March 24, 2023

COVID-19 cans floor business in Oregon House amid mounting political tensions

This week’s floor business in the Oregon House is now on hold following word from state leaders that a person working in the Capitol has tested positive for COVID-19.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, announced the news on Monday. Citing medical privacy laws, she declined to name the person in question. She did not say whether they were a state lawmaker or legislative staff member.

According to Kotek, the person may have made contact with state lawmakers on the House floor between March 15 and March 16. All people present those days have been notified by human resources, she said, and the House chamber and accompanying areas will be fumigated accordingly. Floor business in the Oregon Senate is expected to go uninterrupted.

“The priority for the session continues to be to keep people safe and do the people’s work,” Kotek said in a statement.

Kotek is encouraging anyone present on the House Floor those days not showing symptoms to self-isolate for the next 10 days. House floor business will not resume until next Monday at the earliest. Committee work, which is being held online, will continue as usual.

Oregon House Democrats’ agenda this week included advancing an $18 million bill funding six emergency homeless shelters. Under state protocol, bills must be voted on in-person as well as read aloud in full. 

The days-long shutdown of the House further inflamed mounting tensions in the chamber where the House Republican minority has denied Democrats the two-thirds majority necessary to waive the chamber’s bill reading rules.

In a letter sent to Kotek on Monday, House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, laid out a list of demands House Republicans want met before considering reforming chamber rules. They include limiting legislation to the pandemic and natural disasters, only advancing bills with bipartisan support, keeping floor time within regular work hours, and granting House Republicans more airtime to voice their concerns.

With some 4,000 bills on the table this session, House committees are not allowing themselves the time to think through the bills they are sending to the floor, according to Drazan.

“As long as the building is closed to the public and deeply controversial legislation continues to be fast-tracked in committees, we will continue to depend on the Constitution, to remind the supermajority we should not operate like it’s business as usual while the public is shut out,” Drazan wrote. “This is a year for healing, in our state and nation; a time to come together. It is not a time for deeply divisive, partisan legislation while the public is locked out of the building.”

The sole members of the Oregon Legislature eligible for COVID vaccinations right now are those who qualify for shots on account of age. Gov. Kate Brown received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine earlier this month to hep build public trust in the vaccine rollout, according to her office.

Eight hours east in Boise, six Idaho state lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19. The Idaho state legislature has since decided to go into recess until April 6.

The Oregon state Capitol building has been closed to the general public since last March during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. State lawmakers, legislative staff, police, and select members of the press are among the only people clear to enter. Tighter security, including a chain link fence, was added the building after a mob of Trump supporters broke into it on December 21.

On Monday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 178 new COVID-19 cases in the state, bringing the total caseload to 161,706 and the death toll to 2,365.

The Oregon Legislature’s six-month long session is set to adjourn on June 28.

This article was originally posted on COVID-19 cans floor business in Oregon House amid mounting political tensions

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