By editorial board • 

Separate summer sessions best way to address woes

The Oregon Legislature, which has held 39 special sessions since first convening in 1860, is preparing to hold two more.

The first, thought to be imminent, is to focus on police accountability and the state’s COVID-19 response. The second, to follow later is the summer, will address the estimated $3 billion budget shortfall precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unprecedented? Hardly.

The Legislature held two special sessions in 1933 and three in both 1982 and 2002. And the triple-header sets lasted 39 and 42 days, respectively.

Hopefully, lawmakers can manage to address this year’s issues more economically. The pressure of conducting hearings, deliberations and votes in one of the state’s leading COVID-19 regions will no doubt help in that regard.

Originally, the state hoped for just one supplementary session. It aimed to rely on executive orders to handle pandemic issues and continue to ignore police accountability in the face of fierce union opposition.

The death of yet another unarmed black man at the hands of yet another phalanx of armed white officers changed the calculus on the latter, particularly for the Legislature’s majority Democrats. They fear the wrath of unions, which supply the funds that sustain their campaigns, but fear the wrath of aroused voters even more.

Holding off on the budget crisis, grim as it may seem, makes sense. First, the state may yet get another stream of federal relief, serving to change numbers and priorities. What’s more, Republicans are insistent on delaying Oregon’s new $1 billion a year corporate activity tax and Democrats are determined to hold firm, raising the specter of a bitter, protracted standoff.

Prospects for accord are much greater with police accountability, as bills have been circulating through legislative halls for at least a decade now. The same is true of the COVID-19 response, as Gov. Kate Brown has already sketched it out in a series of executive orders.

The immediate push on police accountability is coming from two quarters, a trio of Republican lawmakers, including former McMinnville Police Chief Ron Noble, and the Legislature’s all-Democrat People of Color Caucus, including acknowledged accountability champion Lew Frederick of Portland.

Sen. Frederick has been addressing that issue for 10 years now. Over that span, he’s introduced 59 bills on police reform and accountability. He’s scored isolated successes, but his efforts were largely for naught until the George Floyd killing sent protests rippling across the nation.

Perhaps Frederick’s most agonizing setback occurred on a 2019 bill designed to prevent arbitrators from routinely overturning disciplinary actions — actions like then-Chief Ron Noble’s firing of officer Tim Heidt in a notable McMinnville case. It sailed through the Senate 28-0, but ran aground in the House when Speaker Tina Kotek assigned it to the committee of former police lieutenant Jeff Barker, an ardent foe.

Arbitration reform is a virtual lock this year, and prospects seem likely for action on use of force, internal investigation and racial bias issues. Look for discussion on chokeholds, body cams, tear gas and rubber bullets along the way.

We believe police reform is long, long overdue, that Brown has generally done a good job with the COVID crisis (other than the unemployment crisis), and that the budget quagmire needs additional clarity only time can provide. So we support the course the governor has set on Oregon’s summer special session topics.


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable