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Law could compromise educations role as great equalizer

As I write this newsletter, we are in the final hours of this legislative session. Although we have passed some significant legislation over the past few months, I am especially proud of the Education Budget that we passed on July 1, almost $1 billion more than current funding levels and the largest appropriation for education in Oregon history.

There is much more that we need to do to get back to a robust curriculum that excites students and keeps them involved in their own success, but this budget marks a turning point in Oregon’s recovery.

Education is one of our society’s “great equalizers.” That is why I was particularly troubled by SB 270, which authorizes Portland State University and the University of Oregon to form their own institutional boards. I am greatly concerned that this bill will create two “classes” of higher education...one for the previous named universities with well-heeled benefactors and one for the rest of our public university system.

I am further worried that some university benefactors might use their board positions and financial contributions to further leverage their corporate advertising and influence at our public institutions. Donations to our universities are most welcome. Expectations that such donations buy corporate logos on athletic uniforms, or names on buildings, special tax considerations or sway over construction project specifications are inappropriate on our public campuses.

Should we ever tire of such excesses, I am also concerned that entrenched influence will make it difficult, if not impossible, to restore our independent public university system. That is why I was one of 15 votes against SB 270.

Here are some other bills that we considered this session:

n HB 2460B — Requires corporations that file Oregon taxes to include income from subsidiaries in offshore tax havens.

n SB 673B — Criminalizes sex trafficking with minors, increases sentences for perpetrators and gives investigators and prosecutors additional tools to perform their work.

n HB 2977B — Takes on the issue of wage theft requiring construction contractors to obtain a license with BOLI before recruiting and hiring workers for projects.

n HB 2417A — Provides approximately $5.83 million in housing assistance for returning vets, who are twice as likely as their peers to be homeless.

n HB 3436B — Sets up a task force to study Oregon’s retirement crisis, where the senior population is projected to double by 2030, but whose retirement savings are decreasing.

n HB 2510B — Allows people who were disqualified from the Senior and Disabled Property Tax Deferral Program to be reinstated beginning in 2014.

n HB 2594 — Allows the courts to order outpatient assisted treatment for people who do not meet the high standard for inpatient commitment but who need mental health services.

n SB 498A — This is the second round in Career and Technical Education grant funding to help revitalize vocational and technical education in our high schools and community colleges.

n HB 3194A — This is the culmination of two years of work by the Governor’s Commission on Public Safety. It enables significant new investment in community corrections.

These bills are just a few of the many that came before us this session, but I hope they give you a little taste of the many issues that we wrestle with.

If you would like more information on these or any other bills, please don’t hesitate to contact me and I will make sure you get it.

Finally, I want to thank all of the constituents who took the time to write, call and email me with information, questions, suggestions and advice over the last five months. I am not an expert in every topic that comes before me. Your involvement in the process helps me do a better job and, in the end, we all benefit with better legislation. Thank you for taking the time to advocate for the issues that are important to you, and I look forward to continuing our collaboration during the interim and into the next session in February 2014.

P.S. The Legislature adjourned at 2:48 this afternoon, Monday, July 8.

Brad Witt is a Clatskanie Democrat who serves District 31 in the Oregon House of Representives.