As the Oregon legislature nears the halfway point in the 2017 session, the next two weeks will be among its busiest. Friday, April 7th marked the last day for posting committee work sessions for bills in their chambers of origin, meaning that if a House bill hadn’t been listed on a House committee agenda for consideration, that bill can be considered “dead.” Same for Senate bills in Senate committees. Now the committees have until April 18th to actually pass the bills they have posted. So, for the next two weeks committee agendas are packed with bills vying for survival, while advocates of all stripes are working hard to keep them alive or kill them.
Bills that do not pass out of committee by April 18th can also be considered dead. Of course, no bill is “totally dead” until the last gavel falls. Provisions from dead bills can always be stuffed into other bills that are alive and well. (In the Oregon legislature amendments can only be accomplished in committees, not on the chamber floors.)
A good number of the bills up for consideration over the next two weeks may make it out of their committees, only to find themselves in another committee not subject to legislative deadlines. For example, bills that are a priority—but which contain controversial provisions that need more work— may end up in the Senate or House Rules Committee. Once there, those bills may sit and wait for consideration as part of the overall legislative log-rolling process. Other bills that have a fiscal impact because they require state funding to be implemented will find themselves in the Joint Ways & Means Committee. That committee will generally not consider individual bills until after it has completed work on agency budgets. In many cases bills can be folded in to agency spending bills. That process will continue for the next several months.
The legislature has until July 10th to complete its work. And, it will likely not be able to adjourn until it has coordinated and completed work on a patchwork of “mega issues,” including revenue reform; a transportation package; PERS reform; health care reform, including a health provider tax; housing affordability; and a balanced budget that will include a number of cost reductions needed to achieve that budget. Over the last six weeks legislative committees and task forces, some of them in open forums, others in closed-door work groups, have been developing proposals for many of these issues. In the coming months, all of these issues must come together in a manner that will attract the necessary votes to gain passage. For votes involving tax increases, a three-fifths bipartisan supermajority will be needed in each of the chambers.
Concessions made in one package may require adjustments in another. The process is one large, simultaneous equation with multiple unsolved variables. In the end, all of the pieces need to fit together. Compounding the mega issues are a number of other discrete policy issues that may increase friction between the two parties as well as between the two chambers. Differences of opinion between chambers can sometimes be as fractious and disruptive as differences between parties.
The good news so far is that “The Oregon Way” has not yet involved “nuclear options” or filibusters. But we have miles yet to travel and significant obstacles to overcome before the session is complete.
Budget Hearings: This week the Joint Ways & Means Education Subcommittee begins to hear directly from universities regarding their operating budgets. For the past several weeks the subcommittee has heard from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission and community colleges. OSU President Ed Ray will lead off the presentations this Wednesday, April 12th, joined by panelists from the other four-year universities. On Thursday, April 13th leaders from the three OSU Statewide Public Service Programs – Extension, Agricultural Experiment Station, and Forest Research Laboratory will discuss their budgets. Cindy Sagers, OSU vice president for research and OSU Engineering student, Bret Lorimore, will also address the subcommittee on the importance of university research.
Public Testimony: The subcommittee will take public testimony on university budgets at 8:30 AM on Monday, April 17th. Individuals interested in participating in the public hearing should contact us as soon as possible: firstname.lastname@example.org. Those interested in monitoring any of the hearings can do so via the legislative website: https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/citizen_engagement/Pages/Legislative-Video.aspx
OSU’s focus for testimony before the Ways & Means Education Subcommittee continues to focus on the following priorities:
- Support at least a $100 million increase for Oregon’s public universities to achieve a comparable level of funding to the current biennium and to avoid unaffordable tuition increases and program reductions.
- Recover $9.4 million in budget reductions to the OSU Statewide Public Service Programs–the Extension Service, Agricultural Experiment Station, and Forest Research Laboratory. See comprehensive information regarding the advocacy effort aimed at Senate Bill 805 for the OSU Statewides here.
- Fully fund the Oregon Opportunity Grant–the state’s need-based student financial aid program for community college and university students.
Capital Projects: The Ways & Means Capital Construction Committee has yet to meet to consider the many anticipated bonding projects for the 2017 session. Higher education projects under consideration in that committee include a consolidated list of projects recommended by the seven university presidents totaling $284 million across all seven public universities. Included in that list is $65 million for capital renewal to be shared among the seven campuses; $9 million in bonds matched by $9 million in philanthropic donations for a quality food and beverage initiative at OSU focusing on cheese, wine and beer; $20 million for site preparation and infrastructure improvements at the OSU-Cascades campus in Bend; and a number of deferred maintenance projects.
Once the $284 million multi-university package is attained, OSU is also seeking an additional $49 million for OSU-Cascades to complete two additional buildings–an academic building and a student services building. In March, the House Higher Education Committee approved HB2782 which would provide the $69.5 million needed to fully fund the OSU-Cascades campus expansion. That bill is now awaiting consideration in the Joint Ways & Means Committee.
Bills of Note
Since our last report, the following bills have made progress:
- Vaccines for Outbreaks (HB 3276). OSU is working with the seven public universities and Rep. Nancy Nathanson (D-Eugene) on a bill that would ensure that vaccines are made available to students and others during major outbreaks of contagious diseases such as meningitis. The bill is undergoing a number of amendments and will be considered by the House Health Care Committee on Wednesday, April 12th.
- State match for the Pacific Marine Energy Center (SB 285). On Monday, April 10th, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee will consider SB 285 which would provide $4 million in state funds to help match a $40 million US Department of Energy grant for which OSU successfully competed in 2014. OSU is also working to raise private industry and philanthropic funds for this project. For more information on the grant, click here.
- University Research “Fighting Fund” (HB 2582). This bill would establish a $20 million fund to support universities as they compete for federal grants. The bill is scheduled for a work session on Thursday, April 13th, when the House Higher Education Committee will consider an amendment that will establish the fund but provide the legislature with greater flexibility in determining when and how to transfer revenues into the fund. If adopted, the amended bill would establish a process by which, during the February short sessions, the legislature will consider adding $5 million to the fund over the next four biennia. The goal would be to maintain the fund at the $20 million level as universities succeed in achieving federal grants.
- Resolution commending the OSU Women’s Basketball team (SCR 17). On Wednesday, April 12th the Senate Rules Committee will consider SCR 17 which commends the achievements during the 2015-16 season when the OSU women went to the final four in the NCAA tournament. The Committee will consider amendments to the resolution that add the team’s accomplishments during the 2016-17 season.
- Animal Trafficking (HB 2576). This bill contains technical changes to Ballot Measure 100, passed by voters last November. The ballot measure restricts the sale and trade of endangered species and parts and products from identified endangered species. As amended by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, the bill clarifies exemptions in the ballot measure to ensure that universities and community colleges in Oregon can continue to routinely improve their collections for educational and research purposes through sales, trades, exchanges, and purchases of specimens. The bill was amended and approved by the House Committee on March 23rd, and on April 3rd the House approved the bill by a vote of 58-0. The bill is now in the Senate where it will be considered by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
- Open Education Resources (HB 2729). On March 28th, the House Higher Education Committee amended and approved HB 2729, which would continue funding for open education resources, also known as OERs or “free textbooks.” The bill is now under the consideration of the Joint Ways & Means Committee.
- Health benefits for employees who work at multiple institutions (SB 196). This bill seeks to continue efforts to extend health benefits to faculty when their combined hours at multiple institutions add up to more than half-time. This issue has been considered in prior sessions and was the subject of an interim study, but complications in defining hours and benefits between community colleges and universities have prevented benefits from being extended to faculty employed at both. Benefits are already available for faculty who work over half-time at multiple universities. The bill will be considered by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, April 11th
- PERS benefits for Post-Docs (SB 214). Because post-doctoral research positions typically do not last five years, few, if any, post-doctoral scholars fully vest in PERS or ORP. This bill would enable an alternative retirement program for post-docs at public universities to ensure that they can transfer their benefits when they move on to another employer. The bill will be considered by the Senate Workforce Committee on Monday, April 10th. For a fact sheet that explains the bill click here. OSU will be providing additional information regarding the overall issue of PERS reform bills later this week.
Join us for OSU Day at the Capitol – Thursday, April 20th
Please consider joining advocates in support of Oregon State University on Thursday, April 20th for OSU Day at the Capitol. For information about the activities planned for the day: click here.
Questions, comments, concerns? Please contact us:
Jock Mills, Director: Jock.Mills@oregonstate.edu
Karli Olsen, Coordinator: Karli.Olsen@oregonstate.edu