SALEM, Ore. — Oregon's second legislative Special Session of 2020 ended on its first day after lawmakers worked late into the night — accomplishing major shifts in the state budget to accommodate a more than $1 billion revenue shortfall due to COVID-19, in addition to bills addressing unemployment claims and police accountability.
Democrats in the Oregon House and Senate said that the new budget preserved "critical services" — namely education, health care, and public safety. Lawmakers cut more than $400 million from various state agencies, while plugging in another $400 million in emergency funds from the Education Stability Fund, the Associated Press reported.
"Access to food and Medicaid are untouched, and we continue to invest in affordable housing and homeless services. Additionally, domestic violence services and child welfare will receive complete funding to do their seriously necessary work," said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego. “This budget rebalance was no easy task and no decision came lightly. Going forward, Oregon will need to continue to stay flexible as we learn more about the economic impacts of COVID-19."
In the immediate follow-up to the session, Republicans did not voice widespread criticism of the rebalanced budget, but took shots at Democrats' decision to keep public testimony out of the whirlwind process.
"At the end of the day our budget is balanced, but Democrats made the unprecedented decision to deny access to Oregonians, not even allowing for remote public testimony," said House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby. "The lack of public access to this process is unacceptable, and the people of Oregon deserve better.”
Lawmakers also passed House Bill 4301, which bans the police use of chokeholds and other forms of force that impede breathing or circulation "except for instances of self-defense." The bill was championed by the legislature's Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Caucus.
“This bill continues the work of supporting a new concept of policing in the State of Oregon,” said Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland. “For many in marginalized communities, this is part of the first step. We have a long way to go.”
Democrats applauded the passage of bills that promise to streamline the unemployment process for the underemployed who have been trying to access benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, but mourned the loss of Senate Bill 1702 which sought to help teachers more quickly navigate the unemployment process — a bill that died in committee before arriving on the Senate floor.
This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.