Legislature packs drama and impact into one-day special session
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
After a long and winding journey, liability protection for K-12 public and private schools, education service districts and community colleges passed during the Dec. 21 special session.
I want to first thank everyone who testified, sent comments into the committee, or called or emailed a legislator asking for limited liability protections.
Typically, a special session is highly orchestrated. Legislators arrive to do the business before them and finish as soon as possible. It must be the year we’ve been experiencing, though, because both House and Senate chambers had rambunctious opening floor sessions over the rules.
The rules guide the process and are usually pretty much the same as a regular session. Given the pandemic, though, there were some adjustments. Republicans in both chambers spoke about the lack of public input on bills being considered in the special session and some voted no on the rules.
Arrests were also made Monday at the Capitol after a group of protestors decided to kick in the closed Capitol doors.
After that worrisome beginning, the third special session launched into a joint committee work session. The committee’s role was to hear and discuss the proposed bills with members of both chambers present. Public testimony late last week gave the public an opportunity to comment in writing or through testimony.
House Bill 4401, which was the housing- and eviction-related bill, generated a lot of discussions and a few surprise amendments that created a hiccup for the committee to get bills moving forward. The committee took a recess to discuss next steps. HB 4401 finally made it out of committee without being amended.
House Bill 4402, the school liability bill, also took a turn during the committee work session when Republicans asked for an amendment that added private K-12 schools to the bill. The amendment passed, and the bill moved to the floors for its final votes.
HB 4402 gives limited liability protections for K-12 public and private schools, along with ESDs, charter schools and community colleges. To be covered, a school must follow all state rules.
The bill is not about whether it is safe to open schools. Gov. Kate Brown’s metrics drive school-reopening decisions. The bill provides protection from lawsuits because schools can no longer buy insurance coverage to protect them from ruinous litigation costs.
The school liability bill provides school leaders with some reassurance for reopening when the metrics are met. Parents can still choose to keep their students at home in distance learning if they feel the school setting is unsafe.
A bill to provide medical liability protection that had been in negotiation for months was the only one from the one-day session that didn’t move out of committee.
Thank you again for all the advocacy that helped push school liability protection over the finish line.