Chamber Director Dissects Second Short Session

Earlier this week, the Oregon Legislature convened for a one-day session — the second special session of the summer — to focus on balancing the state budget.

The Legislature voted to pull $400 million from the Education Stability Fund to keep the State School Fund whole, and voted to trim another $400 million from lottery and general fund programs.

On balance, the legislature opted to keep Oregon’s $9 billion K-12 budget unharmed and worked to plug the $1 billion shortfall using the aforementioned cuts and other budget maneuvers, including “re-shuffling” of expenses and “sweeps” of dedicated funds.

The session was another example of the “top-down” executive decision-making that’s been so prevalent during the COVID pandemic. Decision-making is in the hands of a very few legislators with very little input from legislators and the public.

For example, Democratic leaders announced on Monday morning that they would not hold any public hearings on the slate of bills. Most bills were not made public until the weekend, so only the most seasoned observers even knew where to look to understand what was going on. Decisions on legislation were already made before the legislature convened.

The bills that passed included:

SB 1701 to allow part time workers to earn up to $300 per week before unemployment benefits are reduced.

SB 1703 to give the Employment Department access to Revenue Department data during the COVID emergency for the purpose of processing unemployment claims.

SB 5722 adjusted and revised several capital construction projects in order to shift costs.

SB 5723 cut nearly $400 million in costs for the current biennium.

HB 4301 placed additional limits use of choke holds and police use of force.

HB 4302 modified fees and requirements for mineral exploration, mining operations, gas and oil drilling and exploration and geothermal well drilling operation.

HB 4303 transferred $400 million from the Education Stability Fund to the State School Fund.

HB 4304, the “sweeps” bill, transferred money from various dedicated administrative accounts to further alleviate budget shortfalls.

HB 5221 made changes to allocation of lottery funds to account for precipitous drops in lottery revenues.

Bills that did not pass:

SB 1702 was the one unscripted shocker of the session. The bill which would have streamlined the process for classified education employees to receive unemployment benefits.

But the bill failed in committee when Senator Johnson (D-Scappoose) joined Republicans in voting against the bill, saying that the bill gave the appearance of putting these workers “at the front of the line” for receiving benefits when others have been waiting due to Employment Department failures.

The Oregonian’s reporting of the special session can be found here.

We are expecting one additional special session in September that could be populated with several controversial issues, including:

• Legislation to disconnect Oregon from certain provisions of the CARES Act related to tax treatment for business losses and interest expenses for certain businesses.

• Consideration of liability reform to provide temporary and targeted liability relief for companies facing lawsuits related to COVID.

• Consideration of a liability shield for medical provides and health care facilities acting within the scope of COVID-19 guidance from the Governor’s office, OHA and others.

• A workers’ compensation compensability presumption for COVID claims.

If you have any questions or feedback stemming from the one-day session, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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