Oregon legislators concluded their special session Friday evening, after a day of marathon lawmaking that more closely resembled the end of a monthslong session than the three-day affair they’d just gone through.
Over the course of nine hours, the chambers took up a combined 22 bills dealing with policing reforms, coronavirus relief and a hodgepodge of other subjects.
“I didn’t think we could accomplish this special session,” Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said shortly after his chamber had adjourned for the last time. “We were making it up as we went along and we were struggling.”
Bills to limit police use of chokeholds and tear gas received wide bipartisan support, as did four other bills passed in the wake of nationwide protests against police abuse and racism.
More contentious were bills aimed at easing burdens on renters and homebuyers who’ve seen their income plummet in the pandemic, as well as a bill extending an existing phone tax to cellphone carriers.
“We can’t solve every problem, but I think we’ve made huge steps in listening to Oregonians and trying to make things better,” House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said Friday night.
Even with those disagreements, the tenor in the Capitol bore little resemblance to recent legislative sessions that have seen Republicans walking away from the building repeatedly in protest. The session might have gone far longer had the parties not agreed to rules changes allowing bills to be fast-tracked.
Things were not all smooth, however. Because of the pandemic, legislators were forced to adopt several social distancing measures. Those steps slowed the legislative progress and prevented the public from entering the Capitol to observe the session.
Here are some of the more notable bills headed to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown:
Six police accountability bills were at the forefront of the special session. Nearly all the bills were substantively changed over the course of the session and saw little controversy among lawmakers in their final forms.
Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, has been working on revamping police practices for years, and he played a key role in crafting the bills. And he said the six bills passed by the Legislature were just a start.
“I want to be clear,” Frederick said, “we still have much work to do … to get to a place where our communities can genuinely feel safe around those who are sworn to serve and protect them.”
The measures are:
Senate Bill 1604: Makes it harder for arbitrators to overturn police disciplinary findings, if the arbitrator concurs that misconduct occurred and disciplinary policies were followed. This bill was strongly opposed by Oregon police unions.
House Bill 4201: Establishes Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform. The panel is supposed to make recommendations by the end of the year for additional legislative action. This bill was initially intended to put police shooting investigations in the hands of the Oregon Department of Justice, but was altered on Thursday.
House Bill 4203: Bans use of chokeholds except in situations where using deadly force is warranted.
House Bill 4208: Allows use of tear gas only after police announce they intend to use it and requires police give people time to disperse. Police must first declare a riot is occurring under Oregon law before using tear gas.
House Bill 4205: Requires officers to take action to prevent or report a fellow officer engaged in misconduct.
House Bill 4207: Requires state to maintain public records on police discipline that law enforcement agencies around the state must check when hiring an officer.
Lawmakers have been working since March on concepts for helping out Oregonians impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, but Brown refused to convene the Legislature until this week. Bills that address the pandemic proved the most contentious of the session, though Republicans were largely unsuccessful at halting provisions they disagree with.
House Bill 4213: Extends the state’s moratorium on residential and commercial evictions, which was set to expire on June 30. Instead, evictions will now be banned in most cases until Sept. 30. Renters will have until March 31, 2021, to pay back unpaid rent, but will be expected to pay current rents accrued beginning Oct. 1.
House Bill 4204: A companion of sorts to the eviction ban, this bill prohibits lenders from pursuing foreclosures against homeowners and other borrowers through Sept. 30. Gov. Kate Brown has authority to extend the moratorium past that date. Missed payments will be due at the end of a borrower’s loan term, if some other arrangement is not made with the lender.
House Bill 4212: This was a sweeping “omnibus” bill that included a wide variety of provisions. They include allowing state courts to delay jury trials while a defendant is in custody, easing requirements for siting homeless shelters and ensuring taxpayers’ payments under the CARES Act cannot be garnished.
Senate Bill 1606: Creates new protections for disabled patients to ensure they are not forced to sign end-of-life agreements when entering the hospital and are able to access personal support.
Lawmakers took the opportunity of the special session to pass a wide array of bills that failed during the 2020 regular session, which ended in a standoff over a bill meant to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Senate Bill 1602: This bill creates new requirements for aerial pesticide spraying by timber companies. It is part of a watershed deal between Oregon timber companies and environmental groups over how the state’s forests should be managed.
Senate Bill 1603: Extends an existing tax on phone service to cellphone providers and allocates up to $5 million a year toward expanding broadband service in rural areas.
Senate Bill 1605: Increases state standards for out-of-state residential facilities that are able to house Oregon foster children. The bill allows children who are sent for care out of state to access Oregon financial assistance for community college.
House Bill 4210: Ensures that a person’s Oregon driving privileges cannot be suspended because they have failed to pay off traffic fines. The bill is aimed at ensuring low-income Oregonians are not put in an untenable position because they cannot pay for a ticket. Kicks in on Oct. 1.