Recap: 2020 Oregon Legislature Second Special Session

On Monday, Governor Kate Brown convened the Second Special Session of the year for the Oregon Legislature. The primary focus of the one-day special session was addressing the economic effects of COVID-19 on the state’s budget, including a $1.2 billion budget gap.

Lawmakers passed eleven bills during the day, closing the budget gap, lending additional assistance to out-of-work Oregonians, and expanding policies on police reform.

The budget gap: The Legislature was able to fill the billion-dollar budget gap through a number of bills while maintaining its recent investments in the state’s public education system and making additional investments in construction projects, research, and resiliency throughout the state.

Lawmakers preserved the Public University Support Fund, ensuring that during these difficult economic times, the UO’s state appropriation for the upcoming fiscal year will not be cut. Additionally, the Oregon Opportunity Grant remains funded at the level approved in the 2019 session and Sports Lottery Scholarships were also preserved in SB 5723. The budgets for Public University State Programs, which are institutes, centers, and programs that address economic development, natural resource, and other issues, providing public service across the state, were reduced by 5%.

With plans to create new jobs and update learning spaces for students, the UO received $57.24 million (SB 5721) in bonds to renovate classrooms, labs, and research spaces in UO’s life sciences hub, Huestis Hall. State-funded capital construction projects have created thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of new research positions in the last decade, as well as served countless students in their academic endeavors.

The UO received a $500,000 match (SB 5723) to design and build a new research and teaching vessel for UO’s coastal campus, the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. The UO will also receive $7.5 million in bonds (SB 5721) to purchase seismic sensors for ShakeAlert, the early earthquake warning system for the West Coast, which will expand state-wide and region-wide resiliency and preparedness in the face of a natural disaster.

Out-of-work Oregonians: Lawmakers passed two bills related to the state’s unemployment benefits. The first, SB 1701, will allow Oregonians to continue receiving their full unemployment benefits while working part-time, earning up to $300 per week. This new model received broad bipartisan support and drew praise from service industry employers, who are struggling to provide full-time work to their employees.

The second bill, SB 1703, reduces barriers for Oregonians applying for federal benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, by allowing the Oregon Department of Revenue to share pertinent tax information related to self-employment with the Oregon Department of Employment.  

Police reform: Expanding on work from the year’s first special session, the Legislature passed HB 4301, prohibiting the use of chokeholds by law enforcement officers even in situations where the officer may otherwise use deadly physical force.

The bill goes further to modify the circumstances under which an officer is justified in using physical force or deadly force against another person, including a requirement to give a verbal warning and allow a reasonable opportunity to comply if reasonable to do so before using physical force. The bill additionally requires officers to consider alternatives to physical force when reasonable.

The 80th Oregon Legislative Assembly adjourned sine die on August 10, 2020.

What’s next?

After the special session adjourned, Governor Kate Brown applauded the Legislature’s efforts and focused her attention on Congress. Governor Brown stressed, “Without direct support from Congress to fill the gap caused by COVID-19, our budget reserves will quickly run dry and we will have to make impossible choices next year when it comes time to pass a budget for the next biennium.”

The Legislature will receive their next quarterly revenue forecast on September 23, which will show how the pandemic continues to impact Oregon’s economy since the last forecast in May.