Tuesday, June 23, 2009

House passes SB767

It was another weird chapter in a saga that has been fraught with bungling, mishandling, outright lies, and the most cynical political power plays that I have witnessed in almost 15 years of dealing with the legislature.

Here is the scene:

The bill as amended in committee before coming to the floor was still completely screwed up, and the Democrats knew it. The amendments they hurriedly moved into the bill in Revenue Committee were bungled. But instead of sending the bill back to committee to fix it, the Democrats did something a bit strange...

They decided to pass the bill as it is, but promise that it would go into a conference committee to be fixed. So the carrier of the bill on the House floor, Rep. Sarah Gelser, didn't really speak to the bill during her opening, she spoke to how the bill was to be amended in conference committee. And the members were supposed to vote on the bill just on the assurance that the bill would be amended as she said it would.

That is strange enough. But how do we know that the bill would be amended as Gelser said? What assurance does anyone have?

Among other things, Gelser said that the "time-out" for virtual charter schools would cap enrollment in existing virtuals at the levels of May 1st, 2009. That was different than how the bill currently read, which limited enrollment to the existing students on that date. That's a big difference - if enrollment is limited to existing students, then when a kid leaves the school, he can't be replaced, and the school will shrink.

The nature of virtual charters is that they do have a good bit of turnover, because lots of families use them for temporary solutions.

Rep. Matt Wingard asked Rep. Gelser for clarification on this point. He asked:

"Under the anticipated amendments that you were speaking about, will enrollment for Oregon Connections Academy be capped at the May, 2009 level until the moratorium is over, as my understanding of the current, or dash-29 amendments, capped ORCA at sts current students only, so if the student leaves, that spot is gone.?"

Gelser responded:

"My understanding, and we will receive further clarification in the conference committee, is that it is capped at the total number of enrollment on May 1st, 2009, but that all students currently enrolled in the school, are able to continue to attend, as well as are their siblings – brothers and sisters who may not yet be enrolled. So if a brother or sister wished to enroll, and they would cause the enrollment to be greater than what was in place on May 1st, 2009, that the total number capped from May 1st would not apply. Did that make sense?"

OK, there we have it. It is a BIG improvement in the bill. It is the difference between ORCA staying the same size, and perhaps growing a bit with sibling enrollment, to ORCA withering on the vine, unable to replace exiting students.

So after the floor vote (31-28,) Gelser let it be known that we could get from her office the amendments that would be moved into the bill in conference committee. Guess what?

The amendments (the SB767-C36) STILL limits enrollment to the existing students on May 1st, 2009! There is NO CHANGE in the language from the current bill on that point. It is completely contrary to what Gelser stated on the floor, in direct questioning from Wingard.


Now, honestly, I don't think Gelser was lying. I think she was lied to by her leadership, and allowed to go make a fool of herself on the House floor as she carried the water on a bill she never sponsored and from all appearances never very much liked.

And the question now is will they fix this thing to read like Gelser said it would read? Or will the Democrat leaders who have engineered this travesty all along just continue the sham, force a vote on the dash-36 amendments in conference, and try to muscle the thing on the Senate and House floors, just like they have done all along?

If recent history is any guide, they will do the dishonest thing. Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior, after all.


divakristina said...

Of course it's contrary. I asked Rep Gelser myself if I had her word on the "grandfathering" of siblings into the school and she said "you have more than my word, it will be the law". Now we see that is not the case at all. She even used my children and their names as examples on the house floor. The audacity to use my children as pawns to get her bill passed is sickening. Can you help us call her out on this?

Kristina Ribali

Rob Kremer said...

Well, the sibling clause is indeed in the amendments. The problem is whether enrollment is otherwise limited to the children already enrolled on May 1 or the number of students enrolled on May 1.

I honestly don't believe Gelser was lying. I think she will help in the conference committee to get the thing to read like she told everyone on the house floor it would read.

I will certainly help hold her feet to the fire on this, but I am not ready to say she is lying. She has a chance to fix this thing, and how she handles it will reveal much.

divakristina said...

Thanks for helping us fight the good fight. I will do whatever I can, just let me know. Thanks!

Ronda said...

My understanding is that the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House appoint 2 -3 people each to a conference committe there is nothing to say that Rep. Gelser will even be on the committe. Besides she herself said that they can not know what future amendments or bills will be. Yet she stood there and talked in great length about what the amendments will be after the conference committe is done. Total and complete smokescreen.

Anonymous said...

I was reading SB 767 and have a question:

"Section 10. The amendments to ORS 338.125 by section 9 of this 2009 Act apply to students who first enroll in a public charter school on or after the effective date of this 2009 Act."

Does this mean K-6 students who were previously enrolled are still allowed to attend?

gabes mom said...

I tend to view Gelser as an idealist- naive, but generally well-intentioned. I sincerely hope that she was not behind the deception or it was simply an oversight(less likely)when they drafted the amendments. Honestly, the amount of time and effort devoted to such an unnecessary bill is astonishing! Maybe the legislature would have been better off trying to figure out how to reduce unemployment this session? Instead, we have nothing but tax bills, ridiculous health care and "environmental" bills, and education bills that serve no one but the OEA power structure.

MC Stammer said...

Two choices for Rep Gelser:

1. Publicly apologize for misrepresenting the content of a bill in a way that may have altered the result and do everything in your power to fix it, or

2. Consider yourself a fully initiated member of the Oregon Deceptocrat Party where the motto is "The ends are justified by the means as long as you can hold onto your seat."

divakristina said...

Can you tell us yet what the outcome of the 52+ amendments added today mean for ORCA? This is so ridiculous. Why not just kill a bill that is so flawed...well we know the answer to that.

Rob Kremer said...

In short, the dash-52 amendments make the bill as Rep. Gelser described it on the floor of the House. In fact, it improved the bill a little more, as they took care of that ridiculous provision that required virtual schools to have a plan for offering all their materials in the student's native tongue.

So for two years, ORCA will be capped at the enrollment level of May 1, 2009.

This shows that Rep. Gelser did not lie about her intentions on the floor of the House. In fact, she worked hard to make sure that the conference committee amendments DID match her statements on the floor.

As dishonest as this whole process has been at every turn, Rep. Gelser has been one of the honorable actors on this stage.