SALEM, Ore. — A state lawmaker representing part of southern Oregon has introduced a bill designed to limit Governor Kate Brown's power to shut down businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Representative David Brock Smith's district covers parts of Curry, Coos, Douglas, and Josephine counties. House Bill 3177, the "Covid Business Equity Act," would explicitly limit the Governor's power to impose restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and other fitness establishments — unless those restrictions apply to all businesses broadly.
Rep. Brock Smith highlighted the job losses in the hospitality sector as the major impetus for the bill.
"These business owners, their hardworking employees and their families have faced extreme hardships with devastating delays in business relief, unemployment insurance payments, with little to no income and no relief in sight," Brock Smith said in a statement. "Many of these restaurants and hospitality industry businesses will close their doors forever, taking these jobs with them. Further, the majority of these impacted Oregonians are the most vulnerable working families across our state."
In Oregon counties at the higher end of the state's risk level guidance, restaurants and gyms face significant restrictions on indoor activities. For restaurants and bars, this means no indoor service in "Extreme Risk" counties.
HB 3177 carves out space for the Governor to continue requiring masking, physical distancing, physical barriers, and other restrictions that are "generally applicable to all types of businesses." However, it would prevent Governor Brown from establishing restrictions on these sectors that don't apply across all sectors.
Though restaurants and gyms have certainly seen the toughest restrictions of any businesses in the state, the guidance produced by Governor Brown's office and the Oregon Health Authority includes tailored rules for a number of sectors, both private and public. As a result, it's unclear how Brock Smith's bill — if passed — would interact with a complex system of restrictions that doesn't neatly break down into eating establishments, fitness centers, and everything else.
“Us legislators have been telling our constituents that while not in session, we have no authority to intervene on the Governor’s Executive Orders related to the Covid-19 emergency, subsequent mandates and their closures. We have now begun the ’21 Legislative Session and it is past time for the legislative branch to assert our responsibility; and I would argue the obligation, in guiding policy and lead in this work for the residents that put us here to do so,” said Brock Smith.
The lawmaker urged people to email their legislators in support of the bill. HB 3177 is currently on the House Speaker's desk, awaiting referral.