Legislature got its wishes, but did the state?
Oregon voters in 2014 put the reins of state government fully in the hands of Democrats, so it should come as no surprise that the just-concluded session produced a host of new laws straight out of the D's handbook. But in achieving Democratic goals, they left unanswered the biggest questions about the direction this state is headed.
We don't take exception with many of the bills that were passed, but to say the results were liberal-leaning would be an understatement of considerable proportion. Here are a few of the measures that made the grade with the Democratic legislators: a clean fuels measure to combat global warming, a class action lawsuit measure to fund Legal Aid, new limits on expelling problem students, requiring contractors to undergo equal pay training, requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales or transfers, requiring universities to improve responses to sexual assault reports, requiring birth control pills to be made available a year at a time, prohibiting questions about convictions on job applications, passing a Toxic-Free Kids Act, establishing guidelines on police profiling, limiting tax collectors' approaches to low-income people, requiring employers to provide sick leave, increasing hunting and fishing fees, requiring businesses to provide retirement savings plans, imposing tougher pesticide spraying rules, adding funding for low-income college students and creating a veterans' position to deal with LGBT vets.
Individually, there are good arguments for many of those measures, and we supported many of them. But while the Legislature pushed to change social policy, it seemed to largely overlook a couple of areas that have a huge impact on society and its ability to function: jobs and schools.
The session produced sick leave and retirement plans for workers, but offered little to nothing to help ensure that those workers would actually have jobs. In too quickly dismissing business interests and virtually every significant measure put forth by Republicans, they left us wondering if they understand where the money to pay for all those programs comes from. There were few bones tossed to Oregon's rural areas, where unemployment and underemployment give lie to the story of Oregon's rebounding economy.
Even as the session was concluding, we were treated to a report that Oregon ranked 49th out of 50 states for best places to make a living.
Sadly, Oregonians are used to those bottom rankings, given our recent failures in educating our children. We've heard it all before — too-large class sizes, shortest school year in the country, embarrassing graduation rates and test scores that reflect all of the above. And to take the issue head-on, the Legislature did what? We'll give you a second ... . Huh, we really couldn't think of anything, either. They did give more money, which, we're told, will promptly be gobbled up by increased costs.
Without an educated workforce and economic opportunity for the whole state, it's hard to see a turnaround in the offing. Many worthwhile social measures were approved by the Legislature that will make the state a better place for some. But the biggest issues affecting our social fabric remain largely unaddressed and unresolved.