On Monday, December 13, state lawmakers will head to Salem for what will surely be a whirlwind special legislative session to address several state-level crises before the year's end.
The emergency session was called by Governor Kate Brown to specifically address the housing crisis brought on by deffered rent payments for Oregonians due to COVID-19. The state's rental assistance program has been hampered by technical, financial, and administrative problems since May, many of which have left thousands of vulnerable renters facing eviction, despite being eligible for financial support. As of this month, the state has run out of the federal funding it relied on to offer rent support to Oregon tenants unable to pay.
On Friday, Brown announced a proposal to steer $215 million in state funds to prevent winter evictions, reinforce the state's current eviction prevention programs, and consider extending eviction protections for renters who have applied for rental assistance through the state but have yet to receive a check.
Brown said this proposal package was informed and supported by state legislative leaders, who will introduce the ideas as bills next week. In a press release, Brown detailed the sweeping proposal to include policies that would extend the current "safe harbor" protections that shield tenants from evictions up to 60 days after applying for state rental assistance, ensure landlords are paid in full for past-due rent, disperse $100 million in additional emergency rental assistance to the state housing agency, and provide $100 million to help turn the state's temporary eviction relief program into a more permanent system.
While mending the state's eviction prevention safety net will be central to the special session, Brown also nudged lawmakers to consider several other policy proposals Friday.
Brown proposed using $100 million to help Oregonians impacted by this summer’s extreme heat and drought conditions, through programs ranging from irrigation cost offsets for the agriculture industry to funds to pay for agriculture workers who lost income due to extreme heat or smoke in 2021.
She also suggested legislation that would direct $25 million to create a statewide plan to address the proliferation of illegal cannabis across Oregon, an issue that's increasingly plagued Southern Oregon. Brown also wants to see lawmakers take up legislation that would provide $18 million to support the resettlement of Afghan refugees in Oregon on the heels of Afghanistan's growing refugee crisis.
Brown addressed several others "priority issues" she expects the legislature to tackle, including support for "outdoor recreation outfitter guides" impacted by drought or COVID-19, funding for state dental programs, affordable housing, and "demonstration projects for cross-laminated timber modular housing."
“Oregonians facing potential eviction do not have time to wait––they need an immediate solution that keeps them in their homes. And, in the last year, people across Oregon have faced unprecedented challenges due to record heat and persistent drought conditions,” said Brown, in the Friday press release. “I’d like to thank the legislators from both sides of the aisle who have worked with me over the last several days to put together a package of policies and investments that meet the pressing needs of Oregonians.”
It appears these proposals do reflect issues lobbied for by Republican legislators who were initially skeptical about the housing-focused special session—and have a record of undermining progressive legislation by not showing up to work. In a media statement, Senate Republican leader Tim Knopp expressed the GOPs' support for solutions to address the state's illegal cannabis industry and help farmers hurt by the year's drought.
"Senate Republicans will be at the Capital on Monday if the language of the legislation being drafted is consistent with these goals," said Knopp.
Follow the Oregon special session online Monday, December 18, starting at 8 am here.