Oregon lawmakers to meet in special session next week
The Oregon Legislature will consider bills to tighten police violence and address the COVID-19 crisis starting next Wednesday.
"We are at a unique moment in America. I am calling a special session to take up two urgent issues facing our state: the COVID-19 pandemic and police accountability," Gov. Kate Brown said in calling the session on June 16. "It's imperative that the Legislature take action on these issues right away."
Brown also said she would call a second special session to rebalance the state budget later this summer.
"In the meantime, I am finalizing a list of $150 million general fund savings for this biennium, to be released by the end of this week as part of my efforts to put Oregon's budget on better footing."
A list of action items are already being circulated among the party caucuses in the House and Senate. Topping the list are bills dealing with police accountability prepared by the nine-member People of Color Caucus and supported by Brown and Democratic legislative leaders in the aftermath of death of George Floyd on May 25 that sparked ongoing street protests in Portland and other cities.
One bill would bar a labor arbitrator from reducing discipline against a police officer if the employing agency concluded there was misconduct on the officer's part. This bill has passed the Senate twice without dissent in 2019 and 2020, but failed to reach a vote in the House before the abrupt close of the 2020 session on March 5.
Others may prove to be more controversial. There are proposals to set up a statewide database for police disciplinary cases; designate the attorney general, instead of district attorneys, to investigate police when use of force results in death or serious injuries; require police to report misbehavior by other police; and outlaw the use of chokeholds, tear gas and other methods.
Brown also said she will propose legislation related to several of her pandemic-related policies, including the temporary eviction moratorium and protecting federal emergency CARES Act payments from garnishment.
Others action items are bills that were proposed but failed to advance in the 2020 session. One of them would make technical changes in the commercial activity tax that Oregon lawmakers enacted in 2019. Business groups have urged a suspension of the tax for the first two quarters of 2020, but Brown has declined so far to do so. The tax funds the Student Success Act.
The Department of Revenue did defer payments by the smallest businesses subject to the tax to April 2021, and it will not penalize businesses for late reports if they show good-faith efforts.
Another bill would adjust deadlines for court cases, particularly for some crimes that are subject to speedy-trial requirements. The courts do not have the legal authority to change the deadlines, which were affected when courts curtailed operations during the pandemic.
Once a session is underway, issues are not limited, but legislative leaders can control the flow of bills through the committee system. Unless an agreement is reached in advance, there is no limit on how long a special session may last.
Oregon has had 41 special legislative sessions since statehood, ranging from one to 37 days; the longest during the 1982 recession. More than half of them (22) have taken place since 1980. The governor has called all but three of them, although legislators called themselves into session in 2008 and 2010 to test the concept of annual sessions. Voters decided in 2010 to move to annual sessions; only four states still have legislatures that meet every other year.
NOTE: Updated Tuesday after governor makes special session call official.
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