End of Session Legislation–
Good, Bad and Ugly
Oregon’s 74th Legislative Session is coming to an end. With less than one week remaining there are a flurry of bills””some good, some bad and some downright ugly.
Politics is subjective. Some of the legislation I favor, others abhor, and some proposed legislation that I believe disastrous for Oregon, others strongly support. That’s the nature of representative democracy, and it is exactly such tension that makes our system of self-government work. Bills hard fought and passed from one chamber may be pigeon-holed and killed in the other. Bills that pass both chambers are sometimes vetoed by the Governor. All in all, the system is both tedious and brilliant. It is intended to allow only the best bills to make it through both houses, across the Governor’s desk, and into Oregon’s code of revised statutes.
The following are samples of five recent bills:
HB 2285: P.E.R.S. Bill Scraps Reforms
HB 3525: Creating 100,000 Additional Irrigated Farmland Acres in N.E. Oregon
HB 3099: Mandatory Fluoridation for Local Water Systems
HB 2801: Stem Cell Cloning
SB 10: Ethics Reform Bill for Public Officials
Some of these bills ultimately will become Oregon law, others will not, but all of them can impact the lives of Oregonians.
House Bill 2285″”P.E.R.S. Bill Scraps Reforms, Increases Costs & Allows Gaming the System.
I hate this bill. It represents everything that is wrong with our system. HB 2285 was a bill sitting in the House Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rules, waiting for the final days of the session when it could be amended and quickly sent to the floor for passage, without public hearings, without public disclosure of its costs and without time to rally opposition to it. HB 2285, as amended is a public employees and teachers union bill promoted by the Oregon Education Association (OEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). This bill is expected to become Oregon law.
HB 2285 was amended with two bills that were languishing in Ways and Means (HB 2623 and HB 3451). The costs and consequences are summarized in the HB 2285 Staff Measure Summary.
The first bill “stuffed” into HB 2285 was HB 2623. It eliminated the PERS “Break In Service” rule. Break in Service was part of the 2003 Session PERS Reforms that led to the creation of PERS Tier III for new employees, known as Oregon Public Service Retirement Plan (OPSRP). Basically, the Break In Service rule requires any PERS Tier I or II employee who leaves state employment and then returns after a period of six months or more to enter as a new employee under OPSRP, which is a more cost-efficient and reasonable retirement plan. HB 2285 changes this Bread In Service rule and allows a state employee who returns to state employment after six months to resume their position in the original retirement plan, usually at a higher cost to Oregon taxpayers. During the 2007-09 biennium, this PERS rule change is expected to cost Oregonians $1.2 million.
The second bill stuffed into HB 2285 changes the computation of part-time service. Before the 2003 PERS Reforms a person who worked only 600 hours per year was given a full year’s credit toward their PERS retirement. Since a retiring PERS member’s retirement benefits are calculated on their highest three year’s earnings, a member could work part-time for many years (for example, as a member of the Legislature), then get an appointment by the Governor to a full-time position at $80,000-100,000 per year. Then, after three years of full-time employment, that state employee could retire with substantial monthly benefits, calculated as if they had worked full-time for their entire career. The 2003 PERS Reforms stated that a PERS employee would get credit only for the amount of time he or she worked during the year. Thus, a person working half time would get credited for only half a year’s retirement credit. After the change was implemented, a problem surfaced relating to determining retirement credit for school district employees and teachers. Everyone agrees that teachers should get a good retirement, but the “part-time service” rules caused school districts difficulties in qualifying teachers as “full-time” employees.
Although in the private sector a full-time employee works 2000-2200 hours per year, staff members in school districts are considered “full-time” if they work 1600 hours annually. Teachers are required to work only 1400 per year. Thus, the school districts were in the untenable position of listing teachers with 1400 hours as full-time, while having to disqualify other school district workers from receiving full time retirement credit if they worked less than 1600 hours. To avoid the conundrum, the school districts decided to also support doing away with the “part-time service” rule, even though it will raise the cost of PERS by 34 basis points. This increase is PERS costs for changing this rule will become substantial over time. Currently, more than $6 billion per year is spent on payroll for state workers. About $750 million is for employees under the new OPSRP (PERS Tier III). This PERS rule change will cost $5.1 million over the next biennium, and is likely to increase thereafter.
House Bill 3525″”Oregon Oasis Project: Water for 100,000 Additional Farmland Acres
I love this bill. Not because it is perfect, but because it makes so much sense. HB 3525 would increase by an insignificant amount, Oregon’s share of irrigation water from the Columbia River, and transform 100,000 acres of northeastern Oregon desert into prime farmland. For those interested in the details, I have attached the POLICY OUTLINE, OREGON OASIS PROJECT. HB 3525 was forced out of committee and to the House floor by a Republican procedural motion. Following House Floor Debate, HB 3525 was passed by a bipartisan vote. Unfortunately, WaterWatch and other such organizations opposed HB 3525. With their substantial influence in this politically “liberal” session, HB 3525 was first pigeon-holed in committee and now that we have pulled it to the floor and passed it out of the House, it will die in the Senate””unless substantial public opinion were to focus on the Senate Democrat leadership, who have the power to pass this bill and send it to the Governor for his signature.
House Bill 3099″”Mandatory Fluoridation for Oregon Communities.
Until now it looked fairly certain that this session’s state legislature would mandate Oregon communities to begin adding fluoride to their community water systems. Now it appears there are not enough votes in the House to pass the bill. At the beginning of the session I told my Legislative Assistant, Dallin Harmon, that if he would research the fluoridation issue and write a paper on it, worthy of publication, I would include it in this newsletter. Dallin is a 19 year old, home schooled, young man, who is now preparing to serve a mission in Brazil for his church. Although he left the Capitol more than a month ago, he finished his project and emailed his attached research paper. It is entitled: “Mandatory Fluoridation for Oregon Communities””The Inadvisability of H.B. 3099.”Dallin did a fine job. He is a fine young man, and I commend him for his willingness to dedicate two years of his life, at his own expense, to such a noble and challenging cause in a foreign land. I hope you enjoy reading his first publication.
House Bill 2801″”Stem Cell and Cloning Research Bill
This bill would have established the Human Stem Cell Research Committee in the Department of Human Services, for the purpose of developing guidelines for research involving human stem cells. It also would have established the Human Stem Cell Research Grant Fund and authorized the committee to seek public and private donations and grants to fund research. Originally the bill specifically focused on “embryonic stem cell” research, but the word “embryonic” was deleted from the bill to lessen resistance from those who believe destroying a living human embryo, even if in its early stages, is immoral. Although removing the word “embryonic” did make the bill more palatable, House leadership was unwilling to allow the removal of the term, “somatic cell nuclear transfer,” which relates to human cloning. Thus, HB 2801 would have provided state sanctioning for a committee and funding streams to promote embryonic stem cell research, including the use of embryos cloned from living human cells. No where in the bill were these cloned embryos required to be destroyed, which left open the potential for actual cloning research, notwithstanding the repeated proclamations that this would never be allowed in Oregon. HB 2801 died when all House Republicans and one Democrat refused to pass it so long as it contained the reference to human cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer). For a summary of the arguments against HB 2801, I have linked to Oregon Right to Life’s April 9, 2007 Public Testimony on HB 2801.
Senate Bill 10″”Ethics Reform Bill for Public Officials
Last year’s Congressional and legislative scandals involving lobbyists and elected representatives have led to a full review of what should and should not be considered ethical for Oregon public officials. The results of that review will be included in the final version of Senate Bill 10. Essentially, SB 10, in its final form, will provide the following guidelines for almost all public officials, state and local:
– The Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission shall be funded by state and local government agencies according to the number of paid workers they employ.
– Lobbyists must file quarterly reports itemizing any lobbying expense greater than $50 per event or occasion. Items less than $50 will be included in aggregated totals.
– Legislators who retire after 2008 cannot become paid lobbyists until the end of the following legislative session.
– Public Officials cannot receive “gifts” totaling more than $50 from any “single source” per year. Gifts by definition do not include the following: Gifts from relatives; Tokens or awards of appreciation having a reasonable resale value of less than $25; Informational material, publications, subscriptions relating to official duties;
– Admissions, food or beverages at a “scheduled program” where the official is speaking or answering questions;
– Reasonable food, travel, lodging expenses for officially-sanctioned trade-promotion or fact-finding missions, where a report is required upon completion;
– Reasonable expenses of conventions, etc. paid by non-lobbying organizations if the official is representing state or local government;
– Public Officials can receive “honoraria” up to $50, but must report any that exceed $15.
– Public Officials must file reports quarterly and must list 5 top sources of income, etc.
– Civil Penalties and Fines for violations of up to $5,000
I have completed a more detailed analysis of SB 10 as it is expected to appear in its final form, for those who would like to see greater detail without having to decipher the bill’s 29 pages. Senate Bill 10 is expected to become Oregon law.
That’s the news for today. To me it is ironic that a PERS bill will become law, even though it undermines the 2003 PERS Reforms and will cost school districts and taxpayers millions, while a bill creating 100,000 acres of new, irrigated farmland gets pigeon-holed and will die next week when the session ends. On the other hand, two bad bills–mandatory fluoridation and human cloning–are stalled, at least for the time being. And finally, statewide ethics requirements for state and local public officials will be substantially expanded. Since next Friday’s newsletter will be the final installment for the 74th Legislative Session, I will try to make it a “wrap.” We are approaching six months here in Salem. As the old adage goes, it has been “real” and it has been “fun”, but it has not been “real fun”.