News | Oregon

Statesman Journal: Lawmakers Get Going With Hearings

Statesman Journal | Nov. 21, 2013 1:36 a.m. | Updated: Nov. 21, 2013 10:16 a.m. | Salem, Oregon

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Statesman Journal

Legislators are concerned the Oregon University System is deliberately flouting a 2009 law that requires minority candidates be considered for head coaching and athletic director positions, and the House Higher Education Committee took testimony on the issue Wednesday morning.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, said Western Oregon University officials told him they had received legal advice from OUS lawyers telling them to ignore the law when they searched for an athletic director and a baseball coach last year.

OUS attorney Ryan Hagemann told the committee he does not advice universities to ignore the law but said he is concerned that offering job candidates an interview based purely on race could put the OUS at legal risk, he said.

Oregon is the only state to have this kind of law, but the NFL uses a nearly identical policy.

Sam Sachs, founder of the “No Hate Zone” nonprofit, said WOU and Oregon State University violated the law last year. (OSU was hiring a softball coach.)

He encouraged the committee to call for an inquiry and investigation.

Sachs and Hagemann asked for amendments to the law, including extending the provisions to hiring for assistant coaches and requiring written documentation of efforts to find minority candidates.

Greenlick said he would consider future amendments and would ask the state Department of Justice for a formal opinion on whether the law violates federal rulings.

— Hannah Hoffman

Statewide paid sick leave could return in 2014 session

It’s not clear whether two Portland lawmakers will take another run during the 2014 legislative session at passing a bill requiring private employers to give employees paid sick leave.

“I think we’ve done the work as a group, and now (Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward) and I are going to be talking with our colleagues and taking the temperature in the building and see how people feel about this,” said Rep. Jessica Vega Peterson, D-Portland.

The two Democrats were part of a 12-member work group — that included representatives from labor, business and health care — and has met weekly at Portland State University since September in an attempt to work through the issues that prevented House Bill 3390 from passing in 2013.

That bill would have given certain employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they worked.

“We went into the work group not expecting to get to consensus because we knew that might be difficult,” Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward told the House interim committee on Business and Labor Wednesday. “At this point, we’ve reached I would say a strong majority opinion about the language that might work but certainly not consensus.”

One of the changes that came out of the work group was a proposal to write an exemption for employers who give workers personal time off that they can use for sick leave. Another was to consider giving smaller business the option of providing employees with unpaid sick leave.

Rep. Tim Freeman, R-Roseberg, said he liked some of the changes, but still had reservations about the idea. He asked Vega Peterson and Steiner Hayward to consider adding a tax cut to offset the costs of providing paid sick leave.

The deadline to file draft legislation for the 2014 session is Tuesday.

— Anna Staver

Senate committee hears executive appointment list

The most recent Oregon Legislature added several state boards — one for each of the largest three universities and a higher education committee — and as a result, the senate committee hearings to appoint all the members continued Wednesday in spite of having started back in September.

The Legislature won’t meet in full until February, but it meets twice during the fall for “legislative days,” when committees take testimony and prep for the session. They don’t hear bills, and the House and Senate don’t vote.

In the only exception to that, the Senate will vote on the executive appointments Thursday, so the committee had to get through them all.

Among the long list were a couple of famous names.

Former NBC Today show reporter Ann Curry called in from Geneva to accept her nomination to the University of Oregon board. She said she wanted to focus on affordability and access to higher education, and briefly reminisced about her own time at the U of O during the 1970s.

Christian Van Dyke accepted his nomination to the Trust for Cultural Development. Sen. Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, jokingly asked if he was related to actor Dick Van Dyke, and he said, “Yes, he’s my father.”

That caused a sensation.

Also causing some sensation was Kurt Wilcox’s appointment to the U of O board. He is a staff member at the Labor, Education and Research Center at the university, and he served as the union’s lead negotiator this year.

Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, said he was worried at the idea of allowing staff and faculty to be full voting members of the university boards because they are paid by the universities and thus have an economic interest in many decisions.

Wilcox said he was willing to take himself out of decisions where he could benefit economically, but Ferrioli was unsure whether these appointments were a good idea in general. He likened it to the Public Employees Retirement System board from about 10 years ago, which comprised several PERS members. He said the legislature ended up regretting that board structure and might end up regretting this one.

— Hannah Hoffman

Education panel hears concerns about policy

School employees from various parts of the state raised concerns to lawmakers about the impact of proficiency-based grading and the implementation of full-day kindergarten.

The House Education Committee heard from superintendents who participated in a Confederation of Oregon School Administrators task force that looked at implementing full-day kindergarten by the 2015-16 school year.

One of the main concerns was whether or not school districts would have enough funding to pay for extra staff and supplies if they expand the hours kindergarteners are in the classroom.

Implementing full-day kindergarten throughout Oregon is estimated to cost as much as $200 million, McMinnville Superintendent Maryalice Russell told lawmakers.

Lawmakers heard conflicting testimony from school teachers and administrators about the impact of House Bill 2220 that resulted in some school districts implementing a new grading system that doesn’t account for student behavior.

While some teachers said it has resulted in a better learning environment for their students, others argued confusion over the law’s interpretation has created extra paperwork for teachers and might not be the right fit for all students.

— Queenie Wong

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