Focus: Fix the state budget after economic hit, use of coronavirus relief funds
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Gov. Kate Brown on Saturday said she will call a second special legislative session this summer to fix a state budget wrecked by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis, and wants to use coronavirus relief funds to help support the Black community and working people.
Brown spoke in a Facebook Live news conference after the Oregon Legislature wrapped up the first special session Friday, having passed several bills, most dealing with police accountability and the coronavirus pandemic.
Brown said she will wait to call another special session to see if federal lawmakers approve assistance for local governments.
“States are struggling to balance their budgets because of the economic depression caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Brown, adding that she expects to call lawmakers back to Salem in late July or early August.
Brown said she has already identified $150 million in state cuts through things like layoffs and keeping state positions open.
State economists say Oregon will likely take in about $2.7 billion during the current two-year budget cycle.
The Democratic governor praised the Legislature for putting aside partisanship and quickly passing bills focused on mitigating the economic effects of the COVID-10 crisis and dealing with police accountability during the recently completed special session.
Senate President Peter Courtney said 24 bills passed, more than 600 pieces of public testimony were submitted, and over 100 people gave virtual committee testimony in only three days.
Police reform bills include measures that limit the use of chokeholds, require officers to intervene if their colleague is being unjust or unethical and creating a statewide police discipline database. Another bill that passed prohibits law enforcement agencies from using tear gas for crowd control, except for circumstances that meet the definition of a riot.
Brown said she was especially pleased by the passage of police accountability measures.
“I don’t want to hear the words ‘I can’t breathe’ uttered from the mouths of one single Oregonian,” Brown said, referring to the words spoken by George Floyd before he died in Minneapolis. The death of Floyd, who was killed in police custody last month, sparked global protests.
House Bill 4204 was one of the most-debated measures in the Legislature — passing in the House 39-18 and passing in the Senate 19-8. The bill would enact new foreclosure protections during the coronavirus pandemic.
Brown said she wants to use money earmarked for coronavirus relief to aid Black communities and help workers who to take sick leave because of COVID-19.
“I think its critically important that we support the communities most impacted by the COVID-19-pandemic,” she said, adding that minority groups have been particularly affected by the outbreak.
She said she hopes to direct funds to Black-owned businesses struggling during the pandemic.
“We want to make sure these businesses survive,” she said.