Session showing progress on many fronts
The 74th Oregon Legislative Assembly opened the second week of January. On the first day of session the Senate passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 1. Thus a two-year trial on holding annual sessions began. The resolution set strict deadlines on legislative business and calls for a special one-month legislative session to be held in February of 2008. Under SCR 1 the legislative session must adjourn on or before June 29th, making it the third shortest session in the last 20 years. Now that the legislative session is in its closing weeks, the Senate has accomplished a number of its priorities. However, there is much work to be done before we go home.
One of the main goals this session was to create strong schools in Oregon. The Subcommittee on Education has funded the state school budget at an unprecedented $6.245 billion level. For many districts this funding level will mean reducing class sizes, giving schools the ability to purchase new textbooks, hiring new teachers, and restoring some programs cut in previous biennia.
While funding the state school budget is important, creating strong schools in Oregon really starts in pre-kindergarten. After the release of the May Revenue Forecast we allocated another $10 million for Head Start. The $39 million total will provide increased access from 57 percent to 75.1 percent for those children that qualify and mean a good start to an education for more Oregon children.
The Legislature has made it a priority to increase funding for post-secondary education, as well as an increased focus on improved funding for enrollment growth and faculty salaries. We need to boost salaries to keep talented faculty in Oregon. We also will significantly improve community college funding this session.We also have made major strides in making a college education possible for more Oregonians, with the creation of the Shared Responsibility Model, which creates a partnership between students, family, federal and state governments and private philanthropies. We will increase state aid to students by more than 50 percent this biennium.
Providing affordable health care is a high priority for the Legislature. Senate Bill 362 expands the Oregon Prescription Drug Program, allowing more Oregonians to purchase lower-cost prescription drugs.
In another accomplishment, we created the state's first-ever comprehensive rainy day fund. With this legislation, the corporate kicker will be redirected into the fund, putting approximately $290 million into savings for Oregon.
To help protect the environment, the Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 838, renewable energy legislation. This bill's goal of 25 percent renewable energy development by the year of 2025 will reduce Oregon's dependency on outside energy sources along with creating new energy industries and jobs in Oregon.
This session has also seen numerous discussions on creating safer communities in Oregon. With the passage of the Oregon State Police budget, 100 new state troopers will be on Oregon's highways. With Senate Bill 242 we have asked school districts, when they are doing large construction projects, to evaluate the need for safety improvements within 1 mile of an elementary school and 1.5 miles of a secondary school. The safety improvements should provide safer routes for pedestrians, bicycles, and motor vehicles.
I believe that the highest legislative priority left in this last month of session is the Healthy Kids Initiative. This proposal will provide more than 100,000 uninsured children in Oregon with health insurance. Through the original proposal, the funding would come from an increase in the cigarette tax. The House, where the bill originated, is still attempting to get the 36 votes it needs to pass this revenue-raising proposal. An alternative is to make the Healthy Kids proposal a constitutional ballot initiative in the 2008 general election.
We have accomplished a lot, but have more work to finish. Please let me know your ideas and thoughts as we finish out this legislative session.