SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon lawmakers discussed unemployment benefits and police reform bills Monday as they returned to the Capitol for a special session that was largely supposed to be focused on the state’s $1 billion budget hole.
Sunday night, less than 24 hours before the second special session of 2020 was set to convene, lawmakers were still discussing what policies they would address.
In the days leading up to the session legislators have been split whether the session should be solely dedicated to rebalancing the state budget thrown out of whack because of the COVID-19 pandemic or if bills altering policy, such as those addressing police reform.
Tasked with filling a $1.2 billion budget hole, leading lawmakers have proposed cuts totaling $387 million across state agencies and utilizing $400 million in emergency funds from the Education Stability Fund.
The total adopted state budget for the 2019-21 biennium is nearly $86 billion, about a 10% increase from the 2017-19 legislatively approved budget.
The largest proposed cuts came from within the Department of Human Services and the Oregon Health Authority. This included proposing that two prison — Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend and Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lakeview — close over the next two bienniums.
While some lawmakers predict the session could be completed within a day or two, that time frame could be lengthened depending if the Legislature decides to focus on the budget or to also include bills altering policy, such as ones surrounding police reform following more than two months of sometimes violent protests in Portland after George Floyd’s killing.
Lawmakers split off into joint committees Monday morning — one tackled bills that include that police “may not use force that impedes normal breathing or circulation of blood of another person by applying pressure on throat or neck except in specified circumstances,” strengthening a bill that had passed during the previous session.
The second committee spent a large portion of the afternoon discussing unemployment benefit the state’s unemployment benefits process.
The length of the session is still uncertain. In the days leading up to the session, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, expressed that he wanted lawmakers to spend as little time as possible in the Capitol due to coronavirus concerns.