The Legislature has been called back by Governor Brown for a one-day Special Session Monday December 21.
We will work on four bills during the day, designed to set up a landlord assistance program while extending the eviction moratorium, offer coronavirus liability protections for schools, provide support for the restaurant industry and consider the allocation of additional funds to the E-Board for other COVID-19 and wildfire relief and recovery efforts.
As proposed, the residential eviction moratorium would continue through June 2021 with additional protections and considerations for both landlords and tenants. With the new legislation, tenants would have to show they suffered financial hardship due to the pandemic to be able to qualify for the moratorium protections. Qualifying tenants must pay all rent back by July 1, 2021 to avoid eviction. Protections for non-qualifying tenants end as of December 31, 2020 and all back rent must be paid by March 31, 2021.
With passage of this extension, no-cause evictions may resume in 2021 if the landlord intends to sell the property to someone who will occupy it, demolish or convert it, undertake major repairs or renovations during which time it would be unsafe to occupy, or move themselves or a family member into the housing.
This bill would also create and fund a new $150 million landlord compensation fund. Landlords that apply for assistance through the fund would be given money to cover some missed rental payments and would be required to forgive 20% of their tenants’ past-due rent.
I’ve heard from many constituents about the importance of reopening schools, but that the schools must have some limited liability protections.
During the one-day session we will consider legislation to protect school districts, charter schools and community colleges that are following the COVID-19 public health guidelines, from civil damages that might arise due to virus infection of students, staff or visitors. These protections would not apply to reckless, wanton or intentional misconduct and are in effect only as long as the State of Emergency is in place.
The economy has suffered due to the pandemic-related restrictions, and one of the hardest hit has been the restaurant industry. Lawmakers will be considering legislation that would allow restaurants to sell sealed mixed drinks to-go, along with a take-out food order. If approved, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission will have 30 days to establish rules relating to cocktails to-go.
Finally, the Governor is requesting $600 million for the E-Board, $400 million would be earmarked for COVID-19 relief, including vaccine distribution and contact tracing, $100 million for wildfire prevention, and $100 million for the general emergency fund.
For the past two weeks, legislators have been participating in Legislative Days to prepare for the 2021 Legislative Session. Legislative days are a time for holding informational committee meetings, hearing updates on legislation implementation and receiving reports from state agencies and Task Forces.
On Tuesday, as Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, I oversaw an informative session focused on wildfires.
The 2020 wildfire season was one of the most destructive natural disasters in Oregon state history. Starting on Labor Day we saw dozens of fire starts with dry east winds driving flames quickly across the landscape consuming thousands of homes and structures and burning nearly a million acres in western Oregon. Nine of the state’s 18 massive fires began during that 24-hour period. There are 304 fire departments in the state, and 180 of those responded to the wildfire fighting effort. Forty percent of those on the lines were volunteers, which is a testament to the nature of Oregonians who help each other.
There are many strategies that can be employed to help reduce the impacts of wildfire devastation, including public and private partnerships to develop building codes pertaining to construction and design of materials in high hazard areas, comprehensive mapping to determine wildfire risk areas, focus on home construction techniques, passage and enforcement of regulations and development of a multi-pronged approach to mitigate future devastation.
I want to give a shout-out to the Oregon State University School of Forestry and Dean Tom DeLuca, who provided such valuable information on fire resilience, adaptation and recovery, and their on-going research into building a cohesive strategy as we move forward. I want to thank OSU for everything they are doing for the state and the highest quality education they are providing for our future leaders.
The Governor’s staff also outlined her priorities at our committee meeting, and those include: funding; identifying response strategies to fires on protected, under-protected and unprotected lands; dealing with smoke from wildfires; assisting communities affected by wildfires, and constructing resilient landscapes for the future.
The House Natural Resources Committee will also take up the topics of the Oregon Conservation and Recreation Board and their advisory committees, Oregon’s Anti-Poaching Campaign and discuss Timber Taxation in the coming meeting.
Holidays during a pandemic
This is a busy time for everyone as we approach Christmas and New Year’s. This year’s celebrations will be different as much of the state and all of HD 31 moves into the Extreme COVID-19 restrictions, and gatherings should be kept to a safe minimum. Please be safe this holiday season, as you enjoy and cherish each other.
Even when I am not in Salem, I’m still working with constituents, community leaders and other elected officials on matters that impact our lives. We check our messages daily, so if you have a concern, comment or need help regarding a state issue or agency, please contact my office. I am honored to represent you in the Oregon House of Representatives, and look forward to hearing from you.
Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a joyous New Year.
Rep. Brad Witt serves House District 31. He may be reached at: