Legislature wraps up session, moves higher education reform bills

The Oregon Legislature adjourned its first even-year session on March 5, 2012. The monthlong session saw the revision of the state’s biennial budget to account for reduced revenue projections, movement on health-care legislation, and discussion of education reform.

Among the legislation that passed was HB 4061, which created a Special Com¬mittee on University Governance. The committee will comprise equal numbers of Oregon House and Oregon Senate members and is tasked with examining local governance board models and recommending a way forward for universi¬ties to create local boards. It is scheduled to report its findings by August 2012 and recommend legislation to the 2013 legislative session. The bill passed through the House on a vote of 43–13 and the Senate with a vote of 22–5.

The legislature also approved two other bills that constitute part of Governor John Kitzhaber’s education reform agenda. SB 1538 clarifies the role of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC), bringing it fully under the purview of the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB). The bill also set up a process for the HECC to look at student issues and make recommendations to the OEIB and legislature. On the last day of the session, the legislature also approved SB 1581 that allows the OEIB to establish achievement compacts with educational institutions, including individual universities.

Another bill that survived the session, HB 4058, directs the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to convene a work group to study strategies for and make recommendations on reducing higher education textbook costs. Finally, the legislature passed the so-called Paterno bill that makes university employees mandatory reporters in cases of child abuse.

Also on March 5, both the Oregon House and Senate officially approved a budget rebalance that includes a 3.5 percent hold back for the Oregon University System, about half of the 7 percent held back at the end of last session. The holdbacks comes as the result of a revised state revenue forecast at the beginning of February that showed another $35 million shortfall since the last quarterly forecast at the end of 2011. Overall, projected revenue fell $341 million since the end of the 2011 legislative session.

To learn more about the revised state budget, click here.