PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As the Oregon Senate approaches one month of not having enough lawmakers in attendance to reach quorum, some senators are shedding light on how they’re considering challenging Measure 113.
Passed by Oregon voters in 2022, Measure 113 was meant to stop walkouts by barring any lawmaker with 10 or more unexcused absences from reelection. As of May 31, the 20th consecutive day of the walkout that shows no signs of ending, ten senators are well beyond that limit.
Republicans expect to challenge the measure in court based on how unexcused absences are determined. Meanwhile, two senators with at least 10 unexcused absences now say they can run for reelection — due to what they call an error in the way Measure 113 was written.
In a letter to the acting Oregon Secretary of State Cheryl Myers on Tuesday, an attorney representing Republican Tim Knopp, the Senate minority leader, and Independent Senator Brian Boquist, a former Republican, writes that the measure states lawmakers can be disqualified “for the term following the election after the current term is completed.”
The senators’ terms end in 2025. Their attorney says the election after their current terms would happen in 2028.
“We acknowledge that the voters pamphlet material relating to Measure 113 suggests the
result that the Senate President has announced. But, that material was misleading and portions
were outright incorrect. The ballot title was never subject to a Supreme Court challenge,” the letter read, in part. “To reach the result described in the voters pamphlet, a court would need to either ignore the words in the actual text of M113 or interpret them in a way that is totally inconsistent with the ‘context’ of other constitutional provisions.”
Read the full letter at the bottom of this article.
The secretary of state’s office tells KOIN 6 News they’re reaching out to the Oregon Department of Justice for clarification on the role of a filing officer, as that would impact their response.
“The Secretary of State’s office believes Measure 113 is a qualification issue. If a candidate is not eligible to hold office, the courts have interpreted election statutes to mean that the filing officer can’t allow them on the ballot,” said Oregon Secretary of State Communications Director Ben Morris. “We have asked the Oregon DOJ to provide us with a legal opinion on Measure 113 and intend to follow their advice in our role as the filing officer for state legislative races.”
Earlier in the week, Professor Norman Williams of the Willamette University College of Law told KOIN 6 there may be a legal challenge to how unexcused absences are determined.
“The school districts have greater detail about what counts as an excused absence or unexcused absence in the school district regulations… than what the legislature currently has,” explained Normal Williams, a professor at Willamette University College of Law.
As it stands now, Oregon Senate President Rob Wagner reviews requests for excused absences. He said events such as graduations and church functions have been denied since the walkout started — to which lawmakers say they still go anyway.
If the walkout continues, the Senate president could shut down the session before June 25. The governor could then call a special session to vote on budget bills, such as funding for schools, police and social services.
In the latest statement from Gov. Tina Kotek on Wednesday afternoon, she shared her disappointment that negotiations to end the walkout have reached an impasse.
“After a week of productive conversations and continued attempts to work with the Senate Republican caucus to revive a number of their priorities, I am disappointed that Senator Knopp has made clear to me that there is not a path forward unless House Bill 2002 is substantially amended or dead,” Kotek stated. “It is clear from my conversations that negotiating on House Bill 2002 is not an option. The bill has already passed the House and is scheduled for a floor vote in the Senate, where it has broad support. Today, the Senate Republican walkout is entering its fifth week and is already the longest in Oregon history.
She concluded by saying Republicans still have time to return to the table and achieve some of their own policy goals for this legislative session — but that window “is getting more narrow by the hour.”
Full Petition for Declaratory Ruling:
Stay with KOIN 6 News for continuing coverage.