ONTARIO — U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, held another virtual town hall on Monday. In it, he addressed several issues related to the pandemic, saying that wearing personal protective equipment, using hand sanitizer and following social distancing, shows appreciation for one’s friends and neighbors, as well as families, noting people have complained about these measures.

Monday’s session involved Malheur, Harney, Baker and Grant counties. Wyden plans to hold held another virtual town hall for counties in northeast Oregon Thursday.

The senator also took issue with comments that people who are receiving unemployment checks don’t work.

“They want to go to work,” he said, noting the unemployment benefits related to the pandemic will expire after July 31.

Wyden is proposing that unemployment benefits be set according to economic conditions on the ground, so benefits will increase as unemployment goes up, and back down when the jobless rate declines.

The senator said he also worked on providing funding for rural hospitals which have been hurt financially by setting aside the boosted income of elective procedures in order to keep beds open for COVID-19 patients.

The first question of the town hall session was about getting Republicans and Democrats to work together. Wyden said that used to happen with former Gov. Tom McCall, former U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, both Republicans, and former Portland Mayor Vera Katz were in office and were able to work together. Wyden said he is working with U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to extend, the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program for states the federal forest and/or range land.

As far as getting the urban and rural areas together on issues, Wyden used trade as an example that benefits both areas, with agriculture products being shipped over seas through the ports.

As for the issue of defunding or reforming the police, which has drawn protests across the nation, Wyden said there has to be transparency and there should be a registry to create an awareness of problem police officers.

He said that choke holds should be banned as well no-knock searches.

“Americans have to have confidence in their institutions,” Wyden said.

Oregon’s senior Senator said his bill to help settle issues in the Owyhee Canyonlands has been on hold with COVID-19, but he aims to continue pursuing the legislation in the near future. The main points of the legislation are to protect special places, agriculture uses of the land and not do away with environmental laws.

The bill promotes rangeland enhancement, through means such as removing juniper and invasive species.

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