GOP lawmakers were quick to criticize a lack of public involvement as the Oregon Legislature’s second short session of the summer was gaveled to a close shortly before midnight Monday.
In one long day of work, legislators were successful in rebalancing a state budget wrecked by the devastating impact of the coronavirus economic crisis, as well as strengthening new laws passed earlier this year to further limit the use of chokeholds and other use-of-force measures by police.
But Republicans — among them Canby’s state representative, Christine Drazan — decried what they called a lack of transparency and public access to the lawmaking process due to Covid-19 restrictions.
“At the end of the day, our budget is balanced, but Democrats made the unprecedented decision to deny access to Oregonians, not even allowing for remote public testimony,” Drazan, the House Republican leader, said in a statement. “The lack of public access to this process is unacceptable, and the people of Oregon deserve better.”
Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod also took Democrats to task for what he termed their “locking Oregonians out of the legislative process.”
“This is the building of the people, and it is wrong for the super majority party to continue to lock Oregonians out of the legislative process,” he said. “It is a symbiotic relationship: Oregonians have a right to be involved in the creation of legislation, and legislators need their input and advocacy to craft sound policies for the state.”
While not directly responding to the claims of the process lacking public involvement, Governor Kate Brown praised lawmakers for their quick work in addressing the estimated $2 billion shortfall while preserving important services for vulnerable populations.
“I’d like to thank legislative leadership, and every member of the Legislature, for carrying out the serious work of the second special session I have called during this pandemic,” she said. “While we may not agree on all the details, I appreciate that lawmakers protected critical state services including schools, health care, and senior services, while also taking action to tighten belts in state government.”
She preserved her criticism for the federal government — specifically, the Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress, whom she blamed for the failure to pass a second coronavirus relief package.
“Without direct support from Congress to fill the gap caused by COVID-19,” the governor said, “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.”
She also blasted the opposition to Senate Bill 1702, which died in committee Monday after facing bipartisan opposition. Brown called the measure a “common-sense fix” that would have made it easier to pay out unemployment benefits to educators, while Senate Republicans argued it would have prioritized public employees over those who have been waiting months for their claims to be addressed.
“Governor Brown, this is your mess,” Girod said in an especially strongly worded statement hailing the death of the bill. “Your commitment to pandering to special interests knows no bounds. You wanted your special interests to jump the line and receive unemployment benefits ahead of Oregonians that have been waiting for assistance and haven’t been getting it for months.”
Democrats, like House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, condemned the bill’s failure as a loss for Oregon’s working families, though she — along with House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner — were largely positive about the progress made over the course of the day.
“In this time of economic uncertainty, Senate Democrats made certain to keep intact the critical services Oregonians across the state rely on,” said Wagner. “Access to food and Medicaid are untouched, and we continue to invest in affordable housing and homeless services. Additionally, domestic violence services and child welfare will receive complete funding to do their seriously necessary work.”
Governor Brown announced she will hold a press availability at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the second special session. The session will be livestreamed for the public on the governor’s Facebook page.
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