On Monday, the Legislature convened for our second special session of the year to address the $1.2 billion budget deficit, and unlike in a usual session, only two Joint Committees were established—one for the budget and one for policy items. Only the Speaker of the House and the Senate President could introduce legislative concepts.
Transparency and Public Input
The Special Session excluded public testimony, public hearings, and public engagement, and allowed only for the legislators that were on the committees to provide testimony. This is not the way I prefer we legislate—when we conduct hearings behind closed doors, without public input and with pre-determined outcomes through back-door deals, the democratic process is broken. It hinders greatly the transparency that is expected of Oregon’s governing body and that I am committed to as your legislator. I will be submitting a bill in the next session to hopefully keep this from occurring in the future.
Liability protections for schools
In addition to balancing the budget crisis, the next priority item should have been addressing the school insurance liability issue. The majority of our school districts lost their protection from frivolous liability lawsuits in June, meaning anyone who might contract Coronavirus at a school event or on school grounds could sue the school district and the district would have no protection. The immunity protection for schools, as long as they are following all public health guidelines, was supposed to be on the docket this special session, but unfortunately it was not taken up for consideration. Delaying this decision all but removes any possibility of schools reopening for in-person instruction until well beyond September.
School re-opening metrics
Several weeks ago, the Governor released her school reopening metrics, which were a one-size-fits-all approach to schools across Oregon. As we know, our frontier communities and school districts are not the same as compacted districts in other areas of the state.
A workgroup of rural legislators, school superintendents, county commissioners, and members from both the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority proposed to Governor Brown a different approach, one that accounts for the distinctions and uniqueness of our schools.
We put together a plan to re-evaluate and adjust the metrics to re-open our schools, while maintaining a safe atmosphere for students, teachers, and school employees. Governor Brown released those new metrics yesterday, and we are very pleased with the outcome and grateful to all who worked with us.
The new metrics apply to counties with fewer than 30,000 residents, or counties with less than six people per square mile. A copy of the metrics can be found here.
Getting our students back into a school building has been a priority of mine, and I am thankful I could help lead this conversation for our communities. I want to express great gratitude to the local superintendents, local public health authorities, and the rest of the legislators and commissioners in Eastern Oregon for all of the work that went into this so we could be successful, and so our kids and families have the support they need.
The Employment Department has updated their website to be more user-friendly for unemployment claims. This should also expedite payouts on claims. They have launched the “Benefits While You Wait” program to help those whose cases are awaiting adjudication. You can check out the program here.
Joint Virtual Town Hall
The next joint virtual town hall meeting with Senator Findley, Rep. Bonham, and I will be held on Thursday, August 20 at 5:30pm (PST). To register, please click here.
We are continuing to help all constituents who may need help on anything related to an unemployment claim. Please send us an email with your name, address, phone number, customer I.D. number, and a brief description of the problem at email@example.com.
We know things are changing often and rapidly, and that all of us are adjusting our daily lives. Thank you for staying connected with our office, and as always, reach out if there is anything we can do to better serve you. Together we will get through this.