Larry Meyer | Argus Observer | April 10
ONTARIO — State Senate District 30 and House Districts 59 and 60 held a joint virtual town hall Thursday, primarily discussing the issue that is keeping everyone apart, the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy and health care.
The session hosted by Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and Reps. Mark Owens, R-Crane, and Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, was held via video and phone conference with invited participants.
Leading off in answering a question about the impact on business, Findley noted that “small business is the back bone of our economy,” and the need to is put people back to work.
The pandemic could bring a change in how we do business, he said, emphasizing, “we have to protect our people.”
Commenting that unemployment insurance applicants now number 88,000, Findley said people need to get a check for people to live on. He also said, the officials need to protect markets for what people are producing.
“You have to figure out how to keep people in their houses,” he said. “You have to figure how to keep commerce going.”
One of the things needed to move business forward, according to Owens, is to draw down the regulations which have been put in place because of the virus. Bonham said the Republican lawmakers are drafting a series of letters to Gov. Kate Brown, including one as for support of rural hospitals.
“We need to have a healthy, functioning health care apparatus,” he said. Bonham says he is appalled state leaders have not taken more action to protect the health-care providers.
On education, he said students would be ready to transition to the next level next year and the state the should be improving the technology to help learning.
Owens expressed concerns about rural hospitals, saying hospitals are bleeding cash. “If we lose any of the hospitals, we will lose the community,” he said. More testing is needed to track the virus and a vaccine is needed to control it, Owens said.
Bonham said a special session to address budget issues the costs of dealing with the pandemic will probably not happen until the next revenue forecast in May, pushing a session toward the end of May and possibly into June.
Findley said among things the three lawmakers are doing is keeping in contact with the county commissioners about county needs.
By Senator Lynn Findley, Representative Mark Owens and Representative Daniel Bonham
Oregonians are experiencing unprecedented times and unforeseen challenges. The global pandemic is affecting each of us in different ways, but it is an equally confusing, scary, frustrating, and emotional time.
Even just a few weeks in, though, there is good news—Oregonians are staying home and staying healthy. The most recent modeling numbers from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) indicate that our combined efforts to abide by social distancing guidelines locally and across the state are working. It was reported on April 2 that the positive case numbers are down 50% to 70% from the earlier predictions.
One of our objectives, and the reason for such stringent measures, has been to “flatten the curve” and the Oregon Health Authority stated they will be able to tell us by the week of April 13 when we will reach this objective. This will be a key moment in our state. The restrictions are working, but the economic price we’re paying is becoming staggering. With each day that passes during this time, our local, regional and state economies are losing exponentially. Before we get to April 13 (or any other date certain), we must also understand what will be needed to get Oregonians back to work and doors open for business which will re-start our economy.
Despite much-needed and appreciated revenue and relief packages from our federal and state partners, no amount of stimulus can replace what Oregon’s economy can produce from inside the lines. The GDP of Oregon in 2018 was 213 billion. The Federal Stimulus package, or CARES Act, for Oregon appears to be 1.63 billion which means the federal funding is only three-days-worth of what Oregon’s economy can churn when it’s firing on all cylinders. Don’t get us wrong: this funding is absolutely necessary and will support us as an immediate and temporary means, but it will not and cannot solve the impacts felt by these drastic short-term measures, regardless of how necessary and helpful they have been.
We must get our economy working again by getting Oregonians working again, and this must happen as soon as possible. In order to do this safely, but quickly, there are a few things that must take place:
1. We need wide-scale testing so all Oregonians can be tested and once tested negative, start a system for allowing them to return to the workforce.
2. Ensure there is enough PPE in the state for our health care workers and first responders, particularly in eastern and rural Oregon.
3. A plan to protect our vulnerable populations as we re-enter the workforce and become a functional society again.
We can and must start addressing these issues immediately in parallel with following the measures to flatten the curve, prevent the spread of the virus and save lives. State leadership, of which we are a part of, needs to start this conversation today and open the table to regional leaders and other economic experts so we can find a way to invest money and resources to make these things happen.
Much like the Governor’s swift and necessary actions to stop the spread and flatten the curve in anticipation of the unknown, we need to take swift and necessary actions to prepare for what we do know. The longer Oregon’s economy has to keep it doors shut, the longer the recovery will take and the sharper the economic recovery curve will become.
Millions of Oregonians are relying on us to make sure they can recapture their livelihoods, protect their families and pay their bills. Oregon can’t wait any longer to start addressing these issues and getting back to work, while we all continue working together to flatten the curve and save lives.
I support the current social distancing measures in the effort to slow and eventually stop the spread of the Coronavirus. We must pay special attention to our senior, disabled, and vulnerable members of our communities to ensure their safety, as well as the safety of all Oregonians.
With that being said, I support these measures for short-term use for which they are intended for the next several weeks. We cannot continue these types of restrictions for the long run if we hope to avoid a full-blown depression in Oregon. Our small businesses and those that are currently out of work must be helped in any way we can.
The best way to end these restrictions is to abide by them. If we each, right now, take responsibility for our role in stopping the spread and practicing the necessary social distancing behaviors, soon the disease will have faded, and we can get back to work.
The question has been posed by several of my constituents about whether Governor Brown has the authority to issue an Executive Order mandating that Oregon residents “shelter-in-place” and stay home. I had my staff reach out to the Legislative Counsel, a group of attorneys who work for the Oregon Legislature, to get an opinion on where the Governor’s authority is outlined in the Oregon statutes. Below is the response we received from the Legislative Counsel:
“On March 8, 2020, the Governor declared a statewide state of emergency pursuant to ORS 401.165. A copy of the executive order declaring the state of emergency can be found here. The declaration provides the Governor with additional powers which, in pertinent part, can be found in ORS 401.168, 401.175 and 401.188. The powers described in these statutes are quite broad. For example, ORS 401.168 (1) states that during a state of emergency, the Governor has “the right to exercise…all police powers vested in the state by the Oregon Constitution in order to effectuate the purposes of this chapter.” ORS 401.188 authorizes the Governor to “[p]rescribe and direct activities in connection with use, conservation, salvage and prevention of waste of materials, services and facilities, including, but not limited to, production, transportation, power and communication facilities training, and supply of labor, utilization of industrial plants, health and medical care, nutrition, housing, rehabilitation, education, welfare, child care, recreation, consumer protection and other essential civil needs.”
In addition, ORS 433.441 (4) authorizes the Governor, after declaring a state of emergency, to take any action authorized during a state of public health emergency (ORS 433.441 to 433.452), which includes the power to “[c]lose, order the evacuation of or the decontamination of any facility the Governor has reasonable cause to believe may endanger the public health,” “[r]egulate or restrict by any means necessary the use, sale or distribution of food, fuel, medical supplies, medicines or other goods and services,” and “[t]ake any other action that may be necessary for the management of resources, or to protect the public during a public health emergency.” See ORS 433.441 (3)(a), (b) and (f).
On March 12, 2020, the Governor issued an executive order prohibiting gatherings of 250 or more persons (copy of the order here), and on March 16, 2020, the Governor issued an executive order further restricting gatherings to under 25 persons and prohibiting dine-in food service (copy of the order here). Your constituent has asked how this executive order can have the force of law with a criminal penalty. ORS 401.192 (1) provides that “[a]ll rules and orders issued under authority conferred by ORS 401.165 to 401.236 shall have the full force and effect of law both during and after the declaration of a state of emergency.” The penalty for violating a state of emergency executive order is described in ORS 401.990, which states that “[a]ny person knowingly violating any provision of this chapter, or any of the rules, regulations or orders adopted and promulgated under this chapter, shall, upon conviction thereof, be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor.”
Although the Governor cited ORS 433.441 as one of the statutes authorizing her executive orders, which would not be included in the reference to ORS 401.165 to 401.236 in ORS 401.192, or the reference to chapter 401 in ORS 401.990, we think a court would find that the broad powers described in ORS 401.165 to 401.236 also authorize these executive orders. The orders therefore have the force of law and are subject to the penalties described in ORS 401.990. We also should note that we are in somewhat unchartered territory here, since the current circumstances in this state are quite unusual, there is no case law on any of these statutes and it is unclear if they have ever been challenged.
Finally, a Class C misdemeanor is in fact a crime since a jail sentence may be imposed. See ORS 161.515. A Class C misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 30 days’ jail and a $1,250 fine. See ORS 161.615 and 161.635.”
If you have specific questions about your business, the Executive Orders, or anything regarding these measures, please contact my office so that we can help find you answers. My office can be reached at 541-889-8866 or via email.
I ask again that we each do our part to slow the spread of this virus. Stay home, stay healthy and be safe.