By State Representative E. Werner Reschke,
The Governor’s 2nd Special Session on August 10 was a long 15-hour marathon of negotiations, meetings and debates. The main objective to re-balance Oregon’s budget was due to a projected shortfall of nearly $1.2 billion in revenue due to Governor Browns’s economic policies in response to the Coronavirus. The end result is a mixed bag of good news and bad news for residents in Southern Klamath and Lake Counties.
First, the good news. Funding was approved for needed updates and repairs of Boivin Hall at Oregon Tech. In the midst of our economic malaise, the $19 million Boivin Hall project will be a boost for the local economy and provide employment opportunities to many in Klamath Basin. Moreover, it will help turn a nearly 60-year old building into a modern learning facility for generations to come.
Another piece of good news: After the Governor threatened to close Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lake County, I advocated strongly for keeping this open. The legislature did not cut funding for Warner Creek Correctional Facility in Lake County during this special session. This is a huge win for the residents of Lake County and Lakeview. Warner Creek employs 108 people with family wage jobs. Closing this facility would be a devastating loss to a town of less than 2,500 people. Discussions in Salem will continue about the future of Warner Creek — but for now, we are all exhaling a sigh of relief.
I’ve been to Salem for two special sessions in less than two months. The most important issue I hear time and time again from people, has yet to be adequately addressed: temporary liability immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits. Schools, businesses and non-profits still have no protection against lawsuits from employees, students or patrons. Until this immunity is granted by the state, our economy will remain in a holding-pattern. This is the reason school districts are reluctant to reopen schools, and why businesses and non-profits are hyper sensitive to new regulations and executive orders, often choosing not to reopen full time in order to limit their exposure to law suits. The majority party’s inaction on temporary liability immunity — in order to keep their special interest trial lawyer friends happy, at the expense of schools being able to reopen and businesses able to operate without fear of litigation — shows us all a huge disparity of priorities.
Finally, $250,000 approved in 2019 for the Lutheran Community Services NW of Klamath Falls was cut from the budget. This program provides counseling and assistance for those with substance abuse issues in order to get back on their feet. In today’s environment of fear and uncertainty, the loss of funding for this purpose will unfortunately ripple throughout our community.
I have written previously about the process in Salem being corrupt. Unfortunately, this time was no different. Not only was the public not allowed into the building, the public was not allowed to testify. This opaque process allows those in power to operate swiftly and literally behind closed doors. This has to stop. It is bad governance, and it is wrong.
On Monday, I learned the Governor may call a 3rd Special Session in September. There is no reason the legislature needs to meet before the elections in November. Our primary job of balancing the state’s budget has been accomplished. Instead, it is time for input from the people of Oregon before any more major policy decisions are made on their behalf in Salem.
I encourage you to get involved in the process by contacting Governor Brown, The Speaker of the House and Senate President to express how vitally important it is for the public to testify any time the legislature is open for business. It is time for rule by executive order and legislation without public input to end.