RELIEF APPROVED FOR VENUES: The Oregon Legislature Joint Emergency Board voted July 14 to grant nearly $10 million in federal CARES Act money to performing arts venues around the state. Many Portland clubs, including Crystal Ballroom, the Roseland, Revolution Hall and the Aladdin, received the equivalent of seven months' operating costs via the vote, which passed with bipartisan support. On July 15, the Portland City Council will consider a smaller package of assistance: $4.35 million to venues, both publicly and privately owned, and to artists. As of this writing, the proposal has the votes to pass. House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) told her colleagues that giving life support to the venues, which will be the last businesses to reopen, is vital. "We need to move this money quickly and efficiently," Kotek said.
TANGLE OVER BLACK RELIEF FUNDING: Lawmakers also voted July 14 to send $62 million in CARES Act money to the new Oregon Cares Fund to "create a lifeline for families, small businesses, and community-based organizations" in the state's Black community. Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod (R-Stayton) presented legislative counsel's review of the concept, which found that absent precise data justifying why one group should be singled out for relief, the fund "would almost certainly be unconstitutional." Girod and his GOP colleagues noted the state's Native American and Latinx communities have also suffered historically and are disproportionately harmed by COVID-19. Democrats presented an outside legal opinion defending the fund and the Emergency Board approved it on a split vote, with some Republicans voting for it. "It's time to do something real," said Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland), "not make symbolic gestures."
COVID CASES SPIKE IN OREGON PRISONS: Following an outbreak at Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Ore., the number of active COVID-19 cases in Oregon prisons spiked significantly. Currently, 398 inmates and staff in the Oregon Department of Corrections system have COVID-19, according to the agency's online tracker tool. The largest share of those cases are at Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, where 141 inmates and 36 staff have the virus. The second-highest tally is at Snake River, where 120 inmates and 21 employees currently have COVID-19. Department spokeswoman Jennifer Black says no inmates at Snake River are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19. In total, 6,830 inmates in Oregon's prison system are under quarantine, and another 150 are under medical isolation, meaning they are confined to a single cell "with solid walls and a solid door that closes, to prevent contact with others and to reduce the risk of transmission."
TRANSPORTATION MEASURE FACES OPPOSITION: Representatives of the region's largest private companies, including Intel, Nike, the Standard, Precision Castparts and U.S. Bank, met with Metro Council President Lynn Peterson on July 14, urging her to delay a planned referral of a $4 billion transportation measure to the November ballot. That ballot is likely also to feature funding measures for preschool, K-12 schools, health care and libraries. In addition to concerns about timing, business leaders don't like Metro's proposed funding mechanism, a 0.75% payroll tax. They told Peterson they are prepared to mount a serious opposition campaign and have retained political consultant Kevin Looper to run it. "This is not anti-tax and it most certainly is not anti-transportation," Looper says. "But you can't punish employment in the middle of an economic crisis when people are struggling just to make ends meet." Peterson is undaunted: "The time to act is now," she said. "If we delay, we will not be able to create tens of thousands of jobs when we need them most, and our region could miss opportunities to leverage federal, private and philanthropic funds."