Looking to the 2020 legislative session

Universities will be focused on two major priorities as they approach the 2020 legislative session. First, because the legislature postponed decisions about capital facilities on individual campuses during the 2019 session, the universities seeking commitments of state-financed bonds for capital renewal and/or new buildings on their campuses. During the 2019 session the legislature did approve $65 million in bonding for capital renewal projects. These funds will be distributed among the campuses according to a mutually agreed-upon formula developed by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC). But, in synch with the Governor’s recommendation upon entering the 2019 session, the legislature deferred making decisions about individual campus projects, pending the results of what turned out to be a 280-page 10-year strategic capital development plan commissioned by the HECC. The study assessed the long-term campus trends and needs, and in October the HECC approved the plan. Now, HECC staff have incorporated the findings in recommendations to be considered this week. (These issues will be addressed in Capital Construction below.)

Universities are also united in seeking to mend a tarnished image with many legislators, tied to a number of concerns. Chief among them are legislative perceptions of disputes and disagreements among the universities over capital projects and the funding formula the HECC uses to distribute operating funds among the institutions. Other concerns include competition among the universities over what educational programs they may offer, financial accountability, high administrative salaries, low pay for the rank & file, and difficulties students face when seeking to transfer credits from community colleges, advanced placement, and accelerated learning programs. During the session, legislators will be considering a number of bills that could exacerbate or relieve these negative impressions. (These are addressed in Policy Matters, below.)

Capital Construction

During the 2019 session, the legislature committed $946 million of the state’s projected $1.3 billion general fund debt capacity to long term bonds, leaving approximately $315 million (about 25% of the total biennial capacity) for allocation in 2020 to entities that are seeking bond-reliant projects. (The state has available an additional $30.5 million in lottery bonds.)

For the sake of comparison, during the 2017-19 biennium, the legislature allocated $288 million in general fund bonds to projects at the state’s seven public universities. (This figure comprised about 28% of the state’s general fund debt capacity in that biennium.) In November, university presidents joined together in urging the legislature to approve at least that amount during the current biennium. (See: Continue Capital Investments in Public University Infrastructure). If the legislature were to invest a similar proportion of the state’s debt capacity to Oregon’s public universities, this figure would be $322.85 million. Considering the $65 million the legislature authorized during the 2019 session, this would leave about $257 million for university projects – IF the legislature devoted the same proportion of the state’s debt capacity to its universities as it did for the last biennium.

This week the HECC will consider a staff-prioritized list of 16 proposed projects from the seven universities. The table below identifies the projects and their rankings.

We anticipate the HECC will ultimately recommend this list, or one similar to it, to the Governor, who then will determine how much of the state’s debt capacity she wants to devote to university projects. The universities are working towards being united in supporting increased capital investments that reflect the HECC’s list. OSU’s legislative efforts over the next three months will be aimed at funding for three capital projects on the list:

  • OSU Cascades Student Success Center: $12.9 million in state bonds, matched by an additional $5 million in student-approved fees (Students have already committed over $1 million in student fees for this project.)
  • Arts & Education Complex: $35 million in state bonds, matched by an additional $35 million in donor and university funds.
  • Cordley Capital Renewal: $28 million state bonds for Cordley Hall Renovation (second phase), matched by an additional $28 million in university bonds.

OSU is providing $68 million in matching funds for the $75.9 million in state bonding capacity that it is seeking – nearly doubling the state’s investments. It is worth noting that $5 million of these matching funds are from student fees approved by OSU Cascades students in a 2017 campus-wide vote. To see the materials we are using with legislators regarding OSU’s capital projects, click here (meant to be folded booklet-style).

Policy Matters

Hemp: OSU has been working with the hemp industry, Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem), and Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie) to develop two bills designed to assist the industry while also addressing potential concerns. The House Agriculture and Land Use committee is considering a bill to establish a Hemp Commission that would enable the industry to self-assess fees to support research and other activities, similar to many of the other commodity commissions that exist in Oregon under state statutes.

The second bill, introduced by Rep. Witt, would formalize Oregon’s State Plan for hemp to comply with recently issued federal regulations under the federal farm bill. Additional state legislation may be introduced that would clarify the differences between hemp and cannabis for the purposes of addressing concerns as both are grown, processed and marketed. A recent issue of the Capital Press addresses a number of issues that describe the hemp industry in Oregon:  Hemp Appeal: Newly legal crop attracts new generation of farmers.

Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia (OAH): Last session the Senate Environment and Natural Resources approved SB 260 which would have allocated $1.9 million to support critical OAH research. Funding would flow to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, the Ocean Science Trust and OSU. The bill stalled in the Ways & Means Committee and we are working with the Coastal Caucus to seek funding either directly with legislation or through the Ways & Means process.

Campus Hunger and Basic Needs: Universities are working together and with students and others, including the Oregon Student Association to secure support and funding for a research report that analyzes the prevalence and campus best practices around college student food insecurity. Funding would also support a pilot campus basic needs grant program that would support public university and community college resource centers for low-income students. The proposal is modeled after campus veteran’s grant program. The House Education Committee will consider “pre-session filing” legislation when it meets in January.

Student Athlete Name, Image Likeness: OSU is working with the University of Oregon and others to assist in the consideration of legislation that would mirror a bill passed in California, and other state legislation that would enable college athletes to seek and receive sponsorships while also ensuring that all college athletes are adequately supported during and after their college careers. For a student perspective on this topic, see: “We are the 100%.”

Betting on College Sports: OSU is working with others to create a state statute that would pre-empt the Oregon Lottery from extending sports betting to include college sports.

Universities will also be active in engaging in legislation that seeks to facilitate the transfer of credits for students as they progress through the education continuum from high school through community colleges and universities. As well, universities will be supporting legislation that would establish and fund health care for part-time faculty who work at multiple campuses.

The Challenge of a Short Session

It’s important to remember the dynamics of short sessions which were established in the Oregon Constitution in 2010. That year, 68 percent of Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 71, a legislative referral that switched from biennial sessions that had no specified ending deadlines to 160-day “regular” sessions in odd years and 35-day “short” sessions in even years. The legislature intended the new regular sessions to maintain the primary goals of the previous biennial sessions: adopting a two-year budget while also addressing large, substantive issues. The short sessions were to fine tune intervening policy issues and make necessary budgetary adjustments.

Three factors characterize short sessions. First, the schedules are remarkably fast. Compared to long sessions when committees have three months to consider policy bills, committees during short sessions typically have fewer than two weeks to report their bills out for floor consideration. Bills that have not been approved by committees within the first two weeks of the session are basically dead. As a result, amendments are rare and unlikely because there is simply no time to do the work. (The Oregon Legislature does not allow consideration of amendments on the floor.) During long sessions, the amendment process can often entail establishing behind-the-scenes work groups or other negotiations that help to construct legislative compromises that bridge differences among competing interests and viewpoints. Success during short sessions generally requires concerted work among proponents in the weeks and months leading into the session. In short, successful bills need to be on rails that proponents have laid prior to the session. The fast clip also can also serve to make it more difficult for the public to participate meaningfully in the legislative process.

A second characteristic of short sessions is disagreement over whether a bill fits the objectives of Ballot Measure 71. Over the intervening short sessions it has been quite common for opponents to claim that bills are too expansive and divisive for such a short timeline – that the measure should wait for the steeping that characterizes the regular sessions. Proponents typically respond that the issue is critical and, depending on the circumstances, much of the steeping was accomplished in the preceding session. In their view, the measure is under consideration during the short session simply to carry it over the finish line.

These concerns are likely to be prominent in the upcoming session as several proposals that did not pass in 2019 — including childhood vaccinations, gun safety, and climate change – could re-appear as “leftovers”. Depending on one’s point of view, the Republican walk outs which stymied legislative business in the Senate in 2019 are a hangover that could embitter the mood and nature of the 2020 session.

Finally, short sessions occur as legislators approach two significant dates in the election cycle. The deadline for filing for election to serve in the 2021 regular session falls just two days after the short session is scheduled to adjourn. All 60 seats in the House and half of the 30 seats in the Senate will be on the ballot. (This year, 16 Senate seats will appear on the ballot due to an interim appointment.)

Because the May primary is just two months following the session, constituents may well remember votes that were taken during the short session. Some legislators may be particularly sensitive to issues simply due to the proximity of the next election. In fact, partisan maneuvering may result in manufacturing votes for that very reason. On the other hand, some legislators may be more immune to constituent pressure because they are retiring and have little to lose by voting contrary to the desires of their districts. Legislative turnover is a significant factor each biennium, and this session is no different. (See: Oregon Legislature will have at least 16 open seats in 2020, Oregonian, 12/4/19.)

All of these considerations – short timelines, concerns over the breadth of legislation, leftovers and hangovers, and the election cycle — will influence the proceedings when the legislature convenes on Monday, February 3, 2020.

The Schedule

Legislative Committees will meet the week of January 13. Much of the work during this time will be spent on brushing up legislation and gathering cosponsors for bills that will be considered when the legislature convenes on February 3rd. A forthcoming memo from Legislative leaders will outline key dates in the legislative session. If the schedule that they used in the 2018 short session is used in 2020, committees will need to be completed with their work on chamber-of-origin bills by Thursday, February 13.

Key Dates

  • Tuesday, January 14: Beaver Caucus Lobby Day. (Details are forthcoming.)
  • Thursday, February 13: University Lobby Day. All seven universities will be joining together in support of higher education initiatives. (Stay tuned, more to come.)

To see what the November 20th Beaver Caucus Day looked like, click here.

Before and during the 2020 session, OSU will be actively tracking legislation. For assistance in identifying and tracking bills, or for any other information, contact Claire McMorris.


Welcome to Katie Fast

As announced last week by President Ray, after an intensive four-month process, Katie Fast will be taking on the responsibilities of Executive Director of OSU’s Government Relations Office, beginning the first week of January. As a lobbyist for the Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregonians for Food & Shelter, Katie brings extensive experience working with legislators and grass roots advocates. A graduate of OSU, Katie also has been active in the OSU Alumni Association and in 2013 received the Distinguished Alumni Luminary Award. Having worked with Katie over the years, I can speak from personal experience that she is both a formidable ally and an effective opponent. Whichever side of an issue, she is forthright, strategic, open, approachable, and responsive. The university was fortunate to face an extremely difficult decision in its hiring choice — the finalists were eminently qualified and presented similar attributes.

While I have deep, conflicting feelings as I depart from a job I have loved for nearly 20 years, one thing that provides comfort is knowing that this job will be filled by someone who will undoubtedly out-perform me on a variety of dimensions, and one who is devoted to this university and the people it serves. Those who wish to communicate directly with Katie can use this e-mail address beginning in January: Katie.fast@oregonstate.edu

I will be issuing some closing thoughts regarding my tenure at OSU in a forthcoming update.

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