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​Senator Michael Dembrow

Democrat - District 23 - Portland

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1723    District Phone: 503-281-0608
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE, S-407, Salem, Oregon 97301
District Address: 2104 NE 45th Ave. Portland, OR 97213


2011 Session Recap


August 3rd, 2011


Dear Friends and Neighbors: 
It’s been just a month now since “sine die,” the end of the 2011 legislative session. Most of us legislators have been appreciating not having to be in Salem every day, getting a chance to spend time with family, and having a chance to look back on the session. I know that’s true for me. 
Perhaps it’s a case of “absence making the heart grow fonder,” but with a little distance, I’m feeling good about what we were able to accomplish this session. (Perhaps it’s also thanks to the very low standard being set by Congress, which makes us look much better in contrast!)
The session did have a number of noteworthy accomplishments, beginning with its length: the shortest regular session in decades. Here are some others:

We managed to adopt a shared governance system for the House (with co-Speakers and co-Chairs) as a result of the voters having elected 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans; despite some problems with some committees, we were ultimately able to avoid the gridlock that many feared would be our fate.  

We were the first Oregon legislature to work with a “repeat,” third-term governor; in the end, Governor Kitzhaber had a very successful session, remaining forward-thinking, engaged, and focused on his core agenda throughout the session.

We managed to eliminate or shrink some of the tax credits and loopholes that have been draining scarce resources for years.  This is a process that will continue in future biennia. 

Despite (or perhaps in part because of) the split legislature, we were able to successfully craft a compromise legislative and congressional redistricting plan, the first time in a century that the Legislature has been able to do so, thereby keeping the decision from having to be made by the Secretary of State or the courts.

We made some very significant and positive changes related to higher education, which you can read about below.

That’s not to say that the session didn’t have many difficulties. First of all, as a result of the slow economic recovery, we had to cut billions of dollars from the budget (and that’s on top of more than a billion that we had to cut last session). This time we had very few reserves and no federal stimulus money to help mitigate the damage. The next couple of years are going to be very difficult for Oregonians and their families in need of state services that will simply no longer be there. We will need to be very creative as we seek ways to restore these services.
Since every committee had a co-chair from each party, each of whom had veto power over a bill’s ability to proceed to the floor for a vote, the chances were low that anything too dramatic was going to happen this session.  In some ways that was a good thing.  Faced with a choice between compromise and gridlock, we chose compromise and slow steps. For example, even solid accomplishments like the enhancements to the bottle bill will take years to be fully phased in. Other bills, related to healthcare and education, create frameworks for important, positive changes through new governance models, new partnerships, and pilot projects, but the real effects of those changes won’t be known for quite a while.
The down side of the split is that in the end we failed to move forward on issues like tuition equity, kicker reform, and the elimination of BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups, changes that many of us considered long overdue.
Still, given the politics and the horrendous budget situation that we faced, it is perhaps amazing that we accomplished as much as we did. You’ll hear about some of the accomplishments in higher in this newsletter. More to come in the next. By the way, now that we’re out of session, I’ll be back to a biweekly schedule for the newsletter. 
In this newsletter I’ll also be able to tell you more about my committee and task force assignments for the remainder of the biennium. Those decisions and appointments were just finalized last week.
I do hope you’re finding some time to enjoy this lovely weather. I’m about to head to Connecticut to bring my mother back here for a visit with us and with our children and grandchildren (who will be here in town as well!). But of course, the flow of issues and problems and creative problem-solving never ends, and our district office will remain open throughout the summer. As always, please call or write if you have any questions, ideas for new legislation, or need help with a state office or agency.
An Exciting Array of Higher Education Bills
One of the high points of the session was a new focus on higher education. We had a new House Subcommittee On Higher Education, and I was appointed the committee’s Democratic co-chair.   As a person with long-standing interest and experience in higher education, this was an exciting chance to make a difference. My particular interest was in opening up higher education to underserved populations; in making it easier for students to stay in school and complete their programs; and in creating stronger partnerships and alignment between K-12, community colleges, and universities. I’m pleased to say that we did manage to pass excellent legislation in all of these areas.
Here are the education bills that I chief-sponsored and/or helped lead to successful passage:
Higher Education Restructuring – SB 242
This was the big higher education bill of the session, the result of nearly a year of work. It redefines the Oregon University System, previously a state agency like the Dept. of Corrections or the DMV, as a Public University System – allowing OUS to manage its own resources as a community college or a school district does. It also creates the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, providing planning and close coordination of all of higher education in the state: OUS, the community colleges, the Oregon Student Access (currently “Assistance”) Commission—which oversees state scholarships and grants, OHSU and the non-profit and for-profit institutions of higher education.
Oregon Education Investment Board – SB 909
Governor Kitzhaber’s chief education policy bill, SB 909 establishes the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) to oversee a unified public education system with a single budget. This is an attempt to break down the many silos that exist within the world of education and that make it difficult for districts and sectors to work together. Much of the detail of the Board still need to be worked out, including the precise relationship between the Investment Board and the new Higher Education Coordinating Commission.
40/40/20 – SB 253
This important “aspirational” bill puts a new focus on college and high school completion. It clarifies in statute that the mission of higher education includes certificate/degree attainment, with the goal that by 2025 40% of the adult population will have certificates/licensures or associates degrees; 40% will have Bachelor’s Degrees or higher; and 20% will have a high school diploma or its equivalent. (In 2007 the proportions were 18%/30%/26%.)
Student and Institutional Success – HB 3418
While degree completion is an important element of success, it is not the only goal. We also need to make sure that students are getting a quality education, non-traditional students are finding a path to success, valuable research is being done, and public dollars are being used wisely. As we move to a system that partly funds education according to “outcomes,” we need to clearly identify what we want our colleges and universities to be achieving, and create funding incentives to help get them there.  HB 3418 creates the Task Force on Student and Institutional Success (including faculty, presidents, students, business/industry representatives, and legislators) to recommend higher education performance goals to the 2012 Legislature as part of the implementation of SB 242. The task force will recommend metrics for an outcome-based funding model in 2013.
Transfer Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities – HB 3521
Seeking to cope with the high cost of university education, more and more students are  choosing to begin their higher education at a community college.  It is vital that they know they can do so, get a high-quality education there, and transfer their credits easily to an Oregon public university. HB 3521directs OUS and the Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development to develop a statewide agreement that will guarantee a clear path to transfer from any community college to any Oregon university with a minimum of credit loss. It will also increase the number of students receiving Associates Degrees as a result of a new “reverse transfer” program: credits earned at a university will be able to be easily “wrapped back” to the student’s original community college after transfer.
College Credit in High School – SB 254
Taking college-level courses while in high school motivates students to graduate and go on to college, and it saves families money down the road. More high schools are offering these programs, but obstacles still remain. SB 254 establishes and provides initial funding for a grant program administered by the Department of Education related to accelerated college credit programs in high schools. It will help pay for teachers who need to do extra degree work to meet the accreditation standards of the partner colleges and universities.  It encourages and facilitates more widespread use of dual credit and mandates closer collaboration between faculty in high schools and faculty in the partner colleges and universities.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) – HB 3362
HB 3362 will reinvigorate career and technical education in Oregon public schools. The bill paves the way for increased collaboration between school districts on CTE skill centers and charter schools, and establishes a $2 million grant program to fund CTE-centered programs across Oregon, with matching support from business, industry, and labor. The program creates incentives for new CTE partnerships between high schools and community colleges. 
The Oregon Foster Youth Promise – HB 3471
This bill comes in response to the reality that the college graduation rate among former foster youth—barely 2%–is a fraction of the rate for the general population. HB 3471 grants college/university tuition waivers to children formerly in the Oregon foster care system.  Covers tuition and fees remaining after Pell Grant and Oregon Opportunity Grant have been applied. Students will be required to repay the program by mentoring foster youth in high school or through peer advising at their college or university.
As you can see, these bills have the potential to make a real difference for individual Oregonians and for our communities and businesses. However,  I don’t want to exaggerate what they will do in the short run. For the most part, they are merely initiating processes that are still going to take a lot of work—and in many cases better funding–in the years ahead. But if that work is done right, they will make a huge difference in how Oregon meets the challenge of creating a high-skill workforce and a more capable citizenry.
My Interim Committees and Task Forces
Even though the 2011 session has ended, most committees and task forces will continue to meet to develop new legislation for the February 2012 session and oversee the implementation of legislation already passed. Some, such as the Joint Task Force on Redistricting, have done their work and have no further need to exist.
As a result, the Co-Speakers of the House and the Senate President have been making changes in legislative committee assignments and will continue to make changes in task force assignments. You can see the current assignments here.
For me, the big change is that House Higher Education has been elevated to be a full committee, no longer a subcommittee of House Education. That means that we’ll be able to develop our own committee bills and pass all bills directly to the floor. Given the number of issues related to higher ed issues and workforce development that still need work, having this autonomy will allow us to be much more responsive and effective. I look forward to it, as does my co-chair, Mark Johnson (R-Hood River). My other assignments remain the same, Vice Co-Chair of the Education Subcommittee of Ways and Means and member of the Education Committee.
During the interim I’ll also be serving on three education-related task forces. The first is the Virtual School Governance Task Force. Legislation that we passed in June (in HB 2301) is going to make it easier in some ways for virtual charter schools to expand; this task force is charged with recommending follow-up legislation to make sure that there is a statewide vision and statewide accountability for all schools that provide online education. It’s going to be difficult, challenging, and controversial work.
The second new task force is the Task Force on Higher Education Student and Institutional Success, created by HB 3418. You can read more about its charge in the section on Higher Ed bills above.
Finally, my third new assignment is to the special legislative committee on Quality Education. This is a committee that is created every two years to analyze the extent to which Oregon’s budget is or is not adequately providing the resources to ensure that our K-12 students have access to a quality education, as defined by the Oregon Quality Education Commission. This one too should be highly interesting and highly controversial. I promise to share information with you every step of the way.