Witt: Special Session addresses police reform, COVID-19 relief
The Oregon Legislature held a historic Special Session at the end of June, with committee work being held virtually and floor sessions adhering to COVID-19 social distancing requirements.
We responded to the needs of Oregonians impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, demands for police reforms and took up other important legislation in the 24 bills passed in the three-day special session.
Of course, I work on issues and bills that are important to all of Oregon, but as always, my sharpest focus is on what matters most for the people and communities of House District 31.
As Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, I was pleased to sponsor and co-carry SB 1602 in the House Chamber. This legislation, negotiated by Governor Brown with timber interests and environmental and fish coalitions, signals the potential end of the decades-long so-called "timber wars." Both sides agreed to mediation to work toward a habitat conservation plan, and pursue changes to the Oregon Forest Practices laws and regulations that are driven by science with federal assurances so they will be more durable. SB 1602 makes changes to notification and reporting of aerial spraying of pesticides, and increases buffer zones around streams, bringing them in line with other western states. I was pleased to see unanimous support in the House on a bill that will end initiative petitions and costly litigation between the two groups, putting them on a path that benefits all Oregonians.
HB 4206 authorizes a state meat inspection program which would increase the ability of small independent family farmers and producers to access certified meat processing plants. This program will support Oregon meat producers and consumers in these times when the food supply chain has been tested by the coronavirus pandemic. My amendment to the bill bans consideration of horse meat for processing. Scott Beckstead with the Humane Society of the United States testified in favor of HB 4206, pointing out that additional processing facilities actually improve animal welfare by creating shorter and better transfer conditions for animals on their way to processing. This legislation received unanimous support in both chambers of the legislature.
I've heard from hundreds of HD 31 citizens who are struggling with the economic impacts of the pandemic. In addition to helping them on unemployment claims, I voted in favor of these coronavirus bills which will be a lifeline for many.
COVID-19-related legislation included:
HB 4213 extends the grace period for residential and commercial evictions due to nonpayment. The eviction moratorium was set to expire June 30, but is now extended to September 30, 2020, followed by a six-month repayment period where a tenant may not be evicted for failure to repay their back rent, but their ongoing monthly rent must be paid. While I recognize the need to keep people in their homes, this bill was not perfect and I introduced an amendment to help landlords in case of non-payment due to the eviction moratorium. My amendment would have required the Oregon Stability Council to reimburse the landlord for the non-payment balance, transferring any claims of the non-payment balance to the department, and repaying any amount the landlord receives from the tenant or on the tenant's behalf. Although the amendment wasn't adopted, it is a concept that I will continue to support going forward.
SB 1606 affirms the rights of persons with developmental disabilities seeking care at hospitals. This bill provides new protections for disabled patients so their admission is not conditioned on signing an end-of-life agreement before being admitted to the hospital and they will also be able to access personal support persons.
HB 4212 can be described as an omnibus package of COVID-19-related actions, and importantly, it included Cares Act repayment protection to keep vulnerable Oregonians who receive federal CARES ACT Recovery Rebate payments from having portions of those payments withheld. This means that all relief money can be used to pay for essential needs like housing, food and medical expenses. Payments are protected from any garnishment actions initiated before September 30, 2020.
Bills related to police reforms received wide bipartisan support, including HB 4207, which establishes a public statewide online database of suspensions and revocations of police officer certifications. HB 4201 establishes a Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force, which will meet over the next few months and be make legislative recommendations for the 2021 legislative session.
By working together to find common ground, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle managed to get a lot of work done in the three-day session. Most of the 24 bills passed during this first 2020 Special Session passed with unanimous support or only a few voting against them. There will be another Special Session this summer we will take up issues to rebalance the state's budget due to revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic-related economic downturn.
I really appreciate all the outreach from constituents, which always help shape my decision making. I rely on input from people in House District 31 to be able to better meet the needs of my friends and neighbors.
As is the case with many public spaces, the Capitol Building remains closed to the public, but my office staff and I monitor our email and phone daily, and we are working to assist constituents. If you need help or have an issue or concern please feel free to contact my office.
Representative Brad Witt, House District 31
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