SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Capitol doors may be closed to the public during Oregon’s special legislative session, but there was no shortage of public comment — via phone and computer — about bills dealing with hot button issues Thursday.
The second day of legislative session moved at a crawling pace, as lawmakers spent six hours, sitting in their individual offices, listening to testimony from dozens of officials, lobbyists and residents, regarding proposed policies dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and police accountability.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said the number of people who signed up to speak was “quite remarkable.”
Around 50 people alone signed up to speak about House Bill 4212 — there were 15 bills in total on Thursday’s joint committee agenda — which covers a list of provisions for entities operating during the coronavirus outbreak.
The provisions included protecting business owners, who are following state COVID-19 safety guidelines, from liability, authorizing governing bodies to conduct public meetings virtually, the return of recreational sports during phase 2 reopening plans and authorizing the presiding judge of a circuit court to extend custody and postpone trials.
The coronavirus bill wasn’t the only focus. Policies surrounding police accountability were discussed at length.
Measures being considered include: a ban on choke holds; creating a statewide police discipline database; a requirement that police report misconduct or unethical acts of other officers; prohibit the use of tear gas; and a measure to have the Oregon attorney general lead investigations when police use of force results in death or serious injury.
There was no major push back on the bills, during the public testimony that included law enforcement officials, and many echoed the same message – the policies are a step in the right direction, but there is still much that needs to be done.
““These bills are a start,” Sen. James Manning, D-Eugene. “These are accountability bills, but I agree with some of the speakers that they do not go far enough.”
While none of these bills made it to chamber floors Thursday, the House of Representatives did pass four other bills in the morning, the Statesman Journal reported; House Bill 4202 and 4211, making technical fixes to recent measures to raise tax money to pay for public schools; House Bill 4206 which would allow the state to set up a meat inspection program; and House Bill 4209 which would let a regional economic development board in Eastern Oregon put into action grant, loan and incentive programs to local businesses.
By 4:29 p.m. the public testimony was completed and Sen. Courtney told his colleagues that it was time for a brief recess.
“Get some rest and food by the (time we return),” he said. “Because, while this accomplished a lot, that was just half of it.”
The group planned to return, this time to the Capitol, at 6 p.m., to begin the “working” part of the session where lawmakers would discuss and vote on the bills, so they could go to each full chamber – a task that needed to be completed that night, Courtney said.