Do What You Can Do 12/24/2020

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Senator Jeff Golden

 *  “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” 
—Helen Keller

main photo

This photo of the sunset over Ashland was taken by Jack Leishman. We want your beautiful Southern Oregon photo for this newsletter! Send it to with the subject “Photo Reminder.” We’d love to feature them.

Generosity time

What I’m celebrating this holiday season is the persistent generosity of the Rogue Valley community in the face of 2020’s troubles. I saw it again yesterday at the Community Relief Center at Shoppes at Exit 24 in Phoenix, where a squad of friendly volunteers was busy helping people stock up on donated necessities. What do they need? This is the whiteboard just outside their door.


They’re open to receive and give out donations from noon to 6pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays (not Christmas Day) and Saturdays.

My thanks to anyone who’s volunteered there or elsewhere to ease our community’s suffering. If you haven’t, or want to do more, there’s still a great way to have your neighbors’ backs. Just donate online to any of the grassroots organizations in the “Where to give” section below. Is there anything you could do right now more in line with what these holidays are supposed to be about?

The third 2020 special session of the Oregon legislature...

...came and went in a total of ten hours on Monday. It began with a storm.  Senator Dallas Heard (R-Douglas County) took to the floor right away to blast rules excluding the public from the building and mandating masks for everyone who entered it. "You have joined Kate Brown in her campaign of intimidation against the people and children of God,” he said in a choked voice. “The appointed king of kings is Jesus Christ, and this is His kingdom, not ours...If you had not done such great evil to my people and had simply asked me to wear my mask, I would have. But you commanded it, and therefore I declare my right to protests against your false authority and remove my mask.”

With that he ripped his mask off, taunting the Senate President until his microphone was killed. Then he walked off the Floor and out to the Capitol’s front steps, where a hundred-some protestors were pressing to get in. Some eventually did, and scuffled with a squadron of heavily-armed Oregon state troopers who eventually ejected them. There was some broken glass, some spraying of police troops with something like pepper gas, a couple of arrests and a lot of angry screaming. We barely heard any of it from our offices and the Senate Chamber; it felt jarring from there, but never seriously threatening.

special session

Photo from Dirk VanderHart / OPB

We have a problem here. These few dozen people who came to the Capitol to denounce the session as illegitimate represent the feelings of an unknown number of Oregonians. Even if the number is small, the intensity of the anger and hostility towards government is fierce, is continually being fanned by a small number of political and media figures, and shows no sign of going away. Their central complaint on Monday, exhibit A in their case against Democratic “tyranny,” is that they haven’t been allowed in the Capitol during any of the three special sessions—the first legislative sessions ever in Oregon, as far as I know, when that’s been the case.

None of us think that’s a small thing. Despite extensive efforts to livestream all public sessions, and make online citizen testimony user-friendly, an accessible Capitol building is the emblem of open and transparent government, and it doesn’t feel right to lock the doors. We know that it’s easy for a few politicians and talk show hosts to convince listeners that we’re up to no good behind those doors. But we don’t see that COVID infection rates leave any responsible alternative. Entry into the Capitol has been restricted to Senators, Representatives, and the Governor, a bare minimum of essential operational staff (our personal legislative aides—in my case, Andrew Baker and Sarah Settimo—aren’t coming in), state police and, to keep an eye on us, the news media. That’s part of the comprehensive protocol to ward off COVID transmission, and all signs are that it will continue well into the regular 2021 session that begins January 11.

At some point these restrictions, like others hampering all our lives, will end. What looks longer lasting is the anger, mistrust, fear and—much as I’d rather not write this—the hatred with which a sector of Americans have come to hold government, and those of us who serve in it. If I have a resolution for 2021, it’s to work diligently with compassionate, patriotic people with different political viewpoints, who share an understanding of how dangerous the current moment is for representative democracy, and a commitment to find a path forward that will keep it secure. 

So what did we get done?

With most of the drama played out by late morning Monday, we went to work on five bills, four of which became law.

Stocking the emergency fund.  We transferred $600 million from the State’s general fund to the emergency fund, where the Emergency Board of twenty legislators can access it for pressing needs. $400 million of that is earmarked for ongoing COVID response, including vaccine distribution, and might be reimbursable in part with federal funds. $100 million is designated for wildfire prevention, response and recovery. I don’t think that will be nearly enough, and said so on the Senate Floor. I’ve been serving on the Governor’s Wildfire Economic Recovery Council, meeting with people from fire-devastated communities across Oregon, and I expect the report we’re about to submit to request more than $100 million to help Oregon towns like Phoenix and Talent to get back on their feet, which doesn’t even count critical measures for preventing future catastrophes. One of the first challenges of the 2021 session is likely to be pushing hard for funding levels proportionate to the damage and suffering of the Labor Day fires.


Photo from ODOT

Extending the eviction moratorium and reimbursing landlords. The centerpiece of Monday’s work was HB 4401, which extended the moratorium on evicting tenants for failing to pay rent from next week to June 30, 2021. This was the fourth extension (the second by the legislature) of a moratorium that started last March, which means that a landlord could go as much as fifteen months without seeing a rent check. In theory, tenants are responsible for paying back all missed rent, but that will clearly amount to debts that many won’t be able to pay. Many of us have been saying for months that we’ve laid too much of the burden for keeping people sheltered through the pandemic on the backs of landlords.

So this bill creates a $150 million fund to reimburse landlords for 80% of the rents they’ve had to forego in calendar year 2020, if they forgive the remaining 20%. While some landlord representatives were at the table that hammered this plan out, others were furious at the suggestion they should forgive anything at all. “We don’t see the state requiring grocers, utility companies, clothing stores or anyone else to give up 20% of their earnings,” went the testimony from some landlords.

Part of the answer is that the bill requires nothing of landlords; if they don’t take reimbursement dollars from the state, they’re free to pursue 100% payment of their tenants’ debts by any legal means available. And the prevailing reason for capping reimbursements at 80% was to stretch the state’s dwindling general fund; we’ll be able to backfill the hole for more landlords at 80% than at 100%. It’s fairly clear that the allocated $150 million will run out before the applications for landlord reimbursement will. There’s significant interest in returning to the issue in regular session and channeling more to landlord relief, likely with tax credits, if we can afford to. The outcome of the highly debated federal COVID relief bill—a done deal a couple of days ago and now, as I write this, in some doubt —will play a big role here, and in the prospect of supporting landlords for rents missed in calendar year 2021.

If you’re a landlord wanting to apply for this fund, here’s where
you want to go. If you’re a tenant looking for help paying rent,
more funds should be coming to Jackson County by way of
in Medford. And if economic stress has you worried about retaining
ownership of your home, check
here for support.

One other aspect of this debate stood out: the degree of responsibility that tenants should bear through this crisis. Some testified that tenants should have to make up the unreimbursed 20% to landlords, or at least 10% (which for some would mean 10 or 20% of a years’ worth of rent). Others said that the one-time document tenants have to submit, attesting that their non-payment is the result of COVID-related economic distress, should be required each month, or should be subject to some kind of third-party verification. Neither of those suggestions became part of the bill, because most legislators want to minimize the burden of tens of thousands of Oregonians seriously struggling before the pandemic and desperate to survive since.

There was compelling testimony on both sides of this argument over tenant responsibility. If you have a few minutes, please let me know what you think.

senator wagner

Senate Majority Leader thanks legislators for convening in special session.

Protecting schools from COVID liability. The other controversial bill we passed, HB 4402, shields schools that comply with all applicable public health rules from lawsuits from anyone contracting COVID. Long-term care facilities, medical offices and clinics and businesses of all kinds have been lobbying for this same kind of protection, but for now we limited the focus to just schools.

HB 4402, like all liability shield measures, drew plenty of debate. It passed by a comfortable margin over the objection of some legislators who contend that all citizens should have open access to the courts whenever they feel injured, leaving judges and juries to decide the merits of particular cases; if an institution follows the prevailing rules with no negligence, this argument goes, they have nothing to fear in court. I almost always agree with that, and worry that in the big picture, too many hurdles are showing up between ordinary citizens and their day in court. But I voted for this bill. Schools are struggling heroically to return to doing their jobs, and don’t need new litigation costs to slow their progress to reopening; if they fall short of following clear anti-infection regulations laid down by state and local government, this new law won’t protect them from lawsuits.

cocktail to go

Photo from Phoenix Magazine

Cocktails to go. The easiest ‘yes’ vote on Monday was probably  SB 1801, the “cocktails to go” bill. This bill relaxes Oregon law for the duration of the COVID emergency to allow restaurants to sell, and for third parties to deliver, mixed drinks to go, as long as they’re accompanied by a “substantial food order.” It overcame opposition from some people involved in addiction recovery and passed both chambers by wide margins. The whole idea here was to throw a lifeline to restaurants teetering on the edge of survival by giving them a COVID-adapted way to sell their highest-margin products.

So...with one walkout-destroyed regular short session and three eccentric special sessions, that’s a wrap for the Oregon’s 2020 legislative adventures.  We’ll be back at it in regular session on January 11. I have concerns about how that’s likely to go. I plan to put them aside to enjoy the last week of the holidays, as I hope you will.

COVID news

For the many Oregonians stressed or heartsick by months of locked school house doors, the Governor took a very big step this week. With the goal of returning many more students to in-person learning by February, she announced that school districts, not state government, will be making future decisions about in-person instruction, with state guidance “advisory rather than mandatory.” This comes shortly after an announcement that teachers and other school personnel will move towards the front of the line for COVID vaccinations.

The Governor’s statement suggests she’s been listening to messages from Oregon parents, educators and legislators over time. “The long-term benefits,” she said, “of both heading off an emerging mental health crisis for our children and youth, and addressing the academic challenges that are becoming prevalent for far too many students in the absence of in-person learning, now far outweigh the short-term risk.”

A last ask


Photo from Kira auf der Heide

The groups we’ve collected in the “Where to give” section, just below, are doing truly wonderful work on behalf of all of us who live in the Rogue Valley. Before clicking somewhere else, please take a few additional minutes reviewing the list, and see if it leads you to do something that feels good and important (see bannerhead above...“because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do”).

Have a safe, secure, generous and gentle holiday.


Senator Jeff Golden, Oregon Senate District 3

Where to give

  • Rogue Action Center has been instrumental in helping those affected by the fires.  You can donate to Rogue Action Center here

  • The Phoenix-Talent School District is doing phenomenal work to support families impacted by the Almeda Fire and connect them with resources, all while adapting to COVID-19. To support their continued efforts, click here to donate.

  • Rogue Action Center, Rogue Climate, SO Health-e, SO Equity, and Siskiyou Rising-Tide have established the Rogue Valley Relief Fund, which will provide relief for the most vulnerable in our community. Donate here.

  • Unete supports farm workers and immigrant families throughout the Rogue Valley and established the Immigrant Fire Relief Fund following the Almeda to aid those impacted by the fire with rent/utilities and food. Click here to donate.

  • CASA's Giving Tree program collects new toys, clothing, and gift cards for children being reunited with one or both parents, or living in foster or relative care during the holiday season. For more information about Giving Tree, click here. To donate to CASA of Jackson County, click here.

  • Rogue Food Unites provides locally made meals to those affected by the fires both short and long-term. Click here to donate. Click here to get involved.

  • Access works to provide food assistance throughout the valley to those in need. With increasing need due to COVID and the wildfires, consider donating here.

  • Food and Friends delivers meals to seniors in order to support their independent living and safety during the pandemic. Click here to donate. Click here to learn more about volunteer opportunities.

COVID resources

  • The Governor's COVID website has been updated to reflect the new framework for counties. 

  • OHA's website has information on COVID-19 with links to the latest announcements, guidance, etc. 

  • If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, click here to locate a testing site near you.

  • Have questions about COVID-19 in Jackson County? Visit the Jackson County Public Health website or you can call Jackson County Health and Human services with questions at 541-774-8200.

  • If you are in need to food assistance, The Oregon Food Bank has created this page where you can search for a food pantry or pick-up site near you.

Wildfire resources

  • The Governor's wildfire website has county specific and statewide information.

  • Click here for Southern Oregon specific wildfire information.

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1703
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, S-421, Salem, OR, 97301 
Podcast: Capitolizing