Posts tagged: HB2967

11 Bills in 11 Days – Episode 2

This year, Governor Fallin signed 394 pieces of legislation. I was the primary Senate author of 11 of those bills. Over 11 days, I am telling the story of each bill – where it came from, how it progressed through the Legislature, and what it means to the people of Oklahoma. This is in keeping with my longstanding support of transparency, and hopefully you’ll find this exercise insightful. #11BillsIn11Days
 
Today, we continue with House Bill 2967, which allows school districts to sign contracts with student teachers for employment the following year, and allows them to promise a signing bonus if the teacher stays for at least one year.
 
The first page of HB 2967.

The first page of HB 2967.

After the 2015 legislative session, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and the State Department of Education held meetings to come up with recommendations to address the state’s teacher shortage. One of those recommendations was to do more to get student teachers to actually become teachers. That recommendation turned into HB 2967. In February, Hofmeister’s staff approached me about serving as the Senate author, joining House author Rep. Jason Nelson. Though it is probably more common for the original author to line up the author in the other chamber, it is not uncommon for outside interests to do that work if they are the ones who instigated the bill. The hectic nature of the Legislature is something I can’t possibly exaggerate, and so legislators are generally grateful when others assist with these formalities. In the case of HB 2967, I don’t think Rep. Nelson and I ever even talked about it. That may seem odd, but again, it would be impossible to exaggerate how busy everyone is during session and how many plates we have spinning (does anyone even get that analogy even more?) If Jason and I needed to talk about it, we would have, but if we didn’t, there is little time for chit chat.

 
Being the author in the opposite chamber from the house of origin means I had no involvement in the original drafting. In my experience, being in that position can lead to many reactions. Sometimes, I have received a House bill and felt it was just great. Sometimes, I have received a House bill and felt it wasn’t exactly the way I would have written it, but it’s not worth amending and forcing the House author to run it again in the House. Sometimes, I have completely and utterly rewritten the bill (with the House author’s acquiescence) either because I didn’t like it at all, or because I needed to do so in order to pass the Senate. In this case, though the operative language of the bill amounted to just about one paragraph, we ran into so much trouble that a rewrite became necessary.
 
The original version passed the House on March 7th by a vote of 80-8. Over in the Senate, it was assigned to the Education and Appropriations committees. This meant it had to run a gauntlet of two committees, which is more than most bills. Such assignments are made when a bill has even the hint of spending money. The money to be spent in this bill was entirely voluntary and at the school district level (as opposed to money that would have been appropriated in the state budget), but it was still enough to trigger the double assignment.
 
On March 28, I presented HB 2967 in Education Committee. This original version was markedly different than the final one. It limited the application to districts with a high proportion of students either on free or reduced lunch, or with a high proportion of minority students. It allowed districts to pay the student teachers like a teacher, as well as sign a contract for the ensuing year. I received a blizzard of questions from the committee. Some were concerned that all districts weren’t allowed to do this. Some were concerned at paying student teachers as much as a teacher. Some were concerned about paying student teachers who might not stay. Some articulated that the point of the bill seemed to be to incentivize student teachers to enter low income districts, but their view was that student teachers don’t get a say in where they are assigned. One of the most concerned Senators was Clark Jolley, who also happened to be chair of the Appropriations Committee that HB 2967 was also assigned to. At the conclusion of all the questioning, and after I had struck title (yesterday I explained that striking title is a gesture to show that you recognize your bill needs work), I asked the committee to pass the bill with the understanding that if a new version doesn’t please Senator Jolley, then he clearly wouldn’t hear it in Appropriations (yesterday I also explained that committee chairs have absolute authority to hear or not hear a bill). This argument seemed to work and it passed.
 
Following that meeting, I worked with Hofmeister’s staff on a new, simpler version to address all the concerns raised in Education Committee. It was certainly watered-down, but it still accomplished some things. Under current law, districts can’t sign a contract with a student teacher. Now they could. Perhaps that would help concert student teachers turn into real teachers. Also, districts couldn’t offer a signing bonus while the student teacher was still a student teacher. Though to address concerns articulated in committee, the district couldn’t really pay the bonus unless the teacher stayed a year, maybe this would help, too. The alternative was to abandon the bill, but it seemed like a little improvement was better than none, and considering the importance of the teacher shortage issue, it was worth the effort.
 
Let me digress for a moment and say that I don’t think state law should even address these issues. I think school districts ought to be able to decide when they can sign a contract with student teachers and whether they get a signing bonus without ever having to ask the Legislature. The Legislature should be focused on a much bigger picture. The level of micromanaging that we do in state statute of education (and all agencies) is unreal. It’s to the point where agencies feel they need a state law authorizing them to do things even when the statute doesn’t bar them from doing those things. Our statutes could be cut in half if we would just give folks a little autonomy, but we’ve been on this path for a very long time and I’m not sure how to get us on a different one without starting all over or getting in a time machine to 1907. End of digression.
 
And so we proceeded to Appropriations Committee with our new version on April 6. Hofmeister’s staff had consulted with Jolley, and he approved it. It passed without much fanfare, though the Democrats suddenly locked-up against it. I never really found out why, although I presumed it was some sort of political statement about the teacher shortage being the Republicans’ problem.
 
On April 14, I presented it on the Senate floor. I had to file an amendment to restore the title, but otherwise, I didn’t change it. It passed 31-10. Because we had amended it in the Senate, it had to go back to the House. There, it passed 90-2 on May 17th. The Governor signed it on May 24th. It had an emergency clause, which means it is now law.
 
Emergency clauses are routinely misreported because the language is so extreme. Here is the Legislature’s standard emergency clause: “It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval.”
 
Was this bill really necessary for the peace, health and safety of the public? No, it’s legalese, and I wish we had language that was a little softer. But the end result is that the bill takes effect immediately upon the signature of the Governor, rather than a later date.
 
I fully recognize that the number one challenge to securing and keeping quality teachers is the pay. That’s why I introduced a comprehensive package of bills in January to give all teachers a $10,000 raise. But that did not succeed. I remain hopeful a teacher pay raise lies ahead, but in the meantime, I hope HB 2967 helps the situation a little bit.
 
 
Tomorrow, we’ll continue with another episode of #11BillsIn11Days.