Thursday, June 14, 2007

Elections Matter--Even for the Little Things

We've spent endless hours and words talking about the big issues being decided (or not) in the Legislature this session--gay rights, child health care, land-use regulatory reform, corporate taxation, etc. These are the kinds of issues that make the front pages of the daily papers, perhaps get talked about once in a while on local TV, and are the subject of numerous speeches and campaign pieces that follow sine die.

But not every bill that passes under the dome in Salem is a multi-million dollar use of revenue or tries to answer a grand philosophical question. Sometimes all that's necessary is a little common sense, someone who thinks there should be a change and is willing to do something about it, and the ear of a sympathetic lawmaker.

Such is the case with SB 365, a bill that takes a small step towards making college more affordable for everyone, in an area where previously most of the players just shrugged their shoulders and said, "Hey, that's the market--not much we can do for you, kid." Kudos to OSPIRG for suggesting this bill to Sens Morrisette and Walker, with the help of the Oregon Student Association and members of university communities around the state.

So what does the bill do? First, think back to when you were buying college textbooks (especially if you went to college in the last 20 years or so). Remember going to the U-store to get them, and discovering that "the textbook" also included a study guide, a workbook, a supplement, and these days even a CD or DVD? Even though the professor only required the text itself, you were still on the hook to pay for all the extras that came with it. And what about when you returned the books at the end of the semester? Did you ever experience the blow to the expected thickness of your wallet when the clerk said, "Sorry, there's a new edition this year; we won't take that version as a trade-in?"

SB 365 tries to ameliorate those costly problems. First, the bill requires text vendors to essentially un-bundle their packages, not only detailing for universities exactly what materials are included--but allowing them to select only the textbook itself, and showing the price of just the text up front before schools make the decision to require it.

Additionally, for any book or set of books being offered the manufacturer must note the edition and release year for the current volume, AND any previous editions. Armed with this information the empathetic professor can avoid texts that are due to be re-issued soon, or that seem to undergo constant revision.

How much will this affect the average Oregon college student? Maybe not a lot--but if they're spared having to buy just one "textbook bundle" per semester, it could be upwards of $25, $50, or even more depending on the course and subject. And the best part about it is that the relief goes directly to the students, without having to filter down through the system like increased budget allocations or a new scholarship program. If you buy textbooks, and your profs pay attention to what they're doing, this generally unnoticed new law will probably help you out.

And one other thing to think about: do you suppose a Minnis/Scott-led House would have bothered to pass this? I'll give you a hint with two words...the first one is 'fuck;' the second one is 'no.'