Brown calls special session on COVID-19 and police accountability, says state budget discussions will take place during a second special session

Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday morning she will convene a special session of the Oregon State Legislature next week on June 24. During the special session, lawmakers will take action on bills related to the COVID-19 pandemic and police accountability.

“We are at a unique moment in America,” Governor Brown said in a statement. “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. 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.”

 

 

Following the announcement, House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner put out a statement describing these special session priorities as “urgently needed.”

“Our systems of policing are in desperate need of transformation. Meanwhile, the COVID19 pandemic is devastating Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and families at much higher rates, many of whom are serving on the frontlines as essential workers keeping our state afloat. This is only one step in the right direction, but the measures we take up in this special session will help us on the path of rebuilding our state into a place where everyone can thrive,” said Smith Warner.

Last week, the Legislative People of Color (POC) Caucus and a bipartisan group of legislators called on the governor to convene a special session to address police accountability. At the beginning of June, the caucus called on lawmakers to take up at least three specific actions:

  • The POC Caucus requests that the legislature consider a new law that would “prohibit an arbitrator from lessening disciplinary action against a law enforcement officer if the arbitrator and the law enforcement agency determine that the officer has committed misconduct.” The Senate has twice approved related legislation (SB 383 and SB 1567).
  • The caucus is also calling on the Legislature to consider legislation that would require the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute, if the evidence dictates, any death or serious injury resulting from use of force by law enforcement.
  • They request the convening of a bipartisan workgroup to recommend changes to state laws related to the use of physical force/deadly physical force in making an arrest.

“The issue is simply two words: Accountability and Trust,” said Sen. Lew Frederick. “Both are broken. It will take a major effort to establish them in our society. The myth that the system was sound has been overturned. Now the work begins.”

In terms of potential COVID-related bills, the Joint Special Committee on Coronavirus Response sent a letter to President of the Senate Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek at the end of March outlining a series of proposals to consider during a special session.

The proposals address housing and shelter, food and community benefits, health care access, and employer support.

Notably missing from the special session agenda is a discussion on the state budget, which Brown says will occur during a second special session which she expects to call later in the summer. In the meantime, Brown says she will release a list of $150 million General Fund savings for the biennium by the end of this week.

Brown received support from Democratic leaders in the House and Senate following the special session announcement, but Senate Republic Leader Fred Girod called into question Brown’s decision to prioritize policy bills rather than addressing the state budget deficit.

“The intent of this special session should be to balance the state budget, which is the fundamental job of the legislature, and provide relief to Oregonians suffering from the ongoing COVID-19 economic disaster. Instead, the Governor is prioritizing policy bills,” said Girod.

“The Oregon Supreme Court recently upheld the Governor’s executive orders during the pandemic, giving her unrestricted power and the ability to make almost any of the policy bills slated for the special session into law without the legislature. The legislature is needed to balance the budget, and failing to make that the priority is disastrous for the state and Oregonians,” he continued.