Even in session with historic legislation, ‘little’ bills often make a big difference
Monday, June 10, 2019
The Legislature is winding down, and by any estimation, this session has been the best in recent memory for public education.
The passage of the Student Success Act, with $1 billion a year in revenue dedicated to our long-underfunded schools, was a generational investment. Education advocates saw a strong State School Fund at $9 billion and a significant cost containment bill for the Public Employees Retirement System.
We lobbyist types, however, have all been working on other bills as well. Called “little” bills, they focus on specific and narrow needs. For the involved parties, though, they’re not little at all. Usually the bills address an issue that’s vitally important to our schools. Ignoring them is not an option.
The broadest such example is House Bill 2266, which OSBA Legislative Services Director Lori Sattenspiel has been working on for years. In the 2017 session, the Legislature prohibited school districts from offering opt-out incentive payments to employees in lieu of double coverage under the Public Employees’ Benefit Board and Oregon Educators Benefit Board.
Legislators thought this would save money, but it would hurt many of our employees, particularly our lowest paid, who have come to rely on those payments to make ends meet. School districts can save money with the opt-out because the cost of the incentive payment is usually much less than the cost of the double coverage.
Finally, after two years of work, HB 2266 has made its way out of the House and is going to the Senate for an anticipated “yes” vote. This bill would repeal provisions that have not come into effect yet, so nothing will change. But it will keep everyone, especially business managers and opt-out incentive recipients, happy. It is a good policy for schools.
Senate Bill 665, which has passed both chambers, is another one of these little bills. It will require the Oregon Department of Education to change the medication rule to allow school districts to safely store and administer the anti-overdose drug Naloxone.
OSBA brought this bill because Nick Troxel, a Tillamook School Board member, saw the need to be able to respond to potential opioid-induced overdoses on school property. This is not a widespread problem facing schools; it’s a “little” problem. But it’s a life-or-death “little” problem that we’re happy to help make a little bit better.
HB 2514, which has been signed by Gov. Kate Brown, requires a school board to meet in executive session to discuss student-specific confidential information without media present. Formerly under state law, members of the news media were allowed to observe executive session deliberations, sometimes even when student-specific information was discussed. Under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, members of the news media must be excluded.
School boards should not be forced to choose which law to violate, so we advocated for HB 2514. When it goes into effect, it will fix that “little” conflict of law problem, which had not actually been so little for some school districts that had to endure Oregon Government Ethics Commission investigations.
These kinds of bills are special for OSBA. The big bills, like the Student Success Act, are monumental and gratifying, but the “little” bills are satisfying because they usually make someone’s life better.