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Oregon Lawmakers Are Preparing For Another Federal Shutdown

Bradley W. Parks/OPB
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, in the Oregon Senate on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

The gears of the federal government are once again operating at full power after a five-week partial shutdown, but Oregon legislative leaders aren’t taking any chances. 

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, is introducing a bill that would allow the state to pay unemployment benefits to federal employees forced to work without pay — just in case Congress and President Donald Trump find themselves gridlocked again in the coming weeks.

The bill, which has support from House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, would include in the state’s definition of “unemployed,” workers who are legally compelled to perform their jobs, despite not being paid. During the recently ended shutdown, that definition would have covered more than 2,000 Coast Guard personnel, TSA screeners and federal prison guards in Oregon.

Kotek told reporters Monday that she hopes to pass the legislation before a deal to temporarily fund the federal government expires in mid-February.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” Kotek said. “Obviously we have until Feb. 15 for Congress to come up with some deal to keep the government open.”

The Senate will introduce the bill on Tuesday, Kotek said. She hopes it makes its way quickly to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which is comprised of both senators and representatives. That could eliminate the need to have the measure go through a committee in both the House and Senate.
“We feel that [the shutdown] caught us a little flat footed,” Kotek said. “Let’s hope we don’t have to deal with that but we want to be prepared.”
Governor Kate Brown’s office said Monday that Brown had not seen the bill, but that she’s generally supportive of the concept.

It’s unclear how much the state will allocate to the Oregon Employment Department to prepare for another shutdown. A draft of the bill that circulated Monday did not include a specific dollar amount.

Whatever the number is, it’s possible much of it would make its way back to state coffers if it were disbursed. Andrea Fogue, the employment department’s legislative affairs and communications director, previously told OPBthat federal employees who received back pay after a shutdown ends could pay back the state. Those who didn’t would be ineligible to receive unemployment benefits within five years unless they paid the shutdown money back.

The partial federal government shutdown that began Dec. 22 ended in a deal struck between Trump and Democratic leaders on Friday. That deal, however, only lasts until February 15 and did not address the president’s insistence of a wall along the nation’s southern border.

Lauren Dake contributed to this report. 

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting