We've consistently (and with a regularity that likely borders on tiresome) made the case that the shorter legislative sessions, such as the one that begins next month, are not the proper place for sweeping new laws or changes in state policies.
Those measures, we have argued, more properly belong in the longer legislative sessions Oregon holds in odd-numbered years. The additional time allows legislators to more carefully examine major initiatives and, just as importantly, gives members of the public a chance to express their opinions in a meaningful way.
No, the legislative sessions Oregon holds in even-numbered years like 2018 are best reserved for smaller measures, budgetary adjustments, the tying up of loose ends left behind from the previous year's session.
But that doesn't mean a smaller bill can't have a big impact on lives.
Consider one of Rep. Andy Olson's priorities in this session: House Bill 4056, which the Albany Republican is sponsoring.
The bill is meant to tie up a fairly substantial loose end in a program the Legislature authorized years ago. The original idea was to offer scholarships to help cover the cost of postsecondary tuition for family members of public safety officers killed or totally disabled in the line of duty.
That's obviously a worthwhile goal. But Olson said there's a catch: The Legislature never has funded the program.
Olson said that he and a House colleague, Brad Witt, a Democrat from Columbia County, recently had the chance to hear from people who heard about the scholarship program and then discovered that it had not been funded. For Olson, a retired Oregon State Police officer, these must have been heart-wrenching discussions.
But Olson and Witt have come up with a solution: House Bill 4056 involves designating a percentage of the proceeds gained from criminal asset forfeitures to finally start funneling money into that program.
At present, money from these forfeitures goes to a variety of causes: Some of it goes into a fund designed to clean up sites where illegal drug activity has occurred. Some of it goes to help pay for drug and other specialty courts. Adding these scholarships to the list of causes the forfeiture money funds is completely in the spirit of those causes.
Olson said the forfeiture money could generate $250,000 or so every two years for the scholarships. The money would be deposited in the Oregon 529 College Savings Plan. It would be placed strictly off-limits from attempts to "sweep" it into the general fund to deal with sundry other budgetary crises.
Some requirements would apply to potential recipients of the funds: They would have to be enrolled in an Oregon institution. They would have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and accept all state and federal aid grants available. They would have to be under 25 years old at the time they first submitted an application for one of those scholarships. The maximum annual scholarship would be capped at $13,000 per academic year. To continue receiving the scholarships, students would have to show that they were making satisfactory academic progress.
The bill clarifies another point by making it clear that "public safety officer" is meant to include corrections officers, fire service professionals, parole and probation officers, police officers, reserve officers and youth correction officers.
Olson estimated the scholarships might be awarded to 20 or so Oregon students each year.
Now, granted, that's not a big number. Legislators routinely make decisions that affect the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Oregon citizens. Even a short session involves juggling millions of dollars.
But for the 20 or so people whose path to higher education would be smoothed somewhat by these scholarships, there won't be a more important bit of legislation filed in this session — or, perhaps, in any session. (mm)