Everyone seems to agree that the Oregon Legislature broke the law, but what to do about it is another matter. A leading education group is drafting a letter; a prominent Portland lawyer is considering a lawsuit.
At issue is Ballot Measure 1, passed in a landslide two years ago, which required state lawmakers to give schools enough money to educate kids (as determined by an education panel) or explain why they won't cough up the dough.
The law first applied to the 2001 Legislature, which failed to fund schools at the "adequate" level determined by the Quality Education Commission. When the Legislature adjourned that summer without issuing the required written explanation of the funding shortfall, the commission contacted House Speaker Mark Simmons and Senate President Gene Derfler. Their response: We'll try to get to it. "I know we talked about it," says Simmons, now a lobbyist. "But frankly, we were swamped with special sessions."
The report never came, which prompted the Oregon School Boards Association to consider taking legal action. They ran into two problems. First, the 71st Legislative Assembly, which blew off the voter-approved law, adjourned Jan. 12, 2003. "There's not much point in suing the 72nd assembly for something done by the 71st," says Greg Chaimov, Oregon's legislative counsel.
The second obstacle was political. It's not a smart idea for the OSBA, which wants lawmakers to give schools more cash, to file a suit against them. So the group is working on a letter to the current legislative leadership reminding them of their Measure 1 duties for this session.
Portland lawyer Marc Kramer, however, doesn't care about pissing off lawmakers, and he's not convinced that a suit can't be brought against the Legislature for its shortcomings two years ago. "My kids have consequences when they don't do their homework," says Kramer, who is looking for potential plaintiffs. "The Legislature should have consequences for not doing theirs."