SALEM, Ore. — Lawmakers in Oregon started a special session Wednesday focused on dealing with the coronavirus and police reform.
Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) gaveled in the special session on his side of the Capitol at 8 a.m., saying, “This is our time; I never knew it would be this bad. But this is our time.”
These are tough times with cases of COVID-19 growing in parts of Oregon. It's a pandemic that affects our health, our economy, and our education systems. After the morning session, Courtney expressed frustration at having to wait this long to get started.
“We've got a catastrophic disaster but it's our time. The executive branch is on the sidelines, the judiciary is on the sidelines. Some of us have been trying to get on this field since March,” he said.
The other issue many feel is extremely pressing is police reform. It is evident by the protests over the killing of Black Americans by police officers. House leader Tina Kotek (D-Portland) says reforms are long overdue.
“We cannot go home without a making a first step towards significant changes in police accountability in this state,” said Kotek.
One bill being discussed would create an online database of officer's discipline records. Another would look at banning chokeholds and the use of tear gas.
Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland) spoke about the need for change, on the floor of the Senate.
“So that we begin to create a new culture, a new system, that makes me feel safe, that makes my family feel safe, and makes other folks understand that we are all in this together,” said Frederick.
Although the special session is being streamed online, protesters outside the state Capitol want inside. And they want a voice in the decision-making. It seemed COVID-19 restrictions are a big issue for them.
“I am a patriot and I love our state and I love our country and I feel like our governor is taking away our freedoms. So, I am just here standing with other patriots who feel the same way,” said one woman who didn’t share her name.
Republican leadership has said rebalancing the budget thrown out of shape by the coronavirus crisis should be the priority of the special session.
Meanwhile, lawmakers struggle at times with their own realities. Most but not all wore masks. Courtney said he was disappointed by the few who didn’t. But that there are many things to be concerned about, and to accomplish.
“There's all kinds of things going on around here, so will we measure up? You'll have to wait and see—I'll have to wait and see," he said.