Second Special Session Update

Kim Wallan


Below is an advanced copy of my Second Special Session bulletin. I will again be sending out a printed copy for review by all of my constituents, but because you have subscribed to my email list, you are receiving this sneak peek. Please do feel free to forward this message. 

If you have any questions about measures that passed the legislature during this special session, you can email me at



Pandemic Assistance Update

My staff and I are still working with the Employment Department to resolve unpaid UI/PUA claims. Also, you may have heard that after the $600 per week enhanced unemployment ended on July 31, the president authorized an extension of $400 per week. $300 of each payment is to be made by the federal government, but only if the state applies for the funds and also pays the other $100 of the total. Oregon still has ample funds to make these payments, but the governor initially balked at applying for the federal portion. After urging from state leaders, OED announced that they now intend to apply. However, the OED, which operates entirely under the authority of the governor, has declared they lack personnel and proper computer programming so they are unsure when the first checks will be sent. My office will monitor progress on this program and will keep you informed. You can read OED’s statement about the program at

What is a Special Session?

Normally, the Oregon legislature meets for a six-month Long Session every odd-numbered year and a 35-day Short Session every even-numbered year. During the rest of the two-year cycle when the legislature is not in session, there are two ways the legislature can deal with crises such as floods, earthquakes, or other problems that require immediate attention. The first and most common is for the Emergency Board (E-Board) to meet, which it did several times during the COVID-19 crisis. The second, less common method is for the governor to call the entire legislature to return to Salem to meet in what is called a “special session”. As you know from my last newsletter, the COVID-19 pandemic has been so significant that the governor called us into a Special Session in June. She also called us into the session we just completed, on August 10.

Special Sessions do not have a constitutional end, but are generally kept short. This year’s Second Special Session took this to an extreme, setting a new and concerning precedent for legislative sessions in Oregon. For the first time in our state’s history, in order to limit the length of the session, public comment was not allowed during committee hearings--not even through videoconference. New technology could have allowed robust public input because people would not have had to travel to Salem to testify. Public testimony is one of the most important aspects of the legislative process. It gives Oregonians the ability to communicate directly with lawmakers to tell us how proposed laws are going to affect you, your families, and your livelihoods. Without any input from you, it was difficult to support many of the bills that became laws during the Second Special Session. 

In addition to allowing no public testimony, the majority only allowed Portland-area legislators to submit any of the bills we voted on. Despite my concerns about the way session was conducted, I want to let you know what laws were enacted on August 10.

Employment Department

While several “fixes” were offered to address the Oregon Employment Department’s deeply disappointing performance during this pandemic, we passed just one bill actually designed to help clear their backlog of unpaid claims. This change allows OED and the Department of Revenue to share information until the end of 2020. This will shorten processing time by reducing the number of calls made to each person before authorizing benefits, particularly those seeking payment through the PUA system. I supported this bill along with the bill that allows people to earn a higher amount per week at a part time job and still claim unemployment benefits. The cutoff is currently $124 per week, and we raised that to $300. This change will take effect immediately, but as with the enhanced $400 program, OED needs time to implement it. All eligible claims will be paid retroactively once the systems are set up. The program sunsets in 2021. 

The Employment Department is an executive agency, meaning that it is an arm of the governor’s office, set up to execute laws passed by the legislature. Sadly, many of its failures in the pandemic were foreseeable. Mismanagement of the agency dates back years. In 2009, an $85.6 million federal grant was awarded to the Department to upgrade its outdated computer systems. The funds were not spent, and the systems were not improved. The director has announced that the department will not complete these upgrades until 2025, so claims will continue to be paid on the current, outdated system.

Budget Issues

General Fund
At the end of the 2020 Short Session, the state was in good fiscal shape because of the healthy economy. We left about $1.5 Billion as the ending fund balance. This surplus meant we only had to cut about $1.2 Billion from the budget in the August Special Session; a figure that would have been closer to $3 Billion without the surplus. We were able to keep the size of the cuts to our Extension   Service and the fairgrounds to a minimum, as well as maintain full state funding for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

CARES Act Funding
Multnomah and Washington Counties received money directly from the CARES Act in proportion to their population. The remainder of the funding was given to the state to distribute. Jackson County Commissioners initiated the drive to have the legislature allocate these funds to the rest of the counties in the same fashion, which the E-board did. Despite this legislative action, the governor has so far refused to execute the will of the legislature in this matter. Our county is still awaiting these funds to defray the costs resulting from the pandemic.

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1406
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, H-376, Salem, OR 97301