Looking back, and looking forward

Senate President Rob Wagner

Thank you!

Hello Senate District 19 and beyond,

It's hard to believe that our 2023 legislative session ended just five weeks ago. Since then I've taken some time to connect with my family and my district and think back on the incredible achievements we were able to make this year. The Legislature's work this session to improve the lives of everyone in Oregon was a statewide, bipartisan effort, and as Senate President I could not be prouder of that fact. This week, Governor Tina Kotek has been signing the remaining bills on her desk, putting a final seal of approval on our work. I want to thank everyone who was involved in the legislative process this year, especially the hardworking Oregonians who take time out of their busy schedules to testify on issues important to them and their families. We could not do this work without hearing directly from the people we represent.

But our work is never done. Our housing crisis will take time and creative solutions to fix, and ensuring Oregonians can access health care and education remain top priorities. Already, myself and my colleagues are preparing for our first set of legislative days in September to set the stage for the 2024 short session. 

As that work continues across the Capitol, for the next several weeks I'll be writing to you in my newsletters about the bills that became law this year. Some of these bills you might have heard about before, while others might have flown under your radar.

The topic for this week will be ... education! Gov. Kotek held a signing ceremony for several of our 2023 education bills on Wednesday and it seemed like a good opportunity to talk more about these important new laws.

We passed 653 bills this session — let's celebrate what we accomplished on behalf of Oregonians.

sine die wagner

There were some long days near the end of the 2023 legislative session, but it was all smiles when it was time for sine die.

Education remains top priority for state

As a lifelong education advocate and former Chair of the Senate Education Committee, education is an issue that is incredibly important to me. Education — from early learning, to K-12, to higher education and vocational training — is the best, most consistent way people can improve their lives and the lives of their families. Oregon is finally in a position to make real progress with our education outcomes after the passage of the Student Success Act in 2019 and the record funding that comes with it. To create a holistic education system, this session we also fought for our educators, administrators and support staff and how to put them in a position to succeed and help our kids learn. Of the bills we passed this session dealing with education, here are a few highlights: 

  1. First, the budget. Thanks to our strong economy and diligent budget process, the state was able to direct an unprecedented $15.3 billion in total resources to K-12 schools. This money will ensure our schools can afford to pay educators, support underserved students, purchase school supplies, keep up with building maintenance, buy textbooks and other essential investments. I'm proud that we invested record amounts to support our students.

    We also secured $3.7 billion for higher education, including $308 million for the Oregon Opportunity Grant so that students from all walks of life can afford to pursue higher education opportunities. Many students seeking higher education are held back from postsecondary education by nothing more than the cost of obtaining a college degree. The Opportunity Grant currently supports more than 30,000 students every year and this extra funding will make college a reality for more students.

    The Oregon Tribal Student Grant program also received $24.2 million to be funded on a continuing basis. This program helps pay for undergraduate and graduate studies for members of Oregon's Nine Federally Recognized Tribes.

    Senator Lew Frederick was the Senate lead for the Ways and Means subcommittee on education this session and was instrumental in securing this funding.

  2. SB 283: Thanks to the work of Senator Michael Dembrow and other education leaders, this bill addresses Oregon's K-12 educator shortage by funding training programs and retention initiatives. These changes include:
    • Creating a statewide educator workforce data system and regular surveys to improve data related to Oregon’s education workforce.
    • Ensuring collective bargaining agreements include a 20% pay differential for teachers and classified staff who work in special education.
    • Including pay for planning time and lunch periods in collective bargaining agreements when educators are assigned other responsibilities during those times.
    • Making substitute teachers district employees with paid training.
    • Allowing retired teachers to convert to substitute licenses at no charge.
    • Directing the Oregon Department of Education to study and plan for statewide minimum salaries for our education workforce.

  3. SB 3: This was one of the bills that I personally introduced this session with Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp. It adds to Oregon high school graduation requirements one half-credit of personal finance education and one half-credit of higher education and career path skills. Our students must be prepared to make major financial decisions immediately upon graduating high school, if not sooner. This bill will help ensure our young people are leaving school with the skills they need to make good financial decisions now and throughout their lives.

  4. SB 819: Enforces students with disabilities’ right to attend school full time by requiring written parental consent before a student can have a shortened school day. It also requires the Oregon Department of Education to enforce the law and empowers the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission to investigate and hold superintendents accountable for refusing to restore equal access to schools for students with disabilities.

    Currently, nearly 1,000 students with disabilities in school districts around Oregon are being denied a full school day. Special thanks to Senator Sara Gelser Blouin who worked incredibly hard on this important bill. 

  5. HB 3198: The Early Literacy Success Initiative, chief sponsored by Representative Jason Kropf and championed by Governor Tina Kotek, invests in literacy instruction in Oregon classrooms and expands student and family-centered early literacy supports. Funding will go toward literacy coaching for educators, tutoring, developing curriculum, and summer learning programs. Learning to read is one of the biggest keys to future success in education and in life and we must take steps to ensure the success of these programs. 
SOU photos

I spent some time meeting with Southern Oregon University students and staff during the Ways and Means roadshow hearing in Roseburg during session.

Owl photo

Always great to have our higher education advocates (and, yes, mascots) visit us in the Capitol building.

Capitol seismic improvements continue

Last week, the Capitol Accessibility, Maintenance and Safety project began installing scaffolding around the exterior dome of the Capitol Building so crews can start the next stage of multi-year seismic safety improvements. The scaffolding will take around 30 days to fully assemble and will be in place for at least a year. CAMS is on track to complete its work during 2025, but if you take a visit to the People's Building between now and then be prepared for sights, smells and sounds of an active construction zone. 

Legislative leadership worked closely with CAMS and Project Manager Jodie Jones during the 2023 session to ensure the Legislature could do the people's work in a transparent manner while construction continued. Such a balancing act is never easy, but the work CAMS did while we were in the building was incredible. This project will ensure our Oregon Capitol Building will remain a state icon for years to come, regardless of what nature throws its way.

CAMS scaffolding

A rendering of what the scaffolding is going to look like through late 2024.

Headlines from your Capitol

Statesman Journal: What's that going on around the Gold Man at the Oregon State Capitol?

Crews have started installing scaffolding around the Oregon State Capitol to prep the dome for seismic updates — the latest project in a series of major construction upgrades at the building.

Oregon Public Broadcasting: Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek approves billions to be spent on housing crisis

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek has approved spending billions of dollars to help ease the deepening housing crisis in the state. She also promised on Thursday to provide more certainty for renters and cut red tape for developers.

The Oregonian: Oregon self-serve gas bill will become law as Kotek declines to veto

Gov. Tina Kotek will allow a bill allowing self-serve gasoline across Oregon to become law, ending a 72-year ban on most drivers pumping their own gas.

Oregon Capitol Chronicle: Oregon, Washington lawmakers upbeat about Interstate 5 bridge replacement

Oregon and Washington lawmakers got a clearer idea Friday of what a new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River might look like, how much drivers may pay to use it and how residents of both states can stay involved as the project moves toward construction. 

Resources: Grant Opportunity

The 2023-2025 Competitive Grants Program from Travel Oregon is live, with more than $3 million available for qualifying entities. Application and eligibility guidelines are available online and letters of Intent can be submitted to the agency now through August 18.

Ten percent of Travel Oregon’s budget is dedicated to a competitive grants program to award eligible applicants for projects that contribute to the development and improvement of local economies and communities throughout Oregon by means of the enhancement, expansion and promotion of the visitor industry.

Projects should support Travel Oregon’s vision of "an Oregon that is a welcoming destination where tourism drives economic prosperity, benefits the natural environment and celebrates rich, diverse cultures."

If you would like to contact the Senate President's Office, send an email or call and either myself or a staff member will assist you. If you are a constituent coming to Salem and want to arrange a meeting, I'm always happy to meet, so please let us know well in advance as my schedule fills up quickly.

email: Sen.RobWagner@OregonLegislature.gov 
phone: 503-986-1600
address: 900 Court St NE, S-201, Salem, OR, 97301 website: http://www.oregonlegislature.gov/wagner