Oregon lawmakers start lists of topics for special session

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Oregon Capitol in Salem.

Bills to tighten the accountability of police after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis would lead a list of about two dozen action items proposed for a special session of the Oregon Legislature targeted for Wednesday, June 24.

Gov. Kate Brown called for a session Tuesday morning. The session will exclude talks of potential spending cuts in the current two-year state budget. Legislative budget subcommittees are just starting to look at the cuts submitted by agencies, hearing from the public and coming up with their own proposals. Two of them have scheduled meetings for Wednesday, June 17.

Topping the list are bills dealing with police accountability, as proposed by the nine-member People of Color Caucus and supported by Brown and Democratic legislative leaders in the aftermath of street protests in Portland and other cities. Floyd died May 25.

One bill would bar a labor arbitrator from reducing discipline against a police officer if the employing agency concluded there was misconduct on the officer's part. This bill has passed the Senate without dissent in 2019 and 2020, but failed to reach a vote in the House before the abrupt close of the 2020 session on March 5.

Others may prove to be more controversial. There are proposals to set up a statewide database for police disciplinary cases, designate the attorney general instead of district attorneys to investigate police when use of force results in death or serious injuries, require police to report misbehavior by other police, and outlaw the use of chokeholds, tear gas and other methods.

Several proposed action items stem from Brown's executive orders during the coronavirus pandemic, such as moratoriums on residential and commercial evictions, changes to public meeting requirements, and shielding payments made under the federal coronavirus aid act.

Others are bills that were proposed but failed to advance in the 2020 session.

One of them would make technical changes in the commercial activity tax that Oregon lawmakers enacted in 2019. Business groups have urged a suspension of the tax for the first two quarters of 2020, but Brown has declined so far to do so. The Department of Revenue did defer payments by the smallest businesses subject to the tax to April 2021, and it will not penalize businesses for late reports if they show good-faith efforts.

One bill would adjust deadlines for court cases, particularly for some crimes that are subject to speedy-trial requirements. The courts do not have the legal authority to change the deadlines, which were affected when courts curtailed operations during the pandemic.

Charles Boyle, spokesperson for the governor, said her office expected to make an announcement on special session early this week.

Once a session is underway, issues are not limited, but legislative leaders can control the flow of bills through the committee system.

Oregon has had 41 special legislative sessions since statehood, ranging from one to 37 days in length, the latter during the 1982 recession. More than half of them (22) have taken place since 1980. The governor has called all but three of them, although legislators called themselves into session in 2008 and 2010 to test the concept of annual sessions. Voters decided in 2010 to move to annual sessions; only four states still have legislatures that meet every other year.

pwong@pamplinmedia.com

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