Representative Dennis Richardson: Session review and China.

Session Ends””Balanced Budget, Annual Sessions and Chinese Language Opportunities for Oregon Students
State Representative Dennis Richardson,

The 2010 legislative special session has ended; Oregonians can sleep in peace. Much was accomplished–some say too much–and the system worked. The debate and decorum were civil. The budget was rebalanced. The question of annual legislative sessions is being referred for a citizens’ vote, and the approval for Oregon students to have Chinese language opportunities was unanimous.

The budget was balanced. House Bill 5100 is a complicated appropriations bill clearly summarized by Statesman Journal’s veteran political reporter, Peter Wong. I voted to pass HB 5100, not because it was a perfect bill, but because it was necessary to rebalance the budget after the negative March 2010 Forecast blew a $183 million hole in Oregon’s anticipated revenues and, under current circumstances, it was the best bill we were going to see. Before casting my vote in the Joint Senate and House Ways & Means Committee, I reminded our committee of the dark financial storm clouds gathering over the horizon of the 2011-13 Budget. I said the longer we back-fill budget deficits with dwindling reserves, the more drastic the consequences will be when those reserves are gone. The advice was well-received”¦and ignored. For our legislative leaders, Oregon’s approaching financial storm does not yet justify down-sizing our state’s overhead. In my opinion, Oregon’s economy is not yet in recovery, and we may find ourselves in another “emergency session” to deal with further decreases in state revenues.

Should Oregon’s legislature meet annually? Senate Joint Resolution 41 was passed by the Democrats, generally along party lines. The Democrats and a couple of Republicans voted to refer to the people a Constitutional Amendment that would require the Oregon Legislature to meet annually, instead of every other (non-campaign) year. The Senate Democrats passed a bill requiring the odd-numbered years’ sessions to be limited to 135 days and the even-numbered years’ limited to 45 days. The House Democrats lengthened the proposed odd-years’ sessions 30 days by amending SJR 41 to 165 days and kept the even-years’ session at 45 days. Ultimately, the leadership of the two houses split-the-difference and agreed to a limit of 160 days and 35 days. (Ironically, the proposed amendment was passed by legislators who drive home every night and sleep in their own beds. Those of us rural legislators who live hundreds of miles from the Capitol will have an interesting time renting a month-to-month apartment for 35 days, if SJR 41 passes.)

Most states hold annual sessions and maybe it is time for Oregon to do the same. Unfortunately, SJR 41 is one of those “sausage-like” bills that deserved the thorough consideration unavailable in a short legislative session, such as those proposed in the amendment. There are serious consequences whenever an amendment is proposed to permanently change Oregon’s 251 year old Constitution. Such far-reaching legislation is a perfect example of an issue that should not be passed in a frenetic, “special” session. To see the short “YouTube” video of my impromptu floor speech on Oregon’s Annual Sessions bill.

Oregon students to have Chinese language opportunities. Both the Senate and the House considered bills to promote opportunities for Oregon students to learn Chinese. To read why Chinese language instruction is an important part of a 21st century, world-class education, please (Click here.), I have been to China many times, and I am a strong supporter of enabling the rising generation of Oregon students to learn Mandarin Chinese as their second language. If we give Oregon students such learning opportunities as children, as adults they will be prepared to grasp life-changing job opportunities when they appear.

I am in good company with this vision for global education. Senate Joint Resolution 50 and House Bill 3628. both passed by unanimous votes in both the Senate and the House. These bills remind us that there are more people who speak Chinese than any other language in the world. In addition, Oregon now exports $3 Billion worth of Oregon products to China every year””making China, Oregon’s number 1 trading partner. It is obvious that China is a global economic giant, and is quickly becoming a “super power.”

For anyone who still does not believe it is important for Oregon students to learn Chinese, I would ask you to consider the following truths:

1. China has a rising middle-class with hundreds of millions of consumers who would welcome the opportunity to buy American made goods and services.

2. Oregon stands as a gateway to the orient, and has close ties with Chinese businesses and investors, and millions of Chinese tourists will come to Chinese-friendly destinations””especially on their second or third vacations to the USA.

3. American businesses can buy goods made in China without speaking Chinese, but American businesses cannot sell American products to Chinese consumers without having representatives who speak Chinese and understanding Chinese culture.

In my last newsletter (Click here) I emphasized the key to Oregon’s economic future centers on employment opportunities for Oregonians. Giving Oregon students 21st century language skills will increase their employability in a global economy.

In sum, when looking to the future, opportunities will be vast for students who are fluent in Chinese. Oregon’s legislators are asking the Department of Education to help facilitate the utilization of China’s many trained teachers who are ready, willing and able to come to our communities and share their knowledge and love for the Chinese language and culture. Through the Confucius Classroom program many Oregon schools and communities will learn more about the world in which we live and the realities of our 21st century global community. If you are a parent, a teacher or a school administrator who shares the viewpoint that children in your schools should have the opportunity to learn about the Chinese language and culture, write you legislators and ask to know more about having a Confucius Classroom in your school and community. (Your legislators’ contact information is linked below.)

In closing, I am encouraging my children and grandchildren to learn Chinese. One of my daughters, Alyssa, and her husband, Paul Coombs, are currently searching for an opportunity to live in China and learn Chinese. Paul hopes to attend a Chinese university and Alyssa wants to teach English to Chinese children. Two grand-daughters are currently attending weekly Chinese classes in California. Even my wife, Cathy, and I briefly attended night classes in Mandarin. We are considering enrolling in a community Confucius Classroom with the goal of learning to speak Chinese, even as we approach retirement age. By taking advantage of such opportunities, our students and our communities will not only gain valuable Chinese language and cultural skills, the benefit of joint interaction between Chinese and Oregonians just might make for a more stable and peaceful world. To see the short “YouTube” video of my impromptu floor speech on the importance of Chinese language classes in Oregon schools.

Zai jian (Good bye),

Dennis Richardson
State Representative