Oregon special session results in pandemic-related aid for renters, restaurants

SALEM, Ore.- When Governor Kate Brown called a long-anticipated special session, the one-day limit put pressure on law makers to take action.

“When the governor decided not to call a session where we could all operate completely remotely, it was really important for us to have a narrow agenda with some agreed upon ground rules so we could get done in a day,” said Speaker of the House Tina Kotek.

One of the biggest measures passed?  An extension on the rent moratorium, meaning the threat of eviction no longer hangs over some renters this holiday season.

“This bill is a deeply reasonable compromise that protects both tenants and landlords,” said Cybill Head with the Oregon Law Center. Following the session, Head spoke alongside the Stable Homes for Oregon Families coalition.

“We are thrilled that this legislation will ensure housing stability for our friends and neighbors across the state that rent their homes so that they can enjoy the holiday season and have stability through the year knowing they are not at risk of homelessness,” Head explained.

For Speaker Kotek, this is just the first step of a longer journey for Oregon housing.

“This is the beginning of an additional conversation that’s going to happen very early next year. Everyone knows housing is important, everyone has been hit hard across the board, and I think we started a good conversation today, it’s not the end for sure,” she said.

Another bill passed by both the senate and house, allows the sale of to-go cocktails with takeout and delivery meals, a step many bars and restaurants have been asking for all year.

“I think I just asked our [Oregon Liquor Control Commission] representative about it maybe 30 days ago and they had a nice chuckle and said ‘no way that’s going to happen.’ Well, here we are!,” said Tom Dubois, the manager of Louie’s in Ashland. He says this change would not only help with income but allow them to deliver more of the typical restaurant experience.

“It’s another segment of our businesses which is traditionally very, very popular. We do make amazing cocktails all year around and as of today, we could not put them in a to go container or deliver to a customer,” Dubois explained. The bill now needs to be signed by governor Brown to be fully implemented. If it becomes law, it will remain in effect until 60 days after the state of emergency is lifted.

However, one pandemic-related bill did not pass: senate bill 1803. The legislation would protect front line workers who are working under emergency guidelines from legal action related to COVID-19.

According to the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, the protections would not protect providers from lawsuits over misconduct or negligence. It would just cover government imposed rules and executive orders that impact their delivery of care.

It had bipartisan support, but after last-minute disagreements over additional amendments, it did not get enough votes.

The next legislative session begins January 19th. The state is exploring a hybrid model for meeting, due to COVID.

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