A legislative session unlike any other in Oregon history opens Monday in Salem amid a pandemic.
The differences will be evident starting on the very first day. There will be no ceremonial joint session of the House and Senate. And Gov. Kate Brown won’t be giving a State of the State address.
For at least the first few months of the session, committee hearings will be held on a virtual platform.
Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, who chairs the House General Government Committee, said the upside is that some people could have an easier time offering their input to pending legislation.
“We have now a lot of tools for people to be able to testify remotely," said Wilde. "You don’t even have to drive to Salem. You can testify from your home computer or by telephone."
It's a similar set-up to what's been used during interim committee hearings over the past nine months. Some Republican lawmakers have grumbled at coronavirus-restrictions at the Oregon Capitol. But some advocacy groups have applauded the efforts to allow remote testimony.
“Traveling to Salem is difficult, expensive and frankly impossible for many working people. It should remain an option from now on,” said the group Stable Homes For Oregon Families in a Tweet on Friday.
Floor sessions will be held in-person but legislative leaders say few votes will take place until April, with the hope that the virus will no longer be spreading so rapidly. House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said last week lawmakers are also facing the challenge of potential violence.
“The dynamic of the pandemic is difficult enough," she said. "But to also have the threat of domestic terrorists trying to disrupt the democracy of the building is a whole added extra dynamic to complicate things.”
Right-wing protestors, some of whom were armed, attempted to break into the Oregon Capitol during a special session last month. Security camera footage shows a Republican lawmaker apparently opening a side door to let demonstrators into the building.