Republicans bluff, Democrats blink
What's the going cost for student success?
Last week it became clear the price tag was more cases of childhood measles and more unsafe guns in the homes of children.
There are times when politics, widely regarded as the art of the possible, looks a little more tawdry than that. This is one of those times.
Democrats in Oregon came into this legislative session with big majorities and big priorities. Three of them were: Billions more for our poorly functioning K-12 public schools; an end to non-medical exemptions for school children to get immunized against measles, mumps and rubella; and the closing of safety loopholes for firearms.
The Student Success Act is the work product of a bipartisan, bicameral committee that toured the state in recent months, seeking answers to the biggest woes facing our public schools, including low graduation rates. That committee came to the solution of a tax package that would provide an additional $1 billion per year for public schools, and a business tax to pay for it. The business community is split on supporting and opposing it. The bill passed the House.
Then Republicans — minorities in both chambers — came up with a chess maneuver in the Senate. They refused to show up for work. Without a quorum in the chamber, the Senate could not vote. Not even for a bill to support public schools.
After almost a week of this, Democrats on May 13 fell for the bluff and folded much stronger hands. They gave up House Bill 3063, which would eliminate the religious and philosophical exemptions that parents can use to avoid getting their children immunized. The bill, which passed the House with bipartisan support, has drawn extremely emotional responses from parents who believe — incorrectly — that immunizations are linked to a wide array of illnesses, including autism. It doesn't matter how many times those myths are debunked, crying parents with wailing children besieged the capitol for weeks.
On May 13, they got their way. The bill is dead.
Also on May 13: news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the 2019 measles outbreak has hit 839 people – an increase of 75 cases from the previous week. This for a disease that was eradicated in the United States at the turn of the century.
Also dead was Senate Bill 978, which offered an array of gun-violence prevention measures, including the requirement that guns be locked when stored in the home, and an increase in the legal age of purchase a gun to 21.
A billion bucks a year for schools is not chump change. We do not deny the importance of this measure. We support efforts to improve school performance. This is a good thing.
But caving on the bad science of the "anti-vaxxer" movement is shameful. Those who support killing the bill claim "big government" is telling parents how to raise their children.
No. Immunizations against treatable diseases were one of the great success stories of the 20th century. Vaccines work and are safe. And parents who choose not to vaccinate their children based on Internet scare tactics, Hollywood starlets or Russian trolls, put every other kid at risk.
Can you image parents besieging the capitol to bemoan speed limits or child car seat requirements?
"When my child is in the car, I want to drive at 100 miles per hour on city streets. The government can't tell me how to protect my child. Yes, driving like a madman may endanger the lives of other children, but that's not my concern. If my child is endangered, that's my business, not the government's."
Meanwhile, nearly 100 Americans die by gunfire every day, and hundreds more are injured. Rules on the safe storage of firearms would make any household with children safer.
Which is why it's galling that the price tag to fund our children's education is more measles for children and more children in homes with unsecured guns.
Sometimes politics is the art of the possible.
Other times, it's just makes you queasy.
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