PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Since early May, dozens of bills in the Oregon legislature have been at a standstill amid the Senate Republican-led walkout in protest of “unreadable” bills introduced by Democrats.
During the walkout and calls by his Republican colleagues to step down from his leadership position, Senate President Rob Wagner is calling on his colleagues to return to the Senate floor for transparent bill negotiations.
Since the walkout began on May 3, nine Republicans and one Independent lawmaker have accumulated 10 unexcused absences — making them ineligible for re-election under Measure 113, which was passed by voters in 2022.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend) is leading the walkout and states that his Democratic colleagues are not following Senate rules or the Constitution, claiming the bills are written above the required reading level, as outlined in the state’s constitution.
Knopp says his caucus will return on the last day of the legislative session on June 25. In the meantime, Knopp says those participating in the walkout are still in the Capitol attending committees.
After previously canceling a weekend work session in order to negotiate with the protesting lawmakers, Senate President Wagner says his party is ready to work on legislation.
“Right now, in the Oregon State Capitol, we are continuing to have committee meetings and we are passing budgets out through all the different committees onto the floor,” Wagner said. “We’re ready for people to come back and we’re going to start having good conversations out in the open in a transparent way around our education budgets, and housing and homelessness and economic development and all the issues that I know Oregonians want us talking about.”
Wagner says he set up a conversation with the speaker and House and Senate leaders.
“We came and had robust conversation about process issues and really ask for what people were wanting to try to achieve an end to this walkout,” Wagner said. “Unfortunately, in recent days, we have seen additional cancellations by the minority leader. But we’re still here every single day.”
Wagner added, “I said three things from the beginning of this session. Number one, good ideas come from everywhere. Number two, that there’s always room for kindness and number three, my door is always open.”
Despite the walkout, Wagner says the bills under consideration will still “absolutely” be acted on and have “broad bipartisan support” addressing issues such as housing and homelessness, the drug crisis and education.
“They’re ready to go as soon as people come back,” Wagner said of the bills. “We need people to do their Constitutional duty. In every other state in this country, we ask people to not get paid if they don’t show up to work and here, we’re just asking people to come to the floor, have a robust conversation out in the open. If you need to vote ‘No,’ that’s OK, but at least have the conversation. Respect our democracy.”
Wagner says there is room for compromise with Republicans on the bills.
“What we’ve said consistently is that we want people to come with their best ideas and bring a wish list, or list that we can work on, and not a kill list. I think Oregonians and people across this country are done with people and politicians working in backroom deals trying to tell people that they can’t have debate out in the open on really important issues,” Wagner said.
In an interview with KOIN 6 News last week, Minority Leader Knopp said bills do not “have to be about necessarily a particular topic, but we’ve asked for some things to happen and they’re unwilling to do that and so, we are holding firm.”
In response, Wagner stated, “I certainly think that we have 30 state senators that are elected from districts across this country, and everyone has an equal voice to be able to come to the legislature and make that determination for themselves.”
He furthered that Oregon voters are “tired of this game” after voters approved Measure 113 with over 68% of the vote.
While waiting for lawmakers to return, Wagner says the legislature is not going to consider reclassifying the absences in order to get lawmakers back to the table and that he hasn’t been presented the idea.
Wagner said in order to get the Senate back on track, “it requires every single state senator and every single state representative and people in their communities to start focusing on the issues. So, stripping away sort of the politics that we hear every single day. It’s really about education and homeless services and the things that we need to focus on.”
“When we take our oath of office, we say that we will come to this amazing building and that we will vote on issues and sometimes we don’t win and that’s okay, I’ve lost a lot of bills in my days. But it is important that we engage in the debate out in the open and that’s what we’re asking people to do.”