Gov. Kate Brown is calling the Legislature back into special session on June 24 to focus on passing tougher police accountability laws and address some of the issues raised by the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor said she doesn’t plan to focus on budget issues next week, but plans to call legislators back later this summer to address financial issues.
With widespread protests against racial injustice and police brutality continuing across the state and nation, the governor said it’s time for the state Legislature to act.
“The public’s call for significant police reform is too urgent to wait until the next regular legislative session,” Brown said in a statement.
The governor’s office sent out a list of 27 legislative measures she would like lawmakers to consider in an upcoming legislative session.
There are six measures on the list addressing police accountability issues, including; a bill to ban the use of chokeholds, another to create a statewide police discipline database, a measure to have the Attorney General lead investigations when police use of force results in death or serious injury, a bill to make it easier for police officers to be fired if found guilty of misconduct and another requiring officers to report misconduct of other officers.
The governor also wants lawmakers to codify several of her executive orders she made in response to the pandemic into law, including extending the temporary eviction moratorium.
It remains unclear how lawmakers will meet in Salem while maintaining social distancing, but they are in the midst of hammering out the logistics.
Sen. President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said he has asked a team of infectious disease experts to walk the Capitol hallways with him to brainstorm the best ways to help ensure lawmakers and their staff aren’t exposed to COVID-19.
Courtney, never one to mince words, said he’s worried about lawmakers convening.
“I’m scared,” he said. “I’m sitting on a powder keg. I won’t deny it. I don’t have the authority under the constitution to vote on bills unless people are here.”
Initially, lawmakers expected the governor would call them back to Salem to address the budget. But Brown said she is expecting Congress to pass another relief package and it doesn’t make sense to address the budget before knowing what kind of financial help the states will receive from the federal government.
“This is a unique time in American history— we have seen people across rural and urban Oregon uniting in their calls for racial justice and criminal justice reform. Oregonians have taken to the streets to make their voices heard, even in the middle of this pandemic, because the need for change is so pressing,” Charles Boyle, the governor’s spokesman, wrote in an email.
The governor said she also expects lawmakers will be taking some budget action to reduce general funds by $150 million.
The governor does have the power under the state constitution to call lawmakers into session and allow them to vote remotely. But she can only invoke those powers one time during an emergency. The governor’s spokesman said she plans to keep it in reserve in the case that it becomes necessary to invoke.
Last legislative session imploded when Republicans staged a walkout to kill a cap-and-trade policy bill aimed at easing climate change.
The governor’s announcement already seemed to cause concern among Republicans.
“I fail to understand why the Governor is calling the legislature in for a special session, an expensive undertaking for taxpayers, in the middle of a pandemic, when it is not intended to address the state budget deficit,” Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, R-Stayton, wrote in a statement.
“The intent of this special session should be to balance the state budget, which is the fundamental job of the legislature, and provide relief to Oregonians suffering from the ongoing COVID-19 economic disaster. Instead, the Governor is prioritizing policy bills.”
Girod said his caucus discussed the governor’s decision to call a special legislative session Monday night. Several members are over the age of 60, he said, and asking them back to the state Capitol could pose a risk to their health, he noted, which adds to their desire to also address budget issues at the same time.
“This was done without consulting us and done unilaterally by a governor that we feel very strongly has done everything in her power to destroy rural Oregon,” Girod said.