Special session unwise during pandemic

Governor Kate Brown and the majority in the Oregon Legislature are anxious to hold a “special session” on June 24. I want to know how this is good for Oregon in the current pandemic? How exactly does the Legislature hold a special session without implementing Phase 3 of the Governor’s reopening guidelines? 

Consider that the Oregon State Capitol is an 80-year-old “incubator” for viruses now, which is one of the reasons the Legislature invested in massive building upgrades that are still underway. Anyone who’s ever worked there is very familiar with the infamous “Capitol Crud” that flies through the building every session. How could anyone even consider meeting there now? Even if only the 90 legislators met, what if they took COVID-19 back to their districts? Some counties have no cases and especially no deaths. 

Let’s talk about transparency and equity. There will be no public input. It will all be electronic. “But Bill, it’s all online now!” Really? And every Oregonian has access to a computer and the internet? I was not aware that that was true. If it were, then why are we having problems with “distance learning” in our schools? There will only be written testimony allowed to be submitted. That means no public testimony or questions. Regardless of the Constitutional issues, how is this fair and equitable to all Oregonians? 

Let’s look at “fair” in regard to the very guidelines that all of Oregon must live with right now. The state Capitol is in Marion County. Marion County is not even in Phase Two of the reopening. Even if it were, the limit on “large gathering” is 250 people. There is no way not to have over 250 people in the Capitol. Just 90 legislators and one staffer each is 180….that’s even disregarding the lobbyists, and most importantly, the public We must consider the health and welfare of all Oregonians, which is impossible with a session at this time. 

While Oregonians must abide by the guidelines, the Legislature is exempt? Although there is important work to be done, let us not jeopardize the health and safety of all of Oregon while conducting that work. Being a member of the Legislature, I believe in equity for all Oregonians. Which is why having a special session is unfair to other Oregonians. For example: student-athletes who can’t play sports. Businesses that can’t operate. Employees who are still unemployed and can’t go to work. Seniors who can’t get out nor have visitors. 

Governor Brown has to decide. Either we are out of this pandemic now and can meet in large groups, opening Oregon completely or the outbreak is still too high and we must maintain the current status. Oregon’s health and safety is of the utmost importance. The science is clear, Oregon is still in a vulnerable place. We must not exacerbate that by having hundreds of people in a close fitting, older building. This can wait until October. We cannot have both.