Image for House Rules, Technology Limits Complicate Virtual Oregon Lawmaking

House rules are good for casinos, but not so much for Oregon House leaders trying to pass bills. Existing technology isn’t helping, either.

In the pandemic-era of virtual meetings, virtual lawmaking is complicated. Unlike the Oregon Senate, Oregon House rules prevent virtual House floor votes. Adding to the complication are technology limitations at the state Capitol that only allow two virtual legislative hearings at the same time.

In response, the Oregon Senate is holding its last set of pre-session hearings this week and the Oregon House will hold their hearings next week. Perhaps more significant, the legislative Emergency Board agenda for December 11 has been packed with 48 items as a workaround of the House rules.

The expanded role of the Emergency Board, which is co-chaired by the Senate President and House Speaker, has made some political observers uneasy. Decisions on funding are made with little public input. Only invited testimony will be allowed at this week’s session. Minority Republicans have complained they aren’t always clued in on the decisions or the rationale. Some Democrats have voiced a similar concern.

Pressure has intensified for a pre-holiday special legislative session to address pandemic-related issues such as extending the eviction moratorium, distributing what remains of federal relief funds and dipping into reserve funds. If a special session is called, it will occur in the shadow of anticipated congressional action on a year-end, stopgap funding measure and a further federal financial stimulus package, which might contain aid for state and local governments.

There is confusion and contention over what basis to use in convening the special session, which would be the third one this year. At issue is whether the session would be called subject to the catastrophic disaster provision, which has never been invoked since its origin in 2012. It would allow lawmakers to convene virtually to vote on legislation.

Housing advocates are pressing for an extension into next year of the eviction moratorium, while landlords are asking for compensation for lost or delayed rental income, either as direct payments or tax credits. There is a separate proposal to extend the moratorium on foreclosures.

House rules are good for casinos, but not so much for Oregon House leaders trying to pass bills. Existing technology isn’t helping, either.

Other bills being circulated include creation of a state stockpile of personal protective equipment and test kits, allowing bars to sell cocktails-to-go, permitting frontline health workers to share public health data, disconnect tax breaks in the federal CARES Act from Oregon’s tax code and provide limited liability protection for schools for COVID-19-related lawsuits.

The Department of Motor Vehicles is asking for an extension to delay enforcement of lapsed driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. The Employment Department seeks permission to tap its fraud control fund to repay benefit overpayments from FEMA’s Lost Wages Assistance Fund.


The pandemic is creating geographic change. Downtown Portland office space is being deserted for remote offices in Zoom towns with gigabit internet service such as Bend and Sunriver. The migration of the virtually attached may depress commercial real estate while inflating Zoom town home prices. Residential home prices in the Bend area have risen 17 percent in the last year.


Anticipated federal approval of a COVID-19 vaccine this week will activate state plans to begin vaccinating Oregon frontline health care workers and the most vulnerable individuals. Oregon officials expect to receive 147,000 doses this month, which they hope will provide the first of two shots for 100,000 people. Shots in arms will occur as new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Oregon continue to spike. Oregon’s COVID-19 death toll has now surpassed 1,000.


Oregon transportation officials have reviewed 4,600 public comments on a proposed I-205 tolling plan and, not unexpectedly, the idea remains controversial. The mailbag was closed to even more comments. Transportation officials propose a variable tolling system, with higher tolls during morning and afternoon rush hours, which on I-205 consume more than six hours per weekday. They argue the tolls will reduce congestion, allowing smoother traffic flow and “saving” motorists 20 minutes per trip. Commenters expressed frustration with the delay in improvements to bottlenecks such as the Abernethy Bridge. They also indicated tolls will divert traffic and create congestion on local roadways.