Oregon’s third special session this year will be a one-day get-together on Monday to authorize $800 million in financial aid to restaurants and bars, landlords and tenants and wildfire preparedness. Money also would be set aside for COVID-19 expenses. The special session will take place as the first COVID-19 vaccinations are underway in Oregon and throughout the nation.
Governor Brown announced the special session at a press briefing Monday. Legislative leaders from both political parties signaled support for the aid proposed by Brown. “There’s a lot to do…tenants, landlords, schools, food security,” said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. “We’ll get it done.” “The third special session will give needed relief to hurting Oregonians,” Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, R-Lyons, said in a statement that added Republicans would push for increased liability protections for hospital systems in the 2021 legislative session that convenes next month.
As opposed to spending $800 million, the main concern related to Monday’s session may be meeting in person at the State Capitol. Marion County remains classified as an “extreme risk” for the spread of the coronavirus, which under orders by Brown require masks in public spaces and limit the size of gatherings. During the June special session, some senators refused to wear masks during floor sessions.
Democrats have pushed for virtual sessions, but House rules don’t allow virtual floor sessions to vote on bills. House Republicans objected to suspending the prohibition, fearing it could open the floodgates to other legislative proposals that have been floated.
According to Democratic sources, lawmakers will consider four separate bills on Monday:
- A $200 million spending authorization to provide relief to landlords who haven’t received rent payments while an eviction moratorium has been in effect. It also may extend the moratorium, which ends December 31, until June 30.
- A relief package for restaurants and bars that would legalize cocktails to-go and limit fees by third-party delivery services.
- Transferring $600 million to the state’s Emergency Fund to cover COVID-19 and wildfire prevention costs.
- Limited liability protection for public schools from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
Extending the eviction moratorium has been viewed as in trouble in the Senate. Offering landlords financial relief may be enough to pass the moratorium extension. The proposed $200 million would be split with $150 million for landlord compensation and $50 million to existing rental relief programs administered by Oregon Housing and Community Development. The eviction moratorium extension may be limited to renters who can demonstrate financial hardship related to the pandemic. Advocates for minority renters are urging stronger protections, especially for Black renters. A proposal to extend the moratorium on foreclosures didn’t make the cut for the special session agenda.
Liability protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits has been a point of contention in Congress as well as in the Oregon legislature. Major business groups nationally and here have pressed for protection. Democratic opposition has been a factor in stalling another coronavirus financial relief package, leading to a potential compromise that places limited protections in a separate bill along with financial aid to states and local governments, which Republicans have opposed. Oregon lawmakers expect opposition from some parent groups who worry liability protection may result in less than adequate protection for children when schools begin to reopen.
Extending the eviction moratorium has been viewed as in trouble in the Senate. Offering landlords financial relief may be enough to pass the moratorium extension.
Shifting money to the Emergency Fund makes it easier for lawmakers to dole out aid through the Legislative Emergency Board, which meets when the legislature is not in session and can meet and vote virtually. The intention is to allow spending for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, wildfire victim relief, coronavirus testing and contact tracing and assisting unemployed workers and small businesses. Two-thirds of the $600 million transferred to the Emergency Fund would go for coronavirus financial relief and vaccine distribution. Around $100 million would go to wildfire preparedness and the remaining $100 million would be reserved for future emergency use.
Brown also announced this week businesses with less than $5 million in annual gross receipts that have suffered losses because of the pandemic may extend payments on their 2019 income taxes for up to 36 months without penalties and interest. Brown extended the due date for amusement device taxes derived from state lottery machines, a move designed to help struggling restaurants and bars.