It seems like a decade ago that we were bearing witness to the repeated Republican walkouts within the Oregon Legislative Assembly. In reality, that most recent round of hapless Republican posturing happened only back in March.
Way back then, after yet another walkout over legislation intended to slow the effects of climate change, we and many other Oregonians were having a hard time seeing a path forward. Democrats and Republicans, even in Oregon—far from the halls of Washington, D.C.—appeared incapable of working together to solve some of the state's most pressing issues. While Bend's representatives, including Sen. Tim Knopp (R-OR27) and Rep. Cheri Helt (R-OR54) stayed at the Capitol that time, the rest of their party absconded, putting Oregon in the national spotlight for its inability to work through its differences.
As COVID-19 continues to rage in the United States, and the picture for economic recovery appears bleak, there's lots to be concerned about. Add in the justified unrest over police brutality and you've got even more concern and uncertainty. But if there's a bright spot to all of this upheaval, it might be this: Republicans and Democrats in Oregon are working together again.
On June 26, the Oregon Legislature wrapped up a marathon three-day special session, passing a host of bills related to police reform and COVID-19 relief, and even tackling some environmental issues. Police-related bills included banning the use of chokeholds (with the exception of when deadly force is necessary), allowing the use of tear gas only after cops have announced they intend to use it, establishing a state database of records about police discipline and establishing a Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform. All of these, surprisingly, passed both chambers of the Legislature with little fuss.
Bills related to housing relief in the wake of COVID-19, while many Republicans voted against, still passed and moved forward. In the end, bills that extended Oregon's moratorium on commercial and residential evictions to Sept. 30, and another one barring lenders from pursuing foreclosures on property owners through Sept. 30 also passed. Heck, even a bill around the spraying of pesticides on forest lands, that brings together environmental groups and representatives from the forest industry, passed with only two "nays" among both the Oregon House and Senate.
A marathon short session such as this, in which so much gets done, shows that indeed, this legislative body can work together. Oregon senators and representatives can work through their differences. If this difficult time of coronavirus shutdowns and ongoing street protests and calls for an end to racial profiling and police brutality has an up-side, it's that it has caused a lot of people—and also a lot of groups, agencies and businesses, and even the Oregon Legislative Assembly—to hit the "reset" button. Our priorities as Oregonians go beyond the "R" or the "D" or even the "I" on our voter registrations. Kudos to the Oregon Legislature for working together, as it should, this time around. When the next short session comes around—likely this August—to tackle the state's budget shortfall, we're going to need to see this strong spirit of cooperation continue.
And wouldn't it be nice to see them get in that spirit when we once again begin to tackle the issue of climate change?