CORONAVIRUS, Government, Oregon

Legislature passes COVID-19, wildfire bills during one day session

The Oregon Capitol building in Salem. Photo: Chas Hundley

The Oregon Legislature passed a group of spending bills providing a six-month extension to the moratorium on evictions, allowing restaurants and bars to sell cocktails to go, financial relief for Oregonians following last summer’s wildfire devastation, and removing financial liability from damages claims for schools during the public health crisis.

House Bill 4401 provided the extension on rent moratoriums through June 2021, averting what many observers say was an eviction crisis brought on by unemployment following the spring 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. 

The bill requires landlords to forgive 20 percent of individual rents due in order for the state to reimburse the remaining 80 percent. Many lawmakers hope to provide early on in the full 2021 legislative session landlords tax incentives for agreeing to forgive 20 percent of rents due. Renters will have to sign a sworn affidavit stating that failure to pay rent was directly caused by hardship since the COVID-19 lockdown. 

Senate Bill 1801 A, dubbed the Restaurant Relief Act of 2020, allows licensed independent restaurants to sell to-go alcoholic drinks — two cocktails or one single serving of wine in sealed containers per customer. The bill also caps fees at 15 percent that are charged to restaurants by third-party delivery services, like GrubHub and DoorDash, and a 5 percent fee on in-person pickups facilitated by the popular smartphone delivery apps. 

The changes are temporary and will sunset after 60 days after the end of the state of Oregon’s emergency declaration, an Oregon House Democrats press release said. 

The vote of this bill, which passed 50 to 4, demonstrates what’s been referred to as a “collegial” effort of cooperation by elected officials — House District 32 Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell (D-Astoria) said on Dec. 20 they were determined to wrap up the one-day Special Session by the end of the day — who disagreed on a few things but met the self-imposed deadline.

Senate Bill 5731 will use $800 million from the state’s general fund to provide Oregonians with financial relief from COVID-19 and wildfire recovery, but details of the plan remain murky

House Bill 4402 A grants schools immunity from liability from families suing for damages if their children get sick with COVID-19 while at school during the ongoing public health crisis. 

“For the Oregonians who are worried about whether or not they will have a safe place to call home, for the independent restaurant owners who are working to keep their doors open, for the individuals in desperate need of support during the multitude of crises we face, today’s special session will hopefully provide some measure of relief,” House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner (D-Portland) said in a statement. 

Lawmakers also voted to close tax loopholes created by the federal government during the public health crisis that provides about $100 million to what elected officials on both sides of the aisle deemed “Oregon’s wealthiest, largest businesses rather than small- to medium-sized, independent businesses, the owners of which argue are on the verge of going out of business.

The actions of protestors came to a boiling point outside the capitol building while lawmakers were inside voting and journalists witnessed the proceedings, with some of the latter being shoved by people attempting to force their way past police and inside the legislative chambers. 

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