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Oregon Epidemic Response Act

If the current COVID 19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the system designed to help our most vulnerable people needs serious reform.  We have also learned that to some extent, we are all vulnerable when our laws do not keep pace with our current realities.  That’s why I will sponsor a comprehensive measure that incorporates some of the greatest lessons learned of what works and what needs improvement.  

The Oregon Epidemic Response Act will take a comprehensive approach to making sure that Oregonians are protected from future contagion-related emergencies:


Worker Protections: 

  • The Governor shall, in addition to “first responders”, designate “front-line workers” in an emergency declaration to include grocery workers, pharmacists/pharmacy technicians, gas station attendants, and other essential employees who interact directly with the general public to provide necessary services. 

  • Ensure that essential workers who contract the disease get their health care paid for and are paid lost wages.

  • Workers will have a cause of action against any employer who, through a policy designed to conceal or suppress an employee’s health status (against that employee’s wishes), causes other employees or the general public to be exposed to contagion.

  • Employers may self-insure for workers’ compensation coverage only if there is no direct or indirect financial incentive to any manager for rejecting a workers’ compensation claim.

Health Care Access: 


  • We must redouble our efforts to bring high-quality health care to every Oregonian, more than 400,000 of whom lack health care coverage. The Act will ensure that all people who incur epidemic-related health costs will have Oregon Health Plan coverage for these expenses if they are not otherwise insured or if there are high deductibles and co-pays that discourage a person from seeking care.

K-12 and Higher Education:


  • In a time of crisis, when physically attending school is made impossible due to contagion, public education at all levels must consider the needs of our children and college students with a meaningful equity focus.  A systems approach that considers the needs of students, educators, and parents is essential. Recognition of capacity, whether due to geography, economics, or other factors, must take precedence over “outcomes” in system-wide education design. This section will focus on the state’s interest in setting priority guidance in education’s response to an epidemic, rather than a prescriptive list of services.

Child Care:


  • Establish an emergency child care system that provides hazard pay to providers confronting extra epidemic-related costs of operation.


  • Accelerate the establishment of Oregon’s Paid Family Leave Law, not scheduled to go into effect for several years.


  • Provide gap funding to provide accessibility for first responders and front line workers, including small business owners.


  • Provide UI or other caregiver relief to keep child care providers afloat during shutdowns, so that they are fiscally sound enough to reopen when the crisis ends and parents returning to work seek their services. Ensure that the relief is sufficient to compensate staff and cover fixed operating costs during closure.



Economic Resilience:

It is an economic truth that communities thrive when their residents are able to pay their bills, shop locally, and live comfortably in their homes.  In times of epidemic emergencies that necessarily force social distancing and sheltering in place, economic wellness is severely strained. COVID 19 has shone a bright light on pre-existing economic struggles, such as high college-loan debt, insufficient compensation for too many, and housing prices.  Future epidemics should prompt swift action by the Governor to:


  • Freeze payments on debt, rent, and mortgages for anyone whose livelihood is impacted, including small business owners.  A moratorium on evictions is a must.


  • Unemployment insurance should be as inclusive as possible, recognizing the realities of part-time and gig economy work and self-employment. The state should augment this program when federal payments fall short.  The waiting week should be suspended.


  • Food, shelter, medication, and energy costs for our most economically vulnerable should be covered by the State for this same group.  


  • Oregon must ban opportunistic price gouging for epidemic supplies and essential living products.


  • The state should preserve its resources to address these priorities by temporarily suspending tax breaks for the wealthy that otherwise would deplete state and local revenues.


Local Government Partnerships:


A forgotten sector in addressing the human impacts of epidemics is local government, whether regional, county, city, or special districts that provide critical services to Oregonians.  To the extent possible, the State should prioritize resource and service sharing;


  • Temporarily set aside revenue pre-emption statutes.


  • Pause property tax exemptions for profitable businesses and wealthy property owners, to enable local governments to deploy the resources they need to serve their people’s greatest needs. 


This will also enable local governments to retain employees, rather than furlough or lay off staff, which has a net positive effect on the economic health of the communities in which those workers live.

Can you help make Laurie's plans a reality?
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