Here’s your primer: Your Oregon legislature inaction

Oregon
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Empty desks in the Oregon Senate chamber as Republicans continued their walkout, June 25, 2019 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The legislative walkout by the Oregon Senate Republicans ostensibly over the Democratic plan to pass a cap-and-trade bill has garnered national attention. The Washington Post, CNN, the Los Angeles Times and many other national publications have stories focusing on the walkout.

But what is the walkout about, really? What does it mean? Have other state legislators in a similar positon also walked out?

For the record, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee — a presidential candidate whose platform is centered around climate change issues — pointedly tweeted:

“To the Republican senators fleeing Oregon to stop climate change legislation: You are not welcome in Washington. Stop this foolish stunt.”

This is an overview of what it all means.

HB 2020

HB 2020 passed the House on Monday night. House Bill 2020 would create a cap-and-trade system that would control air pollution by capping the amount of carbon a business could produce. Businesses can emit more if they buy the rights from other companies who don’t use their limit

All Republicans voted against the measure and walked out of the legislative session on Thursday to prevent a quorum — effectively blocking votes on any and all bills.

What is Cap and Trade?

Merriam-Webster defines cap-and-trade as: “relating to or being a system that caps the amount of carbon emissions a given company may produce but allows it to buy rights to produce additional emissions from a company that does not use the equivalent amount of its own allowance.”

The Environmental Defense Fund, founded in 1967 as a way to begin dealing with pesticides, has been on the forefront of environmental issues for more than a half-century. This is their definition of Cap and Trade:

“The cap on greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming is a firm limit on pollution. The cap gets stricter over time.

“The trade part is a market for companies to buy and sell allowances that let them emit only a certain amount, as supply and demand set the price. Trading gives companies a strong incentive to save money by cutting emissions in the most cost-effective ways.”

At this writing, 11 US states use market-based approached on greenhouse gas reductions.  The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions says more than 25% of the US population lives in a state with carbon pricing.

A map of states with some kind of emission control policy like cap and trade from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions website, June 21, 2019

Here’s a video of how Cap and Trade works:

What other legislation is at stake?

Beyond HB 2020, other legislation that is in limbo concerns paid family medical leave, expanding legislative response to sex harassment complaints, a proposed hike on cigarette taxes. 

Budget are also at stake, including the departments of education and corrections.

When does the legislative session end?

By law, the Oregon legislative session is scheduled to end June 30. But Gov. Kate Brown already said she is prepared to call a special session beginning July 2 if the legislative business is not finished. 

And by law, the governor has the right to do that.

What is a quorum?

When the GOP senators walked out of the Oregon legislature they prevented a quorum — that is, there were not enough elected members of the legislature inside the Capitol for any business to be conducted.

The Republicans used this tactic earlier in the legislative session when they walked out over Democratic bills to enact stricter gun control laws and vaccination rules. 

That walkout prevented any action for weeks on a school funding bill. Eventually, Democrats said they would withdraw the gun control and vaccine bills if the GOP came back to vote and pass the school funding.

Now, the GOP walked out again, and once again brought all legislative action to a halt in Salem — not just on the Cap-and-Trade bill. Nothing can get done until there is a quorum in the Capitol.

What is a Supermajority?

A supermajority in a state legislature is when one party has more than half of the elected officials in both the House and the Senate plus the governor. In Oregon, the Democrats have a supermajority currently.

The Republicans walkout, they say, is their only way to stop any bills they don’t like.

For Oregon a “supermajority” is 3/5ths votes needed for bills increasing taxes and fees.

Is there a precedent for a walkout?

The short answer is: Yes.

Back in 1971, the Statesman Journal reported, House and Senate Democrats walked out for less than a day. The senators walked out to protest the Republican leadership’s refusal to consider ratifying a constitutional amendment lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. The missing lawmakers were found at a Salem legislator’s house.

House Dems also walked out, but why is not clear. Those legislators were hiding in the Senate majority leader’s office.

In April 1995, 10 Senate Democrats walked out after Republicans decided to kill an award named after the late Democratic Sen. Frank Roberts, the Statesman-Journal reported.

In 2001, House Democrats staged a 5-day walkout to prevent a Republican maneuver to redraw state legislative districts without the governor’s signature, the Statesman-Journal reports.

KOIN 6 News reported House Democrats literally hid from process servers who were sent after GOP leaders issued summons for their colleagues to return to the Capitol.

Then in 2007, Republicans walked out over a tax deal. Then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski told the OSP to get 2 Republican state senators from Corvallis. Those senators returned voluntarily.

Video: Is there precedent for a walkout?

What happens next?

That’s a good question. KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this developing story.

An empty chair in the Oregon Senate during a Republican walkout to stall legislation, June 21, 2019 (KOIN)

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