SALEM—As Legislators meet this week in Salem for a special session, Senator Lynn Findley (R-Vale) and Representative Mark Owens (R-Crane) are urging Oregon’s legislative leadership to protect Oregon schools, public entities, medical professionals, and private businesses from COVID-related lawsuits.
Perhaps the biggest glaring issue Oregon faces as the fallout of the Coronavirus epidemic continues came with an announcement from PACE insurance, which covers a majority of school districts in the state, that they will no longer provide liability insurance for Oregon schools against lawsuits related to COVID as of June 30th.
This means any student, staff member, parent, or private citizen who contracts COVID on school property or at a school event would be able to sue the school district. Without liability insurance to cover schools, many have said they will not be able to reopen because it would leave them exposed to frivolous and opportunistic lawsuits which could bankrupt or financially cripple our schools for years to come.
“We still have the opportunity to address the liability for schools. This needs to happen. It is not too late,” said Rep. Owens, who also is School Board Chair of Crane School District. “We are already in Salem for the special session, which was designed to fix urgent problems of this nature.”
Sen. Findley added, “This should be the top priority during this special session. Now is the time. Schools, students, and staff need the reassurance that they are covered from liability in order to reopen.”
Several groups have suggested that Oregon institute a “Good Neighbor Policy” for public and private entities, meaning if the rules and regulations set forth by the state are being followed by the entity and people get sick, those individuals cannot sue the school/business. Eight states have passed similar legislation.
Senator Findley and Rep. Owens encourage everyone concerned with the liability insurance issue to contact the legislative leadership team to voice your concerns and ask them to include a “Good Neighbor Policy” in the legislation being considered during this special session.
Honorable Governor Brown,
We write with collective concern over your recent decision to approve early release for adults in custody who are serving their time in state prisons, due to possible susceptibility to the Coronavirus. Like you, our hope is that all Oregonians are safe, healthy and well during this unique and challenging time. However, early release of adults in custody will not prevent this exposure; the chance of contracting the virus in public is just as great.
Of particular concern is your statement that “In no case may an adult in custody be released if they present an unacceptable safety, security, or compliance risk to the community.” Any adult in custody being granted early release poses a risk to the community because of the drastic underfunding of community corrections and support services. Adults in custody will need housing, medical care, parole supervision, mental health services, job training and support, etc. Our community services are already overwhelmed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the incredible number of people who are out of work. What’s more, adults in custody would already have these services provided by the Oregon Department of Corrections while serving out their sentences in prison.
Our already-overloaded vital community services with be further strained by this decision. Furthermore, releasing adults in custody during a pandemic increases the possibility of losing track of those individuals who would need to be monitored upon release.
Our legislative districts include both the largest and smallest prisons in the state, including the Snake River Correctional Facility (Ontario), Powder River Correctional Facility (Baker City), Deer Ridge Correctional Institution (Madras), and Warner Creek Correctional Facility (Lakeview). Granting early release for even a few adults in custody from any of these facilities would be detrimental to the surrounding communities and support services.
We urge you reconsider your decision to allow an early release of adults in custody. Our communities cannot provide the tools necessary for these individuals to succeed upon release at this time.
State Senator, Oregon Senate District 30
State Representative, House District 60
Cc: Director Colette Peters, ODOC
From the Offices of Senator Lynn Findley
& Representative Mark Owens
Honorable Governor Kate Brown
C/o: Nik Blosser
900 Court St. NE, Room 254
Salem, OR 97301
June 9, 2020
Honorable Gov. Brown,
We write to you today to voice the concerns of thousands of our constituents who have contacted us with overwhelming support for the “Let Them Play” initiative regarding Oregon’s high school sports and extracurricular activities.
It is our understanding that the restrictions contained in the Phase 2 reopening guidelines prohibit any sport that involves participants coming into bodily contact. These restrictions seem onerous and inequitable, especially considering exemptions are being crafted for collegiate and professional sports teams. These rules should apply to all athletics equally or should not be applied at all. Of course, we are requesting you to consider the former of these circumstances and not the latter. The argument could also logically be made that the “contact” within these contact sports is not similar in any nature to the contact-distancing we are adhering to in order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
In border towns like Ontario, teams are traveling across the state line to Idaho to hold practices, play games, and participate in tournaments. If it is safe enough for Idaho athletes to participate in all sports, why is it somehow unsafe for those in Oregon, less than 10 minutes away?
We urge you to reconsider the restrictions on high school sports and activities. These sports and activities allow for opportunities for personal growth, comradery, and positive effects on children’s physical and mental health. This prohibition will negatively affect tens of thousands of Oregon’s youth at a time when their world has already been turned upside down. It may also place many students’ college scholarships in jeopardy and could result in missed opportunities and the dream of a college education out of reach for many.
Please reconsider these limitations. We look forward to discussing this with you further.
Senator Lynn Findley
Senate District 30
Representative Mark Owens
House District 60