Legislative dysfunction endangers education bills with universal support
Monday, April 5, 2021
In an otherwise contentious legislative session, there is at least one education bill with no opposition.
House Bill 2330 would make permanent a special funding mechanism for the smallest and most remote dormitory public schools. This crucial funding is set to expire June 30, and last year’s attempt to save it was thwarted by legislative walkouts.
This year's bill was brought by OSBA, the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators and the Oregon Small Schools Association and has bipartisan sponsorship from eight legislators. The bill was voted out of the House Education Committee on March 30 unanimously. With overwhelming support, the bill had clear sailing to become law.
But now it has crashed up against the Legislature’s inflexible process deadlines and a growing bulge of bills stopped up in the House. This backlog threatens education bills that have bipartisan support and universal appeal for making important and necessary adjustments to Oregon laws.
As of last week, more than 100 bills were waiting to be voted on, an unprecedented breakdown in the week before the deadline for bills to move out of their originating chamber committees.
Under the Oregon Constitution, the Legislature must adjourn no later than June 27. Bills must pass certain deadline-mandated hurdles along the way, but COVID-19 infections have shut down chamber floor sessions and technical issues have slowed committee work.
Making it worse, the House of Representatives is in a partisan stare-down that manifests as a requirement to “full read” bills. The Oregon Constitution requires that every bill be read aloud completely.
As many bills consist of dozens or hundreds of pages and it takes two to three minutes to read a page aloud, this is a daunting task. Bypassing this requirement requires a two-thirds vote of all legislators in a chamber. It is tradition that members agree to skip this requirement for the good of all. Just the title of a bill is read, and then debate and voting proceed.
In the House this year, Republicans have required full reads as they have protested COVID-19-altered processes.
“The House is running a crushing number of committees and pushing controversial legislation” and bills “are being drafted on the fly and … are moving through committees despite substantial opposition,” House Republican Leader Christine Drazan told House Speaker Tina Kotek in a letter.
The ability to check legislation is a constitutional provision, and as long as the Capitol is closed to the public, House Republicans “will continue to depend on the Constitution,” she wrote.