The Oregon Legislature wrapped up the Second Special Session of 2020 shortly after 11:15 p.m. on Monday, re-balancing budgets in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, helping workers struggling to get their unemployment benefits and strengthening police accountability measures, according to a release from Oregon House Democrats.
“Budgets are values documents, and I’m proud to lead a caucus who embarked on the incredibly challenging work demanded of us by the COVID-19 pandemic guided by equity, compassion and fairness," House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner (D-Portland) said. "We were able to protect the critical services that families need most: education, health care, and the safety of our communities."
Warner said the session was also an opportunity to address historic wrongs and help those Oregonians who have been desperately waiting on the backlogged unemployment system.
Additional measures to address police use of force and end the practice of choke holds is a critical next step and continues driving the work of dismantling racist structures, Warner said.
Legislators moved forward two measures that will help streamline and support working Oregonians struggling with their unemployment insurance during this pandemic, Warner said.
“Disappointment does not begin to describe my feelings however about the failure of Senate Bill 1702 –a measure designed to help Oregonians who work in public and private educational institutions overcome a unique roadblock in the unemployment process," Warner said, who added that the measure would have not only helped those workers but many others whose claims are awaiting adjudication.
"It’s a shame that Senate Republicans prioritize politics over people," Warner said.
According to Warner, Oregon legislators are doing all that they can to ensure an equitable recovery, but that the scale of the crisis highlights the critical need for further federal action to support state investments in essential services that provide safety and security for all Oregonians, including the state’s most vulnerable populations.
"I continue to call for meaningful federal action." Warner said.
Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) said during incredibly difficult and uncertain circumstances, the Legislature came together and took a thoughtful approach to re-balance the state budget.
"We preserved funding for critical public services, including education, health care, child welfare, housing and economic development," Kotek said. "We invested more than $50 million to build desperately needed affordable housing, and more than $30 million for critical water infrastructure projects in Warm Springs, Salem, and Sweet Home."
Kotek said legislators also built on the recent and long overdue progress to improve police accountability in the state.
"It was particularly significant that we updated Oregon’s obsolete deadly use of force statute to be current with Supreme Court case law," she said.
The legislative action requires officers to use de-escalation as a first resort when reasonably able. In circumstances where non-deadly force must be used, the measure requires that it only be to the degree necessary to prevent imminent injury to a person or accomplish arrest.
"We must keep pushing for more progress, and I look forward to continuing the work put forward by the Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform," Kotek said, adding that she appreciated the progress that has been made to streamline claims for self-employed workers and temporarily raise the income threshold for underemployed Oregonians to receive benefits.
"However, I am appalled that Senate Bill 1702, which would have sped up the process and helped thousands of Oregonians get their benefits faster, failed. This was a missed opportunity that we should come back on. This session is far from the end of long-term conversations to put Oregon on the path to an equitable economic recovery."
Oregon House Republicans Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) issued also issued a statement concerning the special session.
Drazan's statement criticized the lack of transparency and public access during the session in Salem.
“We are the people’s legislature here to do the people’s business," Drazan said. "At the end of the day our budget is balanced, but Democrats made the unprecedented decision to deny access to Oregonians, not even allowing for remote public testimony. The lack of public access to this process is unacceptable, and the people of Oregon deserve better.”
Governor Kate Brown also issued a statement following the conclusion of the special session.
"I'd like to thank legislative leadership, and every member of the Legislature, for carrying out the serious work of the second special session I have called during this pandemic," Brown said. "While we may not agree on all the details, I appreciate that lawmakers protected critical state services including schools, health care, and senior services, while also taking action to tighten belts in state government.
"In the coming days, I will examine closely the details of the bills and the budget the Legislature has passed. I am frustrated that the White House and Congressional Republicans have refused to pass another stimulus bill for the country and I will continue to press for Congressional action. Without direct support from Congress to fill the gap caused by COVID-19, our budget reserves will quickly run dry and we will have to make impossible choices next year when it comes time to pass a budget for the next biennium.
"Lawmakers also passed significant legislation around the use of force by law enforcement officers, taking another step forward on the road toward racial justice. And while I am disappointed that a few legislators blocked passage of a bill to make it easier to pay out unemployment benefits (SB1702), I appreciate that they passed the other bill my administration brought forward, as well as a second policy to support unemployed Oregonians."