SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Legislature wrapped up what the Senate president called “an impossible and historic session” Friday after passing a slew of bills, most dealing with police accountability and the coronavirus pandemic.
“I could not have imagined two months ago that we would be holding a special session in a closed building, with virtual meetings, social distancing, and face masks,” Senate President Peter Courtney said. “But here we are, 24 bills passed, more than 600 pieces of public testimony submitted, over 100 people gave virtual committee testimony, all in only three days.”
Police reform bills that lawmakers passed include measures that limit the use of chokeholds, require officers to intervene if their colleague is being unjust or unethical and creating a statewide police discipline database.
Another bill that now goes to Gov. Kate Brown prohibits law enforcement agencies from using tear gas for crowd control, except for circumstances that meet the definition of a riot. Even then, the legislation requires sufficient notification and ability for people to leave before tear gas is deployed.
Another bill requires an arbitrator to uphold a discipline decision should they agree that misconduct occurred.
“These measures will seek to set us on a path to safer and more welcoming communities throughout our state,” said Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, who is Black and was stopped by police while canvassing two years ago in her district.
“This work is fundamentally about raising the bar for the law enforcement profession and ending the tolerance for those who bring it dishonor,” said Bynum.
House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby said: “Today’s votes affirm that power in all forms must be accountable, limited and responsive to Oregonians.”
“As I stand with our law enforcement community and value their work to serve and protect, there are always opportunities to improve,” Drazan said. “This bipartisan legislation will bring meaningful change to policing in Oregon.”
Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Eugene, who is Black, said work remains “to get to a place where our communities can genuinely feel safe around those who were sworn to serve and protect them.”
The reform bills were just a portion of the lengthy list the Legislature considered Friday.
House Bill 4204 was one of the most debated measures in the Legislature — passing in the House 39-18 and passing in the Senate 19-8. The bill would enact new foreclosure protections during the coronavirus pandemic.
In an effort to hasten the process, Republicans in the House agreed to suspend certain procedural rules.
What was not attended to was the state budget, which will take a big hit because of the pandemic. At least one other special session may be called.
“This session has been a huge disappointment because we did not get the budget done, and Oregonians were locked out of the process,” said Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod of Stayton.
Courtney acknowledged more work remains.
“We have a budget to do. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic. While we’ve finished this round strong, we still have more rounds to go,” he said.