Recap: 2020 Oregon Legislature First Special Session

In an effort to address the COVID-19 pandemic and statewide calls for police reform, Governor Kate Brown convened the Oregon Legislature for the 2020 First Special Session on Wednesday, June 24.

The Capitol Building was closed to the public to allow for social distancing, almost all lawmakers wore masks, committee meetings were held virtually, and public testimony was received in written form and via phone in an attempt to prevent any potential transmission of the coronavirus. The Senate and House chamber sessions and all committee meetings from the special session can be viewed here.

On Friday, June 26, the Legislature ended their three-day sprint having passed a total of 26 bills relating to police reform, COVID-19, and an assortment of issues left unaddressed after the previous session’s “walkout.”

Police Reform: Measures relating to police reform invoked a consensus among lawmakers unlike any in recent memory, and of the six measures passed, four began with the declaration “Black Lives Matter.”  

First, the Legislature established the Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform (HB 4201). The committee is tasked with examining policies that increase transparency and reduce the prevalence of injury or death in use of force, as well as determining the most appropriate policy for independent review of the use of deadly force. Senator James Manning Jr. (D-Eugene) and Representative Janelle Bynum (D-Portland) will co-chair the committee.

Additionally, specific uses of force by law enforcement agencies–including chokeholds and tear gas–will face new limitations, falling short of the calls to ban these practices, but hailed by lawmakers as a step in the right direction. Effective immediately, chokeholds (HB 4203) may only be used by police if deadly force would have otherwise been justified, and the use of tear gas (HB 4208) in the state may be used only to disperse “riots,” as defined under Oregon law. Further, police officers witnessing misconduct by their fellow officers will now have a duty to intervene (HB 4205).  

Oregon will also begin publishing a statewide online database of officer suspensions and revocations (HB 4207) to ensure allegations of misconduct are not shielded from the public. Finally, the Legislature passed a measure addressing the arbitration process (SB 1604), in an attempt to curb the likelihood of an arbitrator reducing or overturning discipline decisions by Oregon police agencies.

COVID-19 pandemic: The Legislature passed a sweeping omnibus bill (HB 4212), allowing for virtual public meetings, authorizing the Chief Justice to extend certain statutory deadlines relating to court proceedings, prohibiting the garnishment of CARES Act funding in most situations, and requiring health care providers to collect race and ethnicity data relating to the coronavirus, among other provisions.

The Legislature also extended the state’s eviction moratorium (HB 4213) and passed a companion measure establishing temporary limitations on foreclosures (HB 4204) to protect Oregonians from eviction and foreclosure through September 30, 2020.

Other measures passed include an extension of an existing tax on landline phones to cellphone providers, allocating up to $5 million per year toward rural broadband services (SB 1603) and a forest management bill (SB 1602) restricting the use of aerial pesticides. 

What’s next?

Notably missing from the special session was legislation addressing the state’s $2.7 billion budget shortfall as a result of COVID-19. Governor Brown plans to convene a second special session later this summer in the hopes that Congress will take further action and provide states with additional federal support.  

The 80th Oregon Legislative Assembly adjourned sine die on June 26, 2020.