PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — In an effort to “preserve public access” to the Oregon Legislature, the House Republican leader urged the House Speaker Tuesday to pause the virtual 2021 session during mass power outages across the state.
Session activities and meetings were delayed this week due to an icy winter storm during over the weekend. The session is slated to resume Wednesday, but more than 200,000 remained without power in the western Oregon Tuesday afternoon.
“A virtual session requires access to power and internet for Oregonians to meaningfully participate in the legislative process,” House Republican Leader Christine Drazan said in a statement. “Legislative leaders committed to an open and transparent session. We must honor that commitment and not leave Oregonians behind in a rush to return to business as usual.”
The doors of Oregon’s Capitol building have been closed to the public since March to limit potential transmission of COVID-19. Committee meetings and hearings have been held virtually, but voting on bills are required to be held in person. In addition the public can access copies of proposed bills online and submit testimony through the Legislature’s website.
Portland General Electric’s map of power outages listed about 200,000 customers without electricity, while Pacific Power listed about 20,000 in Salem and the Portland area.
House Speaker Tina Kotek was part of the decision-making team to cancel Monday and Tuesday’s session days.
In a statement, Kotek's office said she had been in contact with Republicans about whether to conduct meetings on Wednesday. The statement said it “was surprising and disappointing to see Leader Drazan’s press release. Staff are still checking with legislators and committee staff about the capacity to hold meetings tomorrow.”
House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Smith Warner took to Twitter Tuesday afternoon, expressing frustration over Drazan’s press release, describing it as a “cheap political shot.”
“You know what really helps in a time of crisis piled upon crisis? Real communication and pitching in to support all Oregonians-- not opportunistic press releases,” Smith Warner wrote.
Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.