Wearing masks and voting in shifts in a nearly empty state Capitol, Oregon lawmakers enacted police reforms, extended renter and homeowner protections, expanded the Oregon Promise program, slapped a universal service charge on cell phones to promote rural broadband access and gave transit agencies spending flexibility in a whirlwind, 3-day special session that ended Friday.
In a session unlike any before in Oregon, legislators conducted remote committee hearings for two days, hammering out compromises in a newly formed 14-member joint committee, before passing 21 policy bills on the House and Senate floors where members voted in shifts as they adhered to COVID-19 social distancing protocols. Only one bill introduced in the special session failed to pass.
Governor Brown says another special session could be called in August to address state budgetary issues resulting from plummeting state tax revenue caused by the economic lockdown this spring. The timing may depend on when and whether Congress moves forward with CARES Act 2 containing financial relief to states and local governments.
Police reforms topped the special session agenda and were the reason for the session’s timing. Major bills passed, but with compromises. Lawmakers restricted what arbiters can decide in police discipline hearings, which backers believe will lead to more police disciplinary actions being upheld. Separate measures restrict, but don’t ban the use of chokeholds by police officers and tear gas for crowd control. Another bill requires police officers to intervene when observing another officer engaging in misconduct.
Legislation also passed requiring the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to establish a statewide online public database of records relating to an officer whose certification has been revoked or suspended.
The most contentious issues, which sparked heated debate, dealt with eviction and foreclosure moratoria. Compromises were reached that will extend the moratorium until September 30 on residential and commercial evictions for failure to pay rent and on missed loan payments. Missed payments will be added to the end of loans.
There was a COVID catch-all bill that allows public bodies to hold meetings remotely, prohibits CARES Act stimulus checks from being subject to garnishment, allows super-siting for certain emergency housing, extends the germination date of maturing enterprise zones, permits the use of Individual Development Accounts to establish emergency savings and widens the scope of practice for physician assistants. The bill also mandates collection of race and ethnicity data on the effects of the coronavirus. A provision sought by business interests to provide immunity from COVID-related legal action failed to make it into the catch-all measure. Amendments dealing with telehealth and insurance mandates also failed.
An omnibus bill relating to children was adopted that expands eligibility for the Oregon Promise program and requires the Department of Human Services to take extra precautions when placing children in out-of-state facilities.
Other legislation gives transit agencies more spending flexibility, prohibits hospitals from discriminating against disabled people seeking medical care, bars suspending drivers’ licenses for failure to pay traffic fines and makes technical fixes to the Corporate Activities Tax, which went into effect in January.
Here is a list with links of the legislation that passed in the special session:
- HB 4201: Originally written to establish the Attorney General’s office as the investigative agency for use-of-force cases, the measure was amended to create the Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform. The committee will work through the interim to bring a package of policing reforms for the 2021 legislative session.
- HB 4202: Makes a series of technical fixes to the newly-implemented Corporate Activities Tax.
- HB 4203: Originally a blanket ban on the use of chokeholds by police, amended to include an exemption for instances where the use of deadly force is justified.
- HB 4204: Prohibits lenders from treating a missed payment through September 30, 2020 from borrowers as a default, and instead adds on missed payments to the end of loans.
- HB 4205: Part of the policing reforms, HB 4205 creates a duty to intervene when police officers observe another officer engaging in misconduct.
- HB 4206: Authorizes the Department of Agriculture to create a statewide program for the inspection of meatpacking facilities and products.
- HB 4207: Requires the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to establish a statewide online public database of records relating to an officer whose certification has been revoked or suspended.
- HB 4208: Prohibits the use of tear gas for crowd control purposes, except in the case of riots. Creates a notification process for officers to attempt to de-escalate a riot prior to using tear gas.
- HB 4209: Allows the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board to create and operate up to 10 programs.
- HB 4210: Provides that drivers licenses can not be suspended for failure to pay traffic-related fines, which disproportionately affects minorities. A bill that failed to pass during the 2020 legislative session.
- HB 4211: Allows the Department of Education to transfer funds.
- HB 4212: A Covid-related catch-all, this bill allows public bodies to hold public meetings remotely, prohibits CARES Act stimulus checks from being subject to wage garnishment, extends timelines for various court proceedings, allows for supersiting authority of certain emergency housing shelters, creates a remote public notary pilot program, extends the termination of Enterprise Zones that would otherwise expire during the pandemic, permits the use of Individual Development Accounts to establish emergency savings, mandates the collection of race and ethnicity data related to effects of Covid, and authorizes Physician Assistants to perform certain tasks.
- HB 4213: One of the more controversial bills to pass during the special session, the bill extends the moratorium on commercial and residential evictions to September 30, 2020.
- HB 4214: Aligns dependency proceedings with certain requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act.
- SB 1601: Provides flexibility to transit providers to use certain monies for existing services.
- SB 1602: Directs the Governor to convene a workgroup tasked with bringing changes to the Oregon Forest Practices Act during the 2021 legislative session. A follow-up to a February 10, 2020 Memorandum of Understanding between timber interests and the environmental community.
- SB 1603: Expands the Universal Service Charge to include cell phones. Money will be used to promote rural broadband services.
- SB 1604: The centerpiece of the police reforms in the special session, the bill restricts the actions available to arbiters in police discipline hearings. Will make it more likely that disciplinary actions are upheld in arbitration. Has unanimously passed the Senate twice before, but failed in the House.
- SB 1605: An omnibus bill relating to children. The bill expands eligibility for the Oregon Promise program, and requires DHS to take extra precautions when placing children in out-of-state facilities.
- SB 1606: Prohibits hospitals from discriminating against individuals with a disability when seeking medical care.
- SB 1607: Extends the timeline for small school districts to receive grants for foreign exchange student housing.
Dale Penn II is a partner and leader of the CFM’s state affairs team. He has been deeply involved in government relations and regulatory affairs in Oregon for more than 15 years and is an advocacy leader in the fields of health care, transportation, human services and general business.