Last week, the Oregon Legislature convened in the second special session of 2020. This session focused on rebalancing the state’s budget in the wake of COVID-19. While lasting only one day, the work had been in motion for months.

In late May, the Legislature received a revenue forecast estimating that the economic impact of COVID-19 would reduce the state’s 2019-21 biennium revenue by $2.7 billion. This spurred the Ways & Means Co-Chairs, Senators Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Portland) and Representative Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis), to begin drafting a budget rebalance framework.

The Co-Chairs released their framework for budget rebalance in July. The plan prioritized education by utilizing $400 million from the Education Stability Fund, a rainy day fund focused on education, to retain operational funding levels for K-12, community colleges and public universities. The plan did call for 5% cuts to the OSU Statewides (Extension, Agricultural Experiment Stations and Forest Research Lab) and the State Programs at public universities.

In early August, the Way & Means SubCommittees held virtual public hearings. The Education Subcommittee took three hours of testimony on the proposed education budget rebalance. Over 100 stakeholders testified or signed letters in support of the OSU Statewides and state programs. There was so much written testimony summitted for OSU programs that the Committee created an OSU category in their exhibits record. Thank you to all the OSU Statewides and State Programs’ stakeholders who wrote in and/or presented to the committee. Your testimony made a difference!

Following the SubCommittee hearings, the Governor called the Legislature in for a Special Session on August 10th. For the second time this year, a session was held in a combination of in-person and virtual meetings from the State Capitol building, which remained closed to the public. However, unlike the previous session, the public was not given the opportunity to testify on bills.

At the end of the day, OSU fared well given the dramatic toll COVID-19 has taken on the state budget. The Public University Support Fund was preserved at the same level allocated in 2019, cuts to the Statewides were reduced from 5% to 2.5% and the legislature allocated $34.5 million in bonding authority for the Arts & Education Complex on the Corvallis campus, a project that was set to be funded during the 2020 session before the Republican walkout abruptly ended things. Thank you to all who helped advocate for this project over the last two years. It is exciting to see how your advocacy has turned this project into reality.

Unfortunately, the legislature did not change the proposed 5% cut to the State Programs and failed to fund bonding for the $12.9 million OSU Cascades Student Success Center, which had been previously slated for funding with General Funds in the February session. We will continue to advocate for the Student Success Center at OSU-Cascades as a top university priority.

In addition to budget matters, the legislature addressed a small number of policy bills related to unemployment insurance and criminal justice reform. It was unclear if the legislature was going to take up these matters until right before the session, which created significant tensions in the incredibly packed 15 hour session. OPB provides a good recap in this article.

What’s Next?

While this was 2020’s second special session, it may not be the last. The day following the session, legislative leadership and the Governor shared the potential for a third session, likely to address additional policy issues and budget reductions. Any decisions about further budget reductions would be in response to future revenue forecasts scheduled for September and December.

Meanwhile, budget development for the 2021-23 biennium is well under way. On August 13th, the Higher Education Coordinating Commission took the first formal step in submitting an Agency Request Budget to the Governor. The budget includes Policy Option Package recommendations (POPs) that would dramatically expand and transform the state’s need-based financial aid programs, support a stabilizing base funding package for public universities, and invest in capital construction.

There is also significant uncertainty on the reality of this request budget within the looming and projected budget shortfalls in the 2021-23 biennium. During the 2021 long session, we will more likely be in a situation to preserve the funding we already have and minimize cuts, along with all other state-funded entities. It will be imperative for OSU to once again engage our stakeholders to advocate for higher education and the importance of our land grant mission.

Last week, the Oregon Legislature held a historic, semi-virtual special session. Convened by the Governor, the session sought to address policy bills related to COVID-19, policing reform and a handful of pressing issues carried over from the February session. The State Capitol remained closed to the general public and most staff as the legislature conducted their business through a mixture of in-person voting sessions and virtual committee meetings.

The only Committee that met was a special committee crafted for the special session. The Joint Committee on The First Special Session held virtual public hearings on bills with Committee members participating from their offices and members of the public offering testimony over the phone. Committee members held work sessions on bills in-person by practicing social distancing and wearing masks while in one of the larger committee rooms.

In response to the on-going, nationwide protests on police brutality and racial injustice, police accountability reform was one of the driving forces in bringing the legislature into session. Before the start of session, OSU President Ed Ray sent a letter to legislative leadership encouraging them to take prompt and transformational action in the area of police reform. Additionally, Isabel Nuñez Pérez and Jade Warner, Presidents of ASOSU and ASCC, submitted written testimony in support of the policing reform package.

Addressing the looming state budget shortfall was not on the Legislature’s agenda. The state is facing a $2.7 billion revenue shortfall for the remaining of the biennium due to the economic impact of coronavirus. Later this summer, another special session is expected to focus on the budget.

Over the three-day session, 26 bills passed and are expected to be signed by the Governor. Here some of the highlights:

Policing Reform Measures

Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform – HB 4201A – establishes a committee to examine policies to improve transparency in investigations and police protocols and to examine use of force policies. The committee will make recommendations by December 31, 2020.

Outlaw the use of respiratory restricting restraints – HB 4203A – Declares that a peace officer is not justified or reasonable in any circumstance to use physical force that impedes “the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of another person by applying pressure on the throat or neck of the other person” unless it is a circumstance in which an officer may use deadly force as provided by in ORS 161.239. Rules will be adopted prohibiting the training of this force, except as a defensive maneuver. 

Duty to report and intervene – HB 4205A – requires police and reserve officers to intervene to prevent or stop another officer from engaging in an act they know, or should reasonably know is misconduct. 

Transparency of police discipline records – HB 4207A – requires the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) to establish a statewide online public database of records for officers whose certification has been revoked or suspended and specifies the information to be provided as well as timeline for posting and requires law enforcement agencies to request and review an applicant’s personnel files from current or prior law enforcement agencies. 

Protecting freedom of speech and assembly from excessive force – HB 4208A – prohibits law enforcement agencies from using tear gas for crowd control, except for circumstances that meet the definition of a riot in ORS 166.015. In the event of a riot, the legislation requires sufficient notification and ability for individuals to evacuate an area before tear gas is deployed. 

Discipline guidelines and arbitration decisions – SB 1604 – requires an arbitrator to uphold a discipline decision should they agree that misconduct occurred, as long as the discipline lines up with the discipline guide. The disciplinary guide or matrix would be a mandatory subject of collective bargaining. 

COVID-19 Measures

Extending Expiring COVID Executive OrdersHB 4212, an omnibus COVID bill, addressed several issues that were covered in the Governor’s executive orders and other related issues, including holding public meetings virtually, adjusting court proceedings and siting emergency shelters. HB 4213 extended the moratorium on non-payment evictions due to COVID and HB 4204 addressed similar policies for mortgages.

Other Measures

Implementing Forestry MOUSB 1602 is the result of an agreement between the timber industry and environmentalist to address certain forestry policies in return for the withdrawal of three forestry related initiative petitions. 

Oregon Foster Children – SB 1605 provides several fixes to Oregon’s foster care system, including expanding the Oregon Promise to Oregon children who are placed in out of state foster care.

Medical Assistance for People with DisabilitiesSB 1606 sets out requirements to ensure that people with disabilities are not subject to discrimination in the care that they receive and that they have access to the support person(s) who can help them interact with the medical system. 

Expanding Oregon Meat ProcessingHB 4206 Authorizes State Department of Agriculture to adopt rules establishing program of state inspection for processing and sale of meat products.

Expanding BroadbandSB 1603 established a Broadband Fund with a dedicated funding source of up to $5 million for the purpose of grants for expanding broadband access.

17-year legacy at OSU

This week President Ed Ray finishes his 17-year tenure as President of Oregon State University. Please take a moment to watch this video in honor of President Ray.

Oregon Primary Highlights

Oregon held its primary election on May 19th. Results can be found here. Oregon’s U.S. Senate and Congressional incumbents all won their primary and will continue on to the general election. COVID-19 and social distancing definitely changed how candidates ran their campaigns. The traditional candidate forums and debates moved to web-based platforms, door-to-door canvasing became direct phones calls and digital ads, and opportunities to mingle with voters at community events were canceled.

However, COVID did not impact Oregon voter turnout as was seen in other states. Oregon’s commitment to vote-by-mail paid off with one of the highest state voter turnouts in the national 2020 primary election. This was also Oregon’s first election with prepaid envelopes, making voting so easy that 46% turnout almost seems too low.

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Over the past three months, all of our lives have been impacted in unimaginable ways. The OSU Government Relations team hopes this update finds you and your family healthy and safe.

Since mid-March, OSU has been operating under the Governor’s Higher Education and Stay Home Executive Orders. Our spring term courses moved to remote delivery. This took extraordinary efforts by OSU’s faculty, graduate teaching assistants, advisors and staff to make this switch in just a two-week span. Over 4,000 courses have moved to remote delivery.

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COVID-19 Response

On Sunday, March 8th, Governor Brown declared a State of Emergency in Oregon due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Since the declaration, the Legislature’s Emergency Board has allocated $5 million towards the crisis and a special joint legislative committee on Coronavirus Response has been assembled by legislative leadership.

On Wednesday, March 11th, Oregon State University announced guidelines to protect students and employees from COVID-19 community spread. To facilitate the ongoing sharing of information about the virus, Oregon State University has added a link on the OSU homepage to a new page that provides detailed and up-to-date COVID-19 information; links to OSU, local, state and federal resources; updates on the latest federal travel restrictions; and previous university communications about the virus and other information. The web site includes a memo released this week about plans for remote final exams and remote teaching.

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This month marks the end of my 20-year career as Director of Government Relations at OSU. I was drawn to OSU by President Paul Risser in 1999 after working with him while I served on a temporary federal appointment in Governor John Kitzhaber’s office. The Governor asked Risser to chair a citizen commission charged with resolving intractable water quality problems in the Willamette River Basin, and I was serving as the Governor’s liaison to the commission. At its first meeting, Risser, an ecologist, asked the members to briefly address the issues of interest to them. After listening to an hour-long free-ranging collection of concerns which fully described Oregon’s urban-rural divide, Risser briefly synthesized the discussion into a cogent summary that eventually became the commission’s work plan. I thought he was the smartest person I’d ever met.

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Looking to the 2020 legislative session

Universities will be focused on two major priorities as they approach the 2020 legislative session. First, because the legislature postponed decisions about capital facilities on individual campuses during the 2019 session, the universities seeking commitments of state-financed bonds for capital renewal and/or new buildings on their campuses. During the 2019 session the legislature did approve $65 million in bonding for capital renewal projects. These funds will be distributed among the campuses according to a mutually agreed-upon formula developed by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC). But, in synch with the Governor’s recommendation upon entering the 2019 session, the legislature deferred making decisions about individual campus projects, pending the results of what turned out to be a 280-page 10-year strategic capital development plan commissioned by the HECC. The study assessed the long-term campus trends and needs, and in October the HECC approved the plan. Now, HECC staff have incorporated the findings in recommendations to be considered this week. (These issues will be addressed in Capital Construction below.)

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