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City resolution intended to protect businesses trying to follow COVID mandates from state sanctions

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - A city resolution is intended to protect businesses trying to follow COVID mandates from state sanctions.

The Prineville City Council hopes to pass a resolution that will give additional legal protection to businesses as they try to follow COVID guidelines.

Resolution 1474 was passed by the council this past Tuesday during a regular business meeting held virtually because of the pandemic.

"The resolution finds that business owners and persons complying with the Temporary Oregon OSHA COVID-19 (rules) are taking reasonable precautions to minimize the spread and exposure of the coronavirus and should not face legal sanctions, even if those actions are inconsistent with executive orders related to COVID-19," the council explained in a statement.

The council added that the resolution "does not in any way advocate for any person to not follow state law."

The resolution was spurred by local residents who asked the council to find a way to provide protection for business owners who are trying to follow the state guidelines. The council, in turn, asked City Attorney Jered Reid to investigate what options the city had available.

"I presented those to the council, and they decided to go forth," Reid said.

Unlike most resolutions the city passes on a regular basis, Resolution 1474 requires a circuit court ruling to achieve the desired effect.

"It needs to be validated by the circuit court," Reid said.

Reid filed a petition with the Crook County Circuit Court in late January, and until Feb. 23, people can file an answer to that petition.

"If somebody wants to object to the validity of the resolution, they would have until that timeline to file an answer and they would be heard by the circuit court judge at the hearing," he explained. "We have a hearing set for March 25."

The circuit court will ultimately decide if the resolution can legally provide the intended protection to business owners.

"We are asking the court to make a ruling of the validity of the resolution itself," Reid said. "The circuit court has to say yes, the city council can pass this type of resolution and this resolution has legal validity."

If the resolution is valid, then business owners facing state sanctions for violating COVID-19 rules could utilize it in certain evidentiary hearings.

As this effort takes place, Crook County remains in the "extreme" risk category, which prohibits restaurants from offering dine-in services and occupation of other indoor recreation or entertainment establishments.

Prineville Mayor Jason Beebe and Crook County Judge Seth Crawford sent a letter to the governor's office in mid-January requesting a relaxation of those rules.

"To my knowledge, there has been no direct response to that letter," Reid said.

However, some recent rule changes have been made. One allows patrons to enter establishments with video lottery and gamble, and another change allows up to six people to exercise in a gym or fitness center.

Vicky Ryan, local emergency preparedness coordinator, said that Crook County will likely remain in the "extreme" risk category until at least mid-March, based on recent COVID case data.

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