Oregon lawmakers zipped through a one-day special session today, their third special session of 2020.
As protesters unhappy with public health precautions against COVID-19 rallied outside the Capitol, smashing windows and bullying reporters, lawmakers dealt with weighty policy bills. At one point, some of the protesters entered the building, which was closed to the public.
Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) told reporters Monday evening that the Oregon State Police were investigating the security breach. "It was very serious," Kotek said.
Earlier in the day, lawmakers passed House Bill 4401, which extends an eviction moratorium until June 20, 2021, and appropriates $150 million to a landlord relief fund and $50 million for rental assistance. They also passed Senate Bill 1801, which allows restaurants and bars to sell cocktails and single servings of wine to go, and House Bill 4402, which provides liability protection for schools that operate during the pandemic.
The liability bill posed the biggest policy disagreement of the day. Hospital and health systems sought to also be granted liability protection in that bill—but the amendments they offered met with opposition from House Democrats. Kotek explained to reporters that the hospitals' amendments didn't extend protections widely enough to include rank-and-file hospital workers and to provide them whistleblower protections.
The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems reacted angrily.
Service Employees International Union Local 49 political director Felisa Hagins explained her union's position.
"SEIU feels strongly that quality patient care is delivered by a dedicated team of hospital workers," Hagins said in a statement. "A broadly supported amendment was introduced to protect those frontline heroes who came forward on issues related to violations of COVID-19 policies and procedures. SEIU absolutely believes that hospital workers, like certified nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, and hospital housekeepers are all critical in the fight against COVID, and they should be protected from retaliation for doing the right thing."
Courtney expressed disappointment that lawmakers ran out of time before they found a compromise on the liability bill.
Courtney, who was first elected to the Legislature in 1980 and became Senate president in 2003, also reflected on the turbulence of the day, which included the shattering of Capitol windows and alleged assaults on at least two reporters as well as an emotional outburst on the Senate floor by state Sen. Dallas Heard (R-Roseburg) over what he considered excessive COVID-19 precautions.
"I'm sad that today there was a lot of anger and madness and I couldn't find a way to stop it," Courtney said. "This [violence] is not acceptable."
Kotek joined Courtney in condemning violent and destructive behavior but said the progress made today, which included allocating $600 million to the Legislative Emergency Board for various pandemic relief efforts, set a solid base for the regular legislative session that begins next month.
"Oregonians needed us to show up today and do our jobs," Kotek said, "and we did that."