Bill to help transitional students enter college could get governors veto due to amendment

An amendment tacked onto a popular education bill in the final hours of the Legislature could sweeten Portland Community College’s interest in siting a new police training and emergency operations instructional center near Scappoose Industrial Airpark.

At the same time, it has drawn criticism from Gov. Kitzhaber as a runaround to state land-use laws, one that could prompt his veto.

House Bill 2898, as introduced by Rep. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, allows students with disabilities to earn credit at community colleges or public universities as part of transition services. It also prohibits denying financial aid to students for the sole reason of not receiving a regular high school diploma.

State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, on July 5 amended the bill to open the door for PCC to use up to 300 acres zoned for agricultural use east of the Scappoose airport for siting a police and emergency operations training center. One specific use would be for an emergency vehicle operator course, or EVOC.

“This amendment was designed to make it possible to site the EVOC on the non-UGB land,” Johnson said, pointing to feedback from PCC focus groups made up of emergency response personnel who identified an EVOC as a must-have for a new training facility.

The amendment ultimately bypasses state land-use planning laws for nonfarm uses on agricultural land and has a sunset clause for PCC to file for land-use approval by December 2015.

The targeted land is not in Scappoose’s UGB and is not considered in the current effort to expand the UGB by several hundred acres near the airport, an effort that is currently on appeal in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

According to a July 7 report in the Oregonian, Gov. Kitzhaber indicated he could veto the education bill due to Johnson’s amendment. Kitzhaber’s office did not respond to requests for comment prior to press time Thursday.

The amended bill cleared a committee vote and House and Senate votes by seemingly veto-proof margins over the last two days of the session.

“I never anticipated that this bill would get caught up in end-of-session politics.”

-State Sen. Betsy Johnson, Scappoose Democrat

For her part, Johnson said she had not anticipated the amendment would compromise Gelser’s bill, saying it was only a legislative vehicle with a broad relating clause for education that was appropriate to move the PCC land-use allowance forward.

Johnson has been a long-time champion for industrial development at Scappoose airport, including helping broker land deals and sponsoring legislation for the Scappoose airport to serve as a pilot project for private-public operations at airports across Oregon.

Johnson and her husband, John Helm, also operate an aircraft fueling station at the airport.

“I want this site to be attractive to PCC, and in talking with them and talking to their consultants, having adequate space for PCC to build out is important to them,” Johnson said. “I never anticipated that this bill would get caught up in end-of-session politics.”

Johnson said she plans on having a discussion with the governor regarding the legislation.

“I am going to reach out to him,” she said.

In recent months, PCC officials have indicated increasing impatience with efforts to site a new public safety-focused educational campus near Scappoose airport and a desire to explore alternatives in Columbia County. In May, Randy McEwen, PCC’s vice president, acknowledged the long process to expand the Scappoose UGB.

“This is a whole long development process, so the fact that we’re looking at alternate property is just a part of the process,” he said.

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