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Politics & Government

Here's what Oregon lawmakers hope to accomplish when they reconvene in Salem on Monday

Oregon State Capitol building, May 18, 2021. Oregon's unique tax law sends money back to taxpayers whenever personal income tax revenues come in at least 2% above initial projections during a two-year budget cycle.
OPB
Oregon State Capitol building, May 18, 2021.

A $400 million bipartisan spending package unveiled Friday also includes money for cracking down on illegal marijuana grows in Southern Oregon, resettling Afghan refugees, and addressing gun violence.

UPDATED: Dec. 13, 6:00 a.m.

Oregon lawmakers will meet in special session Monday to help prevent mass evictions, but they’ll have a lot more on their plate, too.

Included in a four-bill package unveiled Friday is money to help farmers and ranchers hurt by this year’s drought and unprecedented heatwave, and funding to help southern Oregon counties grapple with illegal cannabis growers. The plight of Afghan refugees and curbing gun violence are also on lawmakers’ radar.

In total, the package includes roughly $400 million in spending, along with tweaks to laws safeguarding vulnerable renters. Lawmakers have sparred in recent days over whether those priorities required attention in a special session, but it appears they have now reached an agreement.

In a release Friday, Gov. Kate Brown’s office said the approach was supported by lawmakers in both parties, a sentiment backed by Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, and the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

“Senate Republicans will be in the Capitol on Monday if the language of the legislation being drafted is consistent with these goals,” Knopp said in a statement.

The messaging seemed to bode well for the Legislature’s chances of completing its work in a single-day session. While Republicans are outnumbered in both chambers, they can block legislative action if they refuse to show up en masse. Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, well known for bemoaning the dangers of special legislative sessions, said in a statement he is “sleeping a whole lot better now.”

“We may just make this happen,” he said.

But it was not immediately clear Friday whether House Republicans, who have raised concerns about the session, were on board. In a release, state Rep. Christine Drazan, a Canby Republican and candidate for governor, called on Brown to fire the head of the state’s housing department, saying the agency’s efforts at distributing rental assistance money had been “grossly inadequate.” The release made no mention of the forthcoming spending package.

Refilling the rental aid pool

The deal announced Friday would put $215 million toward assisting tenants who have been unable to pay all their rent, recouping lost rent for landlords and to help agencies that have had a hard time getting emergency money out the door to do so more quickly.

A related proposal, posted to the Legislature’s website Friday, would ensure landlords cannot evict tenants who can show they already applied for emergency rental assistance, so long as that assistance is sought by June 30 of next year. It would protect such tenants from eviction until financial help arrives, their application is denied or Oct.1, whichever comes first. The law would also continue to require landlords to give 10 days’ notice before filing for eviction, rather than the typical 72 hours.

Oregon’s current “safe harbor” provision, set to expire Feb. 28, ensures tenants can’t be evicted for not paying rent if they’ve applied for emergency assistance. But that protection only lasts for 60 days once tapped, less time than it has taken aid to arrive in many cases.

Complicating matters, the state has run out of rental assistance money, and recently closed the portal that allows renters to apply for such funds. Legislation next week will boost emergency rent assistance by $200 million — half for a state-administered fund, and half for eviction protection programs at local agencies.

“We have a proposal before us to keep thousands of Oregonians from losing their housing while rental assistance is on the way,” House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said in a statement. “Next week, we must honor our commitment to keep Oregonians housed.”

Lawmakers also plan to steer roughly $100 million to drought relief. Much of the money will fund forgivable loans to help farmers and ranchers hurt by Oregon’s extremely hot and dry summer. Other money will help pay for wells and drought relief in the Klamath Basin, assist farmworkers who can’t work because of unsuitable conditions and more.

And the state is planning a $25 million package that will allow Oregon State Police to beef up enforcement against illegal cannabis operations that have caused problems in Josephine and Jackson counties. The money will go toward law enforcement efforts, along with staff to enforce labor and code violations.

Also included in the package:

  • $18 million to help resettle Afghan refugees in Oregon
  • $14 million for affordable housing in jurisdictions that could not tap federal funds for that purpose
  • $10 million in relief for “outdoor recreation outfitter guides” who lost business due to drought or COVID-19
  • $2 million to help reduce gun violence in east Multnomah County

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