(The Center Square) — Oregon lawmakers passed a host of relief packages on Monday in a whirlwind session that sought to cover the fiscal havoc the COVID-19 pandemic has caused to the state.
The full legislature convened on Monday for a 9-hour in-person special session that went as planned despite destructive protests outside of the capitol building and a floor protest by one state lawmaker who removed his face mask.
House Bill 4401 passed the legislature and extends Oregon's statewide eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021. The bill was carried by Oregon Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, in the House and by Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, in the Senate.
The bill sets aside $150 million for landlords to tap into to cover back rent and $50 million in financial aid for tenants to avoid falling further behind on monthly payments. It also requires landlords to forgive 20% of back rent out of pocket.
The program is voluntary and landlords can opt out if they choose and still evict tenants if they choose to occupy or sell their properties.
Jason Miller, legislative director for the Oregon Rental Housing Association, testified to lawmakers on Thursday that the association would not support a bill including rent forgiveness.
Data from Stout Risius Ross prepared for the National Council of State Housing Agencies estimates that between 27,700 to 56,100 Oregon households were at risk of eviction on January 1 should the state or federal eviction moratorium have expired on December 31.
Gov. Brown's office estimated earlier in December that back rent could total as much as $325 million statewide.
The federal eviction moratorium is expected to be extended through January 31 following action from Congress on Monday which many hope President Trump will sign into law.
Senate Bill 1801 allows restaurants and bars to temporarily sell and deliver sealed mixed drinks to-go and caps fees that third-party delivery providers can issue at 15%.
Since March, more than two dozen states have passed similar legislation to give restaurants a much needed leg up, many of which see their highest profit margins on alcoholic drinks like cocktails and wine.
A survey of restaurants by the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association (ORLA) reported 80% of restaurants saw falling profit margins between October 2019 and October 2020.
The changes created by SB 1801 will sunset 60 days after the state of emergency related to the pandemic in Oregon is ended.
ORLA Government Affairs Director Greg Astley said the bill's passage is good news for the industry—if not good enough.
“We recognize To-Go Cocktails will not completely solve the crushing economic impact the pandemic, the shutdowns and the limited ability to seat customers and conduct business are having on bars and restaurants, but it will help,” Astley said.
Oregon Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, carried the bill in the House where it passed 50-4 and was carried by Oregon Sen. Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward in the Senate where it passed 21-3.
School Limited Liability Protections
House Bill 4402, sponsored by Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, grants temporary liability protections to schools complying with public health rules from the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Occupational Safety & Health.
The bill provides additional incentive for schools, administrators, and teachers to follow COVID-19 safety measures and offers whistleblower protections to third party contractors like janitors, bus drivers, and food service providers.
Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod, R-Lyons, who carried the bill in the Senate, voiced support for "bumping educators further ahead in line" for vaccinations on Monday.
“Education for Oregon kids needs to be prioritized,” Girod said. “We need to open our schools and let people go back to work that are home taking care of their kids.”
COVID-19 and Wildfire Recovery Funding
A large portion of the federal funding for states included in the federal CARES Act came with an expiration date at the end of 2020.
Senate Bill 5731 puts another $600 million into the legislature's bipartisan 20-member Emergency Board so the legislature can disperse more aid to struggling businesses, hospitals, and wildfire survivors. Rep. James Manning, D-Eugene, carried the bill in the House.
That money includes the $200 million in landlord and tenants assistance included in HB 4401.
“I’m grateful that another federal relief bill may be coming, but there is no doubt that further support will be necessary,” said Oregon Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego. “I remain hopeful our new presidential administration will make it a priority to support state and local governments.”
Lawmakers still have a lot more on their agenda going into 2021 and a Joe Biden presidency.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Rogue Valley, said on Monday he wants to take up more tax breaks for small business next session.
Democratic state lawmakers in the BIPOC Caucus such as Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, are also pursuing bills limiting use of impact munitions by police.
Girod also announced he has two bills for the 2021 session, one of which offers property tax deferrals and reductions for wildfire survivors.
The other bill, he says, would allow counties to restore or replace homes, farms, and other buildings in their original location regardless of new zoning codes.
“On a more personal level, the communities near me and in my district suffered staggering losses from the fires," Girod said. "I am dedicated to advocating for wildfire victim relief in the upcoming long session.”
Girod, whose home near Stayton burned down during the summer's wildfires, participated in two walkout protest by Oregon Republican lawmakers in 2019 and earlier this year. The walkout effectively delayed a pending vote on bills which included wildfire resources.
Brown said Monday's session served as a positive next step to getting the state back on track, but reiterated her calls for more federal relief for states next year.
“These are important steps, but more resources will be needed for Oregon families and businesses when Congress returns to Washington,” Brown said.
The governor is expected to sign into law all the bills passed on Monday before the legislature reconvenes for their next regular session on January 19, 2021.