OREGON — Gov. Kate Brown extended Oregon’s state of emergency by 60 days for a third time this week, keeping in place executive orders enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brown first declared a state of emergency on March 8 under Oregon Revised Statutes Chapter 401. The declaration empowered her to issue subsequent executive orders intended to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, such as the March 23 “stay at home” order and phased reopening plan, business restrictions and the face covering mandate for Oregonians five and older. The emergency was set to expire May 7 — the statute provides for review and renewal if it is determined that the public health threat still exists, and Brown has now extended it three times, most recently to Nov. 3.
Local jurisdictions, in turn, have also declared emergencies and enacted public health measures pursuant to them. “It gives you, basically, some extraordinary powers under state law and the Oregon Constitution to protect people and property,” County Counsel Wayne Belmont said. He said the best example on the local level was the March 23 ban on most short-term bookings at lodging establishments adopted in the county and all municipalities within it, as well as the 24-hour hold on rentals still in effect in unincorporated areas and 3-hour hold in Newport. The original ban was implemented to stem the flow of visitors to the county after the preceding weekend saw a flood of coastal tourists — the two days between the governor’s “stay home, stay safe” request and “stay home, save lives” order.
Each jurisdiction’s orders and declarations are made under their own authority and terms. Lincoln County commissioners have tied the time period of their state of emergency to the governor’s, while Depoe Bay’s emergency must be voted on by city council for extension every week. Depoe Bay has never adopted a hold period for rentals, and Yachats reduced its from 24 hours to one.
There’s been some opposition to strictures at the state and local level, but polls show Americans broadly support mandatory public health measures, and Belmont noted that Brown’s orders have already withstood judicial scrutiny. “There were challenges to the governor’s authority. Several challenges were made legally that were brushed back by Oregon courts. So right now, the steps that she has taken have been reviewed by the Oregon courts and held to be in accordance with law,” he said.
The orders were in limbo for a matter of a few hours in mid May, when a Baker County judge granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by a group of churches, including one in Lincoln City. Chapter 401 sets no time limit, but Judge Matthew Shirtcliff found that Brown’s declaration of emergency should have expired after no more than 28 days because provisions resembled another statute specifically addressing public health emergencies, which the governor has also referenced in her orders. The Oregon Supreme Court granted an emergency stay a few hours after the injunction was issued and ultimately ordered Shirtcliff to vacate it. Plaintiffs later dismissed the lawsuit, with their attorney citing the remoteness of success given the disposition of the supreme court.
Belmont said, “We’re seeing the same conversation going on at the national level, with the administration issuing a variety of executive orders. They’ve actually extended the national state of emergency to Oct. 22. This is unique, in at least my history of public work, unique to have something with both the scope of the declared emergency and the duration. There are a lot of questions being asked for the first time about what actions are possible at the local, state and national level.”
The county counsel pointed to the recent move by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to declare a moratorium on evictions through Dec. 31. “It’s unprecedented to actually have the CDC issue such an order as a public health measure,” Belmont said. “I think the important thing to look at is what’s being done on a concerted level. This is something with a national reach, a state reach and a local reach. We’re really trying to coordinate the three levels of response, and what everyone wants to do is rid ourselves of this pandemic.”