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Blink and you may have missed it: It took less than 72 hours for the Oregon Legislature to begin and end its special legislative session last week.
The whirlwind session was initially planned to address the immediate economic fallout from COVID-19. That focus was expanded, however, after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers sparked statewide protests to improve policy accountability. On June 11, the legislature’s People of Color (POC) caucus asked Gov. Kate Brown to call a special session to address six police reform policies. Five days later, Brown announced plans for a June 24 special session that would jointly address COVID-19 and law enforcement reforms.
Compared to Oregon’s recent legislative sessions, June’s 72-hour, semi-virtual special session was deemed a success for lawmakers’ ability to swiftly pass significant bills with bipartisan support.
At the same time, the pace of the conversations showed an imbalance within the lawmaking process. While lawmakers had months to cobble together COVID-19 relief legislation (the idea of a special session was first pitched in April), they were given two weeks to develop concrete police reforms informed by communities of color. And, with only three days to propose and pass new bills, the process lacked any meaningful public input and fine-tuning expected in a normal legislative cycle.
To Bobbin Singh, director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center (OJRC), the fast-tracking of police reform bills was both a moment of progress and a sign that the “tools of white supremacy” are still at play in Oregon.
“We can’t say, as a state, that we stand against racism and then sustain the same dynamics by not giving the POC caucus or the racial justice community a fair opportunity to be engaged,” said Singh. “It was too on-the-nose in some ways. On the other hand, it was incredibly important to accomplish as much as POC lawmakers did.”
For Oregonians demanding legislative action—in response to both biased policing and COVID-19 constraints—the special session seemed to set the stage for more expansive conversations around the state budget, the looming housing crisis tied to COVID-19 unemployment rates, an opaque law enforcement oversight system, and even several issues unrelated to the session’s two dominating topics.
Those conversations could come quickly, with both a general election and the possibility of two additional special sessions taking place before the end of 2020 (and don’t forget about the state’s regular legislative session scheduled for January 2021).
To keep tabs on where these issues stand now, here’s summary of the notable bills passed by Oregon lawmakers in 2020’s first special legislative session.
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