Legislative zeal may be waning for an anticipated third special session in late September. No consensus has yet formed on the two big issues still on the table – employer COVID-19 liability protection and presumptive eligibility for workers’ compensation. Many lawmakers seem interested in avoiding these politically divisive issues just before the November election.
Lawmakers in their one-day August special session rebalanced the state budget, enacted further policing reforms and eased access to unemployment benefits, passing 11 bills in just 15 hours. Governor Brown since then has extended the state’s foreclosure moratorium until the end of the year.
What might change legislative attitudes toward another special session is congressional action on another coronavirus financial relief package that contains aid to states, local governments and school districts, which lawmakers would have to divvy out. Negotiations are stalemated at the moment, but there are rustlings toward a deal, though most likely n
ot as large as the $3.2 trillion measure passed by the Democratically controlled House.
Another factor in special session strategy will be the next state economic forecast, which will be formally presented to lawmakers September 23. A sharp drop in tax revenue that could reopen a state budget hole might persuade legislative leaders of the need to reconvene and make further cuts.
Business interests have continued to push for liability protection from lawsuits by workers who contract COVID-19 even though their employers can demonstrate they followed all Centers for Disease Control and state public health guidelines. Limited liability protection, which could extend to school districts and nonprofits, also has been sought at the federal level and is expected to appear in some form in the GOP-controlled Senate relief package.
What might change legislative attitudes toward another special session is congressional action on another coronavirus financial relief package that contains aid to states, local governments and school districts, which lawmakers would have to divvy out.
Presumptive eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits for employees who contract COVID-19 has been pushed by organized labor. Business lobbyists have opposed the concept, saying it would alter longstanding eligibility requirements and result in a spike in claims and higher workers’ compensation insurance rates for employers.
Legislative Democrats have blocked passage of employer liability protection in previous special sessions. They might be inclined to approve some form of workers’ compensation presumptive eligibility, but not at the risk of having their Republican counterparts boycott the next special session.
All that’s clear is that Legislative Days, when lawmakers gather for committee hearings, have been scheduled for a full week from September 21-25. The economic forecast would be released in the middle of the week. That schedule theoretically could allow a legislative compromise on liability protection and/or presumptive workers’ compensation eligibility and further budget-cutting to occur in a special session held during the latter part of the week.
Other notable recent state activity includes:
- A second attempt by the Oregon Republican Party to recall Brown has failed to gather the required number of signatures.
- Oregon has applied for and been approved to receive Lost Wages Assistance program authorized by a presidential executive order. That means Oregonians receiving or eligible to receive unemployment benefits from July 26 through August 15 and who self-certify they remain unemployed or partially unemployed because of the coronavirus will receive $300 per week in federal payments. The Oregon Employment Department told lawmakers it hopes to have the checks processed and sent by late September.