In late June, the Legislative Assembly met in an emergency Special Session and passed legislation improving police accountability and helping Oregonians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The needs of Oregonians during this public health crisis are numerous. During this Special Session, Senate Democrats prioritized giving renters greater housing security, providing protections against foreclosures, protecting vulnerable COVID-19 patients and safeguarding Oregonians' CARES Act relief dollars.
Most notably, this Special Session took place during a national uprising. In every part of our state, Oregonians have loudly demanded that we take on issues of police accountability and transparency. Communities across Oregon have demanded that we improve the safety of Black and Brown Oregonians, address injustice and take critical steps toward dismantling systemic racism.
In response, Senate Democrats have centered the work and lived experiences of the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Caucus. With the BIPOC Caucus' leadership we passed necessary police accountability reforms and said, unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter.
In the Senate, Senator James Manning (D-Eugene) and Senator Lew Frederick (D-Northeast Portland) were instrumental leaders.
Senator Manning has pointed out that this movement and unceasing calls for action are not a product of recent events alone, but a product hundreds of years in the making. He has shared time and again that prejudice, oppression, deprivation, indifference, lack of empathy and repression are all symptoms of hate. To counter that hate, we must fight for justice.
Senator Frederick has noted two key issues which have caused the lack of faith in our law enforcement: accountability and trust. And we cannot deny that both are broken. I believe decision makers at every level too often lack accountability and trust with those they seek to serve, across institutions we must work to earn credibility and build faith.
As Senate Majority Leader, I was grateful to support Senators Manning and Frederick's work within the BIPOC Caucus to put forward and pass six proposals to improve policing. The police accountability suite of legislation included policies to hold officers who commit misconduct accountable, to ensure fairness in investigations of the use of force as well as limits on the use of chokeholds by police. In addition, Senate Democrats made a long overdue commitment to act against racism and institutionalized oppression.
Looking ahead, we have further challenges. The Governor needs to call an additional emergency special session to deal with our budget shortfall to ensure we can fund the vital services Oregonians depend on like education and healthcare. In addition, we must maintain a constant and unwavering commitment to equity as we weigh each budget and policy decision. Centuries of systemic racism touch each of our institutions; we must continuously examine, critique and change our system so that it works for everyone.
As leader of the Senate Democrats, I am committed to action. I see the changes enacted by the First Special Session of 2020 as just a start on a long path to equality, equity and justice. This is the beginning of critical change for Oregon and within the Legislature. I will ensure our efforts are sustained because this work must be ongoing.
Rob Wagner is the Oregon Senate majority leader and represents District 19, which includes Lake Oswego, West Linn, Tualatin, southwest Portland, Rivergrove and Durham.
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