A Few More Days...



Rep. Michael Dembrow 
NE Portland, Maywood Park & Parkrose

Phone: 503-986-1445

 Email: rep.michaeldembrow@state.or.us 
Website: http://www.repmichaeldembrow.com  

E-Newsletter                              June 24, 2011

Dear Friends and Neighbors:


Well, I had assumed this would be my last newsletter of this legislative session, but it now appears that this will instead be the penultimate edition. There’s still some haggling going on over the Public Safety budgets, and the House Democrats have decided that a pause was needed.   We’ll reconvene on Monday and hope to get things wrapped up in the next day or two.


In this newsletter I’ll tell you about the bills that did pass this week, along with a little backstage look at the drama behind the “Education Package” that I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, as well as some additional insights into the “sausage-making” that goes on at the end of a session.


Of course, I can only scratch the surface here. For a juicier, more substantial discussion of what really is going on, you’ll have to come to my next monthly coffee, as always the first Saturday of the month. See below for details.


Higher Education Package Passes in Its Entirety (Eventually)


As I mentioned last week, as part of the “end game,” a group of education bills were packaged together in an effort to get them moving out for floor votes and thereby help the Governor pass some of the final bills of the session, including those dealing with health care, the public safety budget, and final education allocations for the current year.


It was not a pretty process, as several of the bills were very controversial and some of them had received very little public scrutiny or committee attention. And there were some mixed messages about just what the “deal” was—the Democrats assumed that the deal involved an agreement simply to get the bills to the floor for a vote, while the Republicans assumed that we would also provide the votes necessary to pass them all.


The package included a number of bills, many of which were fairly uncontroversial and had bi-partisan support. It also included SB 909, the Governor’s bill to create an education investment board to oversee education from pre-k through college and workforce training. There was also some additional funding for education initiatives, and another $25 million from the Education Stability Fund for K-12, on top of the $5.7 billion that we approved earlier in the session.


Attached to these proposals were several more controversial ideas, including three bills in particular that drew the most attention. One of the bills expanded the types of entities who can sponsor public charter schools to include community colleges, OUS schools and OHSU. It includes a number of sideboards and amendments to the bill will protect the colleges from being forced to sponsor a charter against their will. Another bill created an “open enrollment” process to allow more students to transfer from their resident district to neighboring districts. It allows a district to cap the number of students they will allow to transfer in, or not allow any transfers at all if they choose.


Unfortunately, the most controversial of all—one related to a loosening of the rules around online charter schools—was the first one up in the House, and it failed 30-30 (with two Republicans voting no and two Democrats voting yes). The Republicans felt that the deal had been abrogated, motioned to reconsider the bill the following day and left. By the next day, though, a couple of Democrats had changed their votes, in part because we had come up with amendments to improve (in my opinion) some of the bills, and the online charter bill passed, followed by all the rest of the package bills.


As I said, it wasn’t pretty, but it allowed us to move on. In the end, I believe that many of the bills will turn out not to be as dangerous as their opponents feared, nor as substantial as their proponents will claim. But overall it is a wide-sweeping package of bills. Together with the Higher Education bills that we’re passing this session, it represents a substantial accomplishment for the Legislature. It is also an accomplishment that will require continued oversight and work. No one should think that we have “solved” education reform in Oregon, and we certainly still have to deal with the chronic underfunding of education in our state.


I will continue to work on these issues in the interim and looking ahead to next session. If you have any questions about my votes or work on any of the bills, please let me know. Also, I’ll talk more about them at the next coffee.


Public Guardian and Conservator Task Force (HB 2237) Makes It At Last


You may recall that HB 2237 is a bill that allows the Public Guardian and Conservator Task Force to continue doing its work by extending the sunset on the task force. This is a task force that I served on during the interim. Oregon has an acute need for publicly-funded guardians to oversee and coordinate care for indigent Oregonians who do not have the capacity to make their own life-sustaining decisions, due to the effects of dementia, mental illness, or drug addiction. We did a lot of good research on public guardianship and conservatorship, but ultimately were not ready to move forward with legislative recommendations that in any case could not have been funded this year. We therefore needed legislative authority to continue our work.


This was a simple bill, a good bill. Getting it through the Legislature should have been a no-brainer. But many such bills ended up dying along the way, victims of the process. Fortunately, this one did not, despite a number of stalls and circuitous routes. Many thanks to my colleagues on the task force for helping with phone calls and emails. I look forward to continuing to work with them on this crucially important issue. Thanks also to Reps. Peter Buckley and Tina Kotek for ensuring that this bill wasn’t forgotten in the Ways & Means process.


Support for Career/Technical Education Unanimous Every Step of the Way


HB 3362, the bill that I crafted with Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian to begin to restore Career and Technical Education to our schools, has made it through three committees and the full House and Senate without a single No vote. This is pretty remarkable, and it sends a clear, powerful signal that the Legislature wants to see this method of instruction returned to our schools. Also remarkable in our current budget climate is the fact that we were able to get initial funding of $2 million for CTE projects in school districts around the state.


I’m convinced that this will turn out to be one of the most important education bills we’ll have passed this session. It was also great to see this kind of consensus around meaningful educational reform in the midst of all the controversy around education bills.


Read my floor speech on HB 3362 here.


HB 3471—Tuition Waivers for Former Foster Youth—Passes the Senate


The Senate passed HB 3471 on Tuesday on a 25-4 vote. It now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature. I definitely look forward to the signing ceremony on this one, which will bring together a great group of former and current foster youth, advocates, educators, and other supporters.


Another Step in the Strange Saga of the Affordable Textbook Bill


I mentioned last week that I had managed at last to get the renumbered Affordable Textbook bill (now HB 3651) out of the House Rules Committee and over to Ways and Means, where it had been “green-lighted” for passage. Well, this week it found itself bumping up yet another deadline (this one a strange one imposed by the Senate President), so it was once again back to the drawing board.


The solution—and this is yet another example of end-of-session sausage!—is a “budget note.” We have stripped out the conceptual contents of the bill and are attaching it to a final budget bill.   So, there’ll be no signing ceremony on this one—since it’s no longer a bill—but the effects will be the same, and that’s what matters. If you want to see the note, check it out here.


SB 242—Higher Education Restructuring—Comes to the Floor Next Week


As it turns out, the long-awaited (by me at least!) SB 242 will, it appears, be among the last of the bills to be voted on this session. The Senate passed it 28-2 last week, and it seems sure to pass the House when it comes to us. The reason for the delay is that a series of “conforming amendments” needed to be drafted to make sure that the bill conforms with other bills that we have already passed this session. I’ve seen and approved the amendments, which are all very technical in nature. Most of them are related to the fact that we are changing the name of OSAC, the Oregon Student Assistance Commission to the Oregon Student Access Commission and to the fact that when the statutes refer to “higher education” from now on, that includes community colleges (currently “higher education” is synonymous with the Oregon University System, something that is being changed in fact and in philosophy by this bill).


My companion bill, HB 3418 (the Student and Institutional Success Act) passed the House on Wednesday and the Senate this morning. It puts actual practitioners and students in the driver’s seat for determining the appropriate metrics by which we gauge and fund for success, which is a very good thing. On Tuesday I also carried the “40/40/20” bill, which sets out goals for college and high school completion. You can read my floor speech on this bill here. It passed overwhelmingly, though there were a few protest votes from members dismayed that we’re not actually funding higher education in a way that will help us meet those goals. Though I supported the bill, I completely agree with that point.


In next week’s newsletter I’ll let you know how the debate over SB 242 goes and say something about the future for the restructuring plan coming out of the University of Oregon.


Modest Changes to PERS


It appears that at the end of the day, there will only be a few technical improvements to PERS this session. The most significant will be HB 2456, which deals with retirees who have moved to another state and are no longer subject to Oregon income tax. Currently, retirees receive a small increase in their monthly benefit to make up for the fact that their benefits are now subject to Oregon taxes (a change that was made for legal reasons back in the 1990s). However, even those who have moved to another state receive this added benefit. Starting with those who retire in January 2012, this will no longer be the case. Because it only applies to future retirees (and thereby avoids potential litigation), there won’t bring us any immediate savings to the PERS system, but it will end a loophole that should have been closed long ago. I’ll vote for it when it comes to the floor next week.


As a result of this bill’s passing, we may see a small spike in the number of people choosing to retire before January.


Legislature Says No to (Most) Tax Credits


One of the best things that we did in 2009 was pass a bill that put a sunset on most tax credits, which meant that after six years they came up for review and could then be altered or eliminated. As a result, this year the first crop of bills came up for review by the Joint Committee on Tax Credits, and the result was HB 3672, which passed the House on Wednesday and the Senate today.


The Joint Committee examined the full spectrum of tax credits, choosing to allow half of the credits scheduled to expire this year under HB 2067 to do so, and made policy changes designed to ensure taxpayers get the biggest possible bang for the buck for the remainder.  Here’s some of what HB 3672 does: 


  • Streamlines and focuses the Business Energy Tax Credit by replacing it with three smaller credits for conservation, renewables, and transportation. The changes save about $9.5 million in the next biennium and ensure that Oregon continues to invest in green tech projects that create jobs.

  • Extends the sunset on the research & development credit while also reducing the amount of the credit. These changes save $800,000 in the next biennium while maintaining an incentive for businesses to invest in research, a key driver of high wage jobs in Oregon's economy.  


  • Restructures the residential energy tax credit by allowing the Oregon Department of Energy to reduce the incentive for solar electric and fuel cell systems according to market conditions, raising requirements for eligible appliances, and requiring precertification for the third-parties who install solar devices in residences. The bill also eliminates alternative fuel vehicles from eligibility. These changes improve accountability within the program and target funds to the most effective investments in home energy efficiency. Savings are $7.6 million in the next biennium.  

On the other hand, the Committee has passed SB 817, which creates a new tax credit to “piggy-back” on a federal tax credit known as the New Market Tax Credit for investors who invest in new businesses in areas deemed to be “low income.” The state credit would presumably make it that much more attractive to invest in Oregon. It won’t cost us anything this biennium, but in the next biennium it will cost $5 million and then $28 million and $56 million in the biennia after that (after which it will sunset). The bill has been amended to restrict the projects that would qualify and eliminate some of the abuses that have unfortunately arisen in the federal program.


Still, I’ll be voting no on it for a few reasons. First, there’s not a lot of evidence that state “piggy-back” credits actually add much and lead to more job creation. Second, I much prefer targeted grant and loan programs, where money is only given to projects that clearly qualify because they are creating good jobs in the right areas. And finally, without a clear, demonstrable path to job creation, we simply cannot afford to be spending scarce taxpayer resources in this way.


For your calendar: Constituent Coffee July 2nd


Be sure to join me on Saturday, July 2nd (time and place TBD) for my regular monthly constituent coffee and a post-session wrap-up. My staff and I will be able to answer your questions about which bills made it through and which didn’t, and I’ll provide more in-depth information on the education package and other items I’ve discussed in this newsletter. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope to see you there. Check next week’s newsletter for final detail on place and time.


Until next week,



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