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Bipartisan senate backs education and small business measures

The 2014 Legislative session opened with the spirit of continued bipartisan cooperation in the Oregon Senate.

Against the backdrop of partisan political gridlock in Washington D.C., Oregon’s Legislature has become a remarkable example of leaders from both parties working together to make government work for our state and her people.

In the Senate, we began the 2014 session by passing two important measures on identical 29-0 votes.

Senate Bill 1524 directs the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) to examine the possibility of opening the doors of community college to high school graduates without requiring them to pay tuition or fees.

Every Oregon high school graduate should have the opportunity to receive career and technical training and a clear path toward earning a college degree. Today, too many of our young people aren’t getting the education and skills training they need to compete in the 21st century.

The concept of free community college would extend two years of free community college education to students. Within that two-year time period, students could obtain an associate degree, a certificate of learning or earn credits that can transfer toward a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university.

That’s Oregon’s promise. For their part, the students would be required to maintain a level of responsibility — keeping their grades up, attending class and staying out of trouble.

A program like this won’t be free, but like its sponsor Senator Mark Hass said: “Two years of community college is a lot less than a lifetime on food stamps.” If the HECC finds the concept feasible for implementation, the commission will propose criteria to the Oregon Legislature later this year and we can consider it in the 2015 Legislative session.

The second measure is Senate Bill 1563. It raises the cap on state loans to help hard-working Oregonians start up or expand their small businesses.

Currently, Oregon’s Entrepreneurial Development Loan Fund is authorized by the Legislature to make loans of up to $75,000 for qualifying small businesses. More than 50 small businesses have received loans from the fund since 2009.

SB 1563 increases the amount small businesses can borrow to up to $100,000 — opening the door to more small business expansion and job growth.

Both SB 1524 and SB 1563 now head to the House of Representatives for consideration.



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