The First Special Session of 2020 has to be the most unusual one I've experienced in my 15-years of legislative service. The COVID public health crisis meant extra precautions for the few legislators and staff allowed to operate inside the Capitol building and unfortunately, it meant only telephonic testimony was allowed from the public.
I was appointed to the 14-member Joint Committee on the First Special Session of 2020, which should tell you the powers that be planned to have a second special session all along. A total of 24 bills were enacted, over 100 people testified telephonically, and hundreds more submitted written testimony to the Joint Committee.
On a scale of one to ten, I would give this session about a five. Six concepts brought forward by the Legislative People of Color Caucus were adopted to deal with police accountability and a handful of other bills assisting Oregonians with pandemic related issues also passed. I voted against three measures: Senate Bill 1603 and House Bills 4202 and 4213. See explanations below.
My concern is that there is already talk of a second special session to deal with the state budget crisis, which is what we should have taken care of last week. Governor Brown made $150 million in administrative cuts, but that's a small drop in a very big budget bucket that needs to be filled. The coronavirus shutdown has devastated our economy causing a huge shortage in state revenue, about $1 billion just to the remainder of our current two-year budget.
The Governor hopes Congress will issue another round of federal funds to the states. Legislative leaders aren't waiting and plan to start holding budget committee meetings in Salem soon to deal with potential agency funding issues.
The legislature also hasn't done much to help families and businesses struggling to make ends meet during this economic depression. Tens of thousands of Oregonians have been waiting weeks and weeks to see any unemployment benefits because of computer problems at the employment agency.
Business owners, schools, and non-profits have asked for liability protections because they're worried about frivolous lawsuits over something they did to comply with the Governor's public health orders. The legislature should have dealt with that already along with setting guidelines for employers to follow to ensure safety for their workers during an outbreak like this. Oregon OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) had a bill on the table last week but it needed more work.
One last item under unfinished business. I supported the reforms for law enforcement policies to address racial injustices, but more changes will be put forward in the future. I was named to a new Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform that will look at how investigations into deadly use of force are conducted among other issues. I will ask the committee to support my proposal to forfeit the pensions of any public employee convicted of a felony committed during the course of their work for a public body.
I welcome your comments and suggestions in the weeks ahead as the Governor and legislators sort out what's next on the agenda for Special Session 2 in late July or early August.