State special session deals with policing, pandemic


June 27, 2020 — Gov. Kate Brown called the Oregon Legislature to a special session on June 24 to consider legislative adoption of COVID-19 related executive orders and to consider more comprehensive police oversight measures. 

Brown’s decision to address the issue of police oversight comes in the wake protests surrounding the death of Minnesotan George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Protests have since spread across the country and the state in support of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which has become a vehicle for social action in the exchanges between police and the public.

“We are at a unique moment in America and I am calling a special session to take up two urgent issues facing our state: the COVID-19 pandemic and police accountability,” the governor stated in a release to the press. 

The Oregon Legislature met on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to introduce bills and to accept public testimony on those bills, with plans to continue working through the weekend, if necessary, to consider and pass legislation.

“Several pandemic-related policies that I have implemented via executive order, including the temporary eviction moratorium and protecting CARES Act payments from garnishment, should be codified in statute,” Brown said. “And the public’s call for significant police reform is too urgent to wait until the next regular legislative session. It’s imperative that the Legislature take action on these issues right away.”

The pandemic has wreaked havoc with the state budget and economists from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis have predicted a revenue drop of more than $2.5 billion during the next two-year budget cycle.

One of the uncertainties surrounding this potential budgetary shortfall is what form, and when, anticipated financial support from the federal government will be acted upon in Washington, D.C.

Oregon Senate Minority Leader Sen. Fred Girod believes Brown is directly responsible for the state’s looming budgetary crisis, primarily due to her insistence on shutting down many sectors of the Oregon economy for longer than necessary.

“Gov. Brown’s insistence to keep Oregon’s economy shut down despite flattening the curve weeks ago has cost Oregon billions of dollars of revenue, impacting generations to come,” Girod said in a statement. “This revenue loss could have been mitigated if the governor had been a leader and opened our state weeks ago.”

One of the additional challenges facing lawmakers in Salem has been the need to maintain physical distancing as legislators move about the House and Senate chambers and the policy regarding mask wearing. There have also been concerns for the public as they testify in an anteroom, which has to be repeatedly disinfected between uses.

The House of Representatives has made the wearing of masks mandatory, but the Senate has left the decision up to individual senators to make for themselves. As such, most lawmakers chose to wear masks, with the exception of Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, and Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls.

 One of the main differences between legislators is based around Brown’s hope that there will be additional money coming from the federal government to allow for more money to be allocated to all state agencies. 

According to Brown, “I expect to call a second special session later in the summer to rebalance our state’s budget. In the meantime, I will continue pressing U.S. Congress to support the state and local governments that are reeling from the economic downturn. Unless the federal government takes action, states like Oregon could be forced to make significant cuts to schools, health care, and senior services.”

She said in the meantime, she will finalize $150 million from general fund savings “to put Oregon’s budget on better footing.” She plans to announce this by the end of next week.

The issues raised by violent police encounters nationwide was one of the main reasons cited by Brown in her announcement of the special session. There have been a number of bills introduced this week that attempt to address policies and reporting.

The introduction of H.B. 4201 is a major modification of the reporting procedures expected of police departments. If passed, it would require law enforcement agencies to notify the attorney general when a police officer uses physical force resulting in death or qualifying physical injury. Further, the bill requires the attorney general to appoint a special investigator to lead an investigation upon receipt of notification. It also directs the attorney general to prosecute violations of law related to use of physical force and to release reports from the investigation if criminal proceedings are not initiated. 

In addition, H.B. 4205 would require departments adopt policies requiring officers to stop another police officer from engaging in unethical or illegal acts and H.B. 4207 establishes a statewide database of police officer discipline records. 

All of these proposed measures would require committees to craft bills acceptable to both parties. The debate will continue throughout the weekend and into next week if necessary.

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