|Bennett's Blog: Recap of the 2010 supplemental session|
by Chuck Bennett, Director of Government Relations
“What?” you ask. Yes, the legislature has been meeting annually for the past few years in premeditated special sessions. The measure to voters would institutionalize that practice and set limits on the number of days the lawmakers could meet. The whole thing melted down as Senators held firm on a 180 total days over two years split into a 135 and 45 day meetings and House members countered with a 165-35 split. The final version going to the voters sort of split the difference with an odd numbered year session of 160 days and 35 days in election years.
The whole dispute had the eerie feeling of trying to match the number of school days that could have been paid for if the legislature hadn’t met its promise to fund schools this biennium at $6 billion.
The funding issue dominated COSA’s efforts throughout the session. We had regular meetings with House and Senate leadership to clarify several points involving the allocation of the funds for schools promised in the current budget. The allocation was being jeopardized by the continuing downward trend in state revenue forecasts. Last session the legislature had appropriated $5.8 billion to the State School Fund with another $200 million available this June depending on economic conditions in the state. In the end the legislature made several changes to the funding sources and allocation method to release $200 million that was being held in reserve for schools. The legislature did this to give districts assurances during this budget cycle that the $6 billion funding level will be met.
The second school-related issue making headlines during the session was the fate of ESDs. The perennial issue of whether 20 ESDs is just enough or too many was raised. The Governor’s Reset Committee reported it is in the midst of studying regional service delivery models and how best to meet the needs of students and school districts statewide. Several options were described including elimination of the existing ESD boundaries in favor of large regional service programs specializing in a variety of services. Issues of concern included loss of local control, potential loss of local property tax revenues now accruing to the existing ESDs, status of employee contracts, status of existing facilities, and a host of other issues.
Specific legislation dealing with ESDs included a bill that would allow school districts the option of participating in their local ESD. The bill, which came late in the Session, contained several flaws unrelated to the opt-out provision and did not move out of committee. In the end the ESDs were cut $10 million in State School Funds, about the same share they would have received from the $200 million that was guaranteed in the revised budget bill mentioned above.
Also passed was a bill eliminating laws against teachers wearing religious garb to work. It was a lengthy and fairly heated debate but ultimately it was agreed that the prohibition needed to be lifted and that students were protected from be proselytized by other limitations on religious content in classrooms.
The legislature also passed a bill requiring defibrillators on school campuses by 2015.
Otherwise, most legislation dealing with education mandates, laws or funding issues failed including the anticipated referral of the kicker law to voters. This failure was widely criticized and legislators, who argued that the bruising Measures 66 &67 campaign had left voters unwilling to take on another heated tax related campaign, promised to take it up in the 2011 Session.
So, here's how the leaders analyze the Session just completed:
“I think we passed a broader range of more substantial bills creating jobs and helping struggling families than I would have predicted a month ago,” reported House Speaker Dave Hunt.
And from the other side of the aisle, “The only employment that is growing is state government employment. And the only increase in spending, biennium after biennium, at the pace it is is state government spending,” responded House Republican Leader Bruce Hanna.
written by Edward Jensen, March 02, 2010
|This page was last updated on Monday, March 01, 2010 .|