By editorial board • 

State and federal relief action comes at the eleventh hour

Oregon held its 41st special legislative session Monday, following a tradition from 1860, the year following statehood.

This special session was the third of the year, second only to the five conducted in 2002. And the impetus, once again, was supplying constituents with relief from a pandemic about to enter its second deadly year.

The state action occurred one day after federal lawmakers finally passed a relief measure through both chambers, breaking eight months of partisan gridlock. 

The delay was driven by a heated, high-stakes presidential election, making both parties feel obliged to hold their ground. The turnaround was driven by a heated, high-stakes senatorial runoff election, making both parties feel obliged to deliver.

By and large, affected interests seemed at least somewhat pleased, and you can add us to that list.

The two most striking exceptions seemed to be a maskless State Sen. Fred Heard, who rose to deliver a blistering Old Testament admonition that “adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces,” and an armed right-fringe coalition that briefly broke into the Capitol, calling for Gov. Kate Brown’s arrest.

In floor action, the Legislature granted Oregonians a six-month extension of eviction relief and landlords $150 million to ease the burden. It also approved sale of cocktails and glasses of wine for off-site consumption on behalf of the suffering hospitality sector, and allocated $400 million to the Legislative Emergency Board to meet future relief needs.

It agreed to limit the liability of public schools for COVID-related legal claims, but stalled on granting similar relief to health care providers, after the Oregon Nurses Association raised strong objection. Finally, it augmented its $700 million COVID package with $100 million in wildfire relief.

The Oregonian described the chief aim — aptly in our opinion — as “keeping Oregonians in their homes while helping struggling businesses stay afloat.”

The $900 billion federal package includes distribution of $600 stimulus checks, extension of enhanced unemployment benefits through mid-March, extension of a residential eviction moratorium for one more month, additional rent and food assistance, and another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for employers. It also allocates money to assist with vaccine distribution, extend broadband internet in underserved areas, and pump relief aid into education, transportation and agriculture. 

Surprisingly, the federal action caused less drama than its Oregon counterpart. Oregon was targeted by the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer and allied groups, who focused their ire mainly on Gov. Brown’s mask mandate.

While that closes out pandemic aid action for the year, the Biden administration in D.C. and Brown administration in Salem are both expected to further address needs as 2021 unfolds.

Deaths from all causes already exceed a record 3 million this year in the U.S., up more than 400,000. And some 300,000 is being attributed to COVID-19.

A vaccination campaign is now underway, but skeptics abound, the rollout promises to be painstakingly slow. Meanwhile, virus counts are soaring across the country and a virulent new mutation is now ravaging England.

Our president-elect fears the darkest days are yet to come, but we’re opting for a cautious yet optimistic approach.


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