Oregon Legislators pass COVID relief packages in a third special session

The Oregon Legislature reconvened Monday in a third special session to provide relief to Oregonians. Lawmakers came together amidst protests outside the capitol to pass $800 million in COVID and wildfire relief packages.

 

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In a one-day session called to address several pandemic and wildfire related crises, lawmakers were also able to pass protections for schools and to bolster bars and restaurants’ abilities to make money during the current COVID-19 guidelines.

“For the Oregonians who are worried about whether or not they will have a safe place to call home, for the independent restaurant owners who are working to keep their doors open, for the individuals in desperate need of support during the multitude of crises we face, today’s special session will hopefully provide some measure of relief,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner.

Lawmakers funneled $600 million from the state’s general fund to the state’s emergency fund with Senate Bill (SB) 5731. This will allow emergency fund money to be dispensed by a special legislative committee when the legislature is not in session. 

Lawmakers dedicated $400 million to the state’s COVID-19 related costs, like contact tracing and vaccine distribution efforts. They gave another $100 million to funding wildfire relief efforts and wildfire-prevention measures. The last $100 million will be reserved for any unseen needs. 

Senate Bill 5731 comes the same day as the federal government passes a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package.

“I’m grateful that another federal relief bill may be coming, but there is no doubt that further support will be necessary,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner. “I remain hopeful our new presidential administration will make it a priority to support state and local governments.”

Lawmakers also passed House Bill (HB) 4401, which is an extension of the current eviction moratorium that was scheduled to expire on Jan. 1. The new moratorium will now expire on July 1, a 7-month extension. 

House Bill 4401 also creates a $150 million fund to help landlords whose tenants have been unable to pay rent since the start of the pandemic. The measure would allow landlords to seek up to 80 percent of owed rent, but would have to forgive the remaining 20 percent. The bill also allocates $50 million to tenants to help them pay their rent.

“I appreciate the careful crafting of HB 4401 to keep our neighbors housed and offer some immediate relief to landlords who need it most,” said Sen. Lee Beyer. “Taking away housing right now would be wrong, and it would make our existing crises worse.”

Also passed by legislators was SB 1801, which will make two temporary changes to state laws to help independent restaurants. The first change allows restaurants to sell up to two alcoholic drinks or single servings of wine to-go. The second places a 15 percent cap on deliveries and a 5 percent cap on pick-up order fees that third-party delivery apps, like UberEats and DoorDash, can charge restaurants. 

Since March, more than two dozen states have enacted similar policies as a lifeline for restaurants, which traditionally receive most of their profits from alcoholic beverages like cocktails and wine. 

“I believe that setting reasonable rates for food delivery and allowing restaurants to serve cocktails to go is a way that we can give much needed help to businesses in our hospitality sector that are struggling and frankly save an industry that is an iconic part of the Oregon brand,” Rep. Rob Nosse said. 

Lawmakers offered liability protections for schools with HB 4402. This bill will protect schools from COVID-related lawsuits. School officials say that many school districts do not have liability insurance that would cover the risk of the virus. They also added that one lawsuit could financially devastate the district and further prevent the reopening of schools.

“This bill is a needed first step to get schools reopened,” Senate Republican leader Fred Girod said in a statement. “The next steps should be bumping educators further ahead in line for COVID-19 vaccinations to get Oregon kids back in the classroom even sooner.”

Lawmakers however failed to pass COVID-19 liability protections for physicians and a tax-credit for landlords who have had to forego rent. Both of these measures failed to gain adequate support from Democrats. An extension of the foreclosure moratorium also failed to pass.

“I am proud that Oregon’s leaders came together today to pass urgently needed policies to support individuals and families across Oregon,” Wagner said.