With tensions high and tempers short, Oregon lawmakers wrapped up a contentious one-day special session late Monday night by patching a $1.2 billion budget hole, approving further policing reforms and easing access to unemployment benefits for school employees. Lawmakers passed 11 bills in 15 hours.
The budget patch was less painful than anticipated after lawmakers pulled $400 million out of a reserve fund and reclaiming $300 million by not filling a variety of vacant staff positions. The $9 billion K-12 budget was left mostly intact. The Oregon Promise fund that helps students pay for community college coursework took a hit.
State officials initially had looked at budget reductions of 18 percent, but they wound up only cashiering $300 million in state programs. Some of the programs, however, qualified for federal matching funds, which means the actual loss is greater, especially for services to vulnerable populations.
Two Republican senators, joined by Democratic Senator Betsy Johnson, managed to defeat a bill pushed by Governor Brown to speed access to unemployment benefits for school employees. That led to a harsh exchange between Brown, who called out Republicans for defeating the bill, and Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod.
The $9 billion K-12 budget was left mostly intact. The Oregon Promise fund that helps students pay for community college coursework took a hit.
There were bipartisan complaints about a rushed process, the lack of any public comment and closed- door decision-making by a handful of legislators.
Portland Democrats took some shots for not criticizing looting and vandalism in nightly protests. The back-and-forth only ceased when Senate President Peter Courtney threatened to adjourn the session.
There was consensus on House Bill 4301 that further tightens the rules on chokeholds approved during the June special session and narrows circumstances when law enforcement officers can use physical force, including pepper spray and stun guns. Police chiefs, sheriffs and the Oregon State Police supported the bill, which was the result of several weeks of work group negotiations.
Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 1701, which was suggested by Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, to allow unemployed workers to earn up to $300 per week and remain eligible for jobless benefits. The provision may take time to implement because of the complexity of recoding the state’s antiquated computer system used for unemployment compensation.
They also passed Senate Bill 1703 that allows the Department of Revenue to share self-employment data as a way to verify claims under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
Another bill approved during the session will give harassment victims a say in whether their claims move forward to public hearings.
A third special session seems likely after Congress and the White House reach a deal on further coronavirus financial assistance. The $3 trillion package approved in the House provides for nearly $1 trillion in aid to states and local governments, while White House negotiators have proposed $150 billion.
There also is continuing disagreement on extending enhanced unemployment compensation. The House bill extends the $600 per week enhanced payments, while the White House argues for $400 per week payments. After negotiations stalled last week, President Trump issued a series of executive orders, including one to continue enhanced jobless compensation by $400 per week, with states on the hook to pick up one-fourth of the cost. California officials estimated that would cost $700 million per week without any authorized source of revenue to pay it.