Revived Hope for Civil Unions & Non Discrimination in Oregon

Today I introduced House Bill 3508, which would authorize same-sex civil unions and ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It includes provisions from SB 1000, which passed the Oregon Senate on July 8, with a bi-partisan vote of 19-10. Like similar legislation in Vermont, my bill also contains a separate Republican-backed measure to establish “reciprocal benefits” for unmarried people.

This bill is one final call to the Speaker of the House, asking her to schedule an up-or-down vote on a critical civil rights issue—the issue of civil unions and discrimination. We’re not asking for the Speaker’s personal vote for civil unions. But we are demanding the opportunity for the whole House to debate a matter that the Senate has already dealt with decisively. Each State Representative has the duty to vote his or her own conscience on how the state treats families.

Despite the Senate’s passage of SB 1000, which would have established civil unions and banned discrimination based on sexual identity, the Republican leadership last week maneuvered to block the bill’s progress to the floor of the House, where a debate and a vote could take place. I believe this maneuver was underhanded abuse of the House Rules.

This new bill is not a symbolic effort. We’re giving the Speaker of the House one more chance to do the right thing. Her job as Speaker is to schedule debates of bills, not to dictate how other Representatives cast their own votes. The matter of civil unions and discrimination deserves a full and open debate on the floor of the House. The voters of Oregon are entitled to know where their representatives stand on these issues. It’s not acceptable that one person, the Speaker of the House, should stand in the way and prevent the House from doing its duty.

Combining the civil unions and anti-discrimination measure with the reciprocal-benefits bill should broaden the appeal of HB 3508. I see no reason why we shouldn’t have both. The important thing, however, is that we cannot walk away from an issue that’s critically important to the people of Oregon. We must tackle it this session.

July 26, 2005 by Mary Nolan
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Inadequate House K-12 Budget is Lobbed at the Senate Chamber

Representative Mary Nolan is a third term legislator representing SW Portland.Mary_nolan_1

We kicked off Memorial Day Weekend with yet another contentious debate over school funding. House Republicans rose up one by one on the House Floor in support of House Bill 5092 (carried by Rep. Morgan, R of Myrtle Creek) - a call to hurry up and under-fund our children’s future!

Not surprisingly this funding debate was decided in a manner all too similar to the others: along party lines. This bill was lobbed over to the Senate with 32 Republican AYE votes – only 1 had the guts to stand up for what we all know is right.

Funding our public K-12 schools at anything less than $5.4 billion is robbing Oregon students of their future. As Democrat Arnie Roblan (D - Coos Bay) said, “this budget means shattered dreams, because it does not support the caliber of education that our children must have if they are to find productive, meaningful work in this highly competitive new world.”

Do not be fooled! In its current form, HB 5092 falls $180 million short of the identified K-12 “survival budget.” This bill will cut even more school days from what is already the shortest school year in the nation!

The Republican bill allocates only $5.22 billion from the State’s discretionary funds over the next biennium. But the bill pretends to claim credit for monies from the Common School Fund that the legislature does not control.

Here's what the bill actually allocates to schools:

State General Fund, to the Dept of Education, & specifically for State School Fund
$4,923 million

State Lottery Fund, to the Dept of Education, & specifically for State School Fund
$296 million

State Timber Tax Collection, to the Dept of Ed & specifically for State School Fund
$1 million

$5,220 million

As you may have noticed, $55 million from the Common School Fund is NOT listed in this table. The Republicans have cunningly included this money in the debate over school funding. It is revenue collected from assets held in trust for schools since statehood, such as state forests and the river beds of navigable rivers in the state. This money is collected, invested, and redistributed to each of Oregon’s counties on a per-student basis automatically.

The language of this bill also included appropriations for Oregon’s 17 Community Colleges. A total of $439 million from the General Fund will ostensibly allow Community Colleges to maintain – and even restore – some services for their student population. Often overlooked, this was a success for Community Colleges and every Oregonian who seeks to improve his or her life by enrolling. Despite beating the Governor’s proposed Community College budget by 12 percent we still have to consider that this figure may not be the final figure as budget negotiations are now at hand.

To be sure, since neither the House nor the Senate Chambers can presently return to their caucus and say, “we have the concurrence of the other chamber,” we will still have to return to some form of conference committee to reconcile these two sides. There is a real possibility that we could lose this 12% edge for our Community Colleges – or even more. Beyond that, how much of this already lacking public K-12 budget is going to be negotiated away?

By forcing passage of HB 5092, the House Republicans have told Oregon’s children that we won’t do right by them – and not because we weren’t able, but because we chose not to.

May 31, 2005 by Mary Nolan
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ALERT: Republicans Vote Down $5.4 billion for K-12 Public Schools…Again!

Marynolan_1What turned into an animated parliamentary dance began as a simple and vital motion to bring a trend to fully funding our public schools. Unbelievably, the Republicans have once again denied our children the necessary funds for an adequate education. Indeed, they refused to allow a debate about the level of funding for public schools.

House Bill 2727, a bill relating to school finance and appropriating money, was the vehicle for an intensive maneuvering through House Rules and parliamentary procedure. Originally intended to limit schools from spending state funds to provide free breakfast and lunch programs, this bill was turned inside out to instead call for a “survival budget” for public K-12 schools. The adoption of the minority report would have changed HB 2727 for the better. It would have:

• Appropriated a minimum of $5.1 billion for the Department of Education out of the General Fund for the State School Fund
• These funds would be in addition to and not in lieu of the near $300.0 million from Lottery receipts

That’s right, friends – do the math! House Democrats have found a way to provide at least $5.4 billion for our K-12 public schools!

In addition to this more acceptable level of funding, House D’s were able to identify spending limits that created the transparency and accountability that voters, parents, teachers and students deserve. But our voices were silenced.

Neighbors, this flagrant and repeated refusal of the Republicans to fund our public K-12 schools is a travesty! What is even further infuriating was the fact that debate on this bill was shut down by the House Republicans’ very own “nuclear option.” When our proposal came up on the agenda, the Republican majority employed a never-before-used parliamentary tactic. The motion was to postpone the vote and make it a Special Order of Business…on August 31st. Yes, August 31st. Neither legislators nor the public expects – or desires – the legislature to be in session at the end of August.

This motion was met with a phenomenal parliamentary response from my Democratic colleagues. One by one they rose on the floor with points of order, counter-motions, and deeply compelling speeches, full of conviction, about the great need to fund our schools at decent levels and show our kids that they matter!

Rep. Steve March (D- Portland) spoke for us all when he said, “It’s irresponsible to hold back a big surplus when school children throughout Oregon must do without the programs and …[some] have decried the power of unions or business groups, or parent-teacher organizations. I say, if you don’t like the way these groups lobby or spend money, or the way local school boards spend money, you should draft legislation to deal with that. But for heaven’s sake, let’s not shatter the future of Oregon’s school children just for the sake of sending a message to the teachers’ unions, or parents, or school boards.”

Republicans are sending a clear message: forget about quality schools – they won’t even allow a debate about it.

May 24, 2005 by Mary Nolan
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