Oregon City), Andy Olson (R-Albany) and Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver) and Sen. Alan DeBoer (R-Ashland) will not run in 2018.
This turnover combined with the change in Senate District 1, where Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg) resigned amidst allegations of sexual assault prior to the start of the 2018 session, means the Legislature will look different in 2019 even if many of the issues are the same.
- Richard Donovan
Legislative Services specialist