SALEM, Ore. (OREGON CAPITAL BUREAU) — Senate Republicans are considering staging a second walkout — potentially delaying the end of the legislative session — to block a vote on sweeping climate legislation.
House Bill 2020, which would implement a carbon-pricing program, passed the House on Monday night after a floor debate that stretched past six hours. All Republicans and two Democrats voted against it. Republicans have always been strongly against it, saying it would hurt industry and rural Oregonians.
Senate Republicans have already shown they have an appetite to do more than just drag out a floor debate by a few hours. On May 7, they staged a walkout to deny a quorum — the Senate must have 20 members present to conduct its work — so the Senate could not take up a business tax proposal. The walkout lasted four days, and they eventually came back after Gov. Kate Brown struck a deal to kill two controversial bills: one that more strictly enforced vaccine regulations and a gun control bill.
The deal also included a “reset” on HB 2020. In exchange, Senate Republicans agreed to play nice for the rest of session. The parameters of the “reset” were never clear, and Senate Republicans don’t feel Democrats held up their end of that bargain.
On Tuesday, rumors that Republicans were considering a second walkout were confirmed by a caucus news release saying it’s under consideration.
Unlike the May stunt, this one comes 12 days before the constitutional end of the legislative session. If there’s no quorum to do business, the state constitution allows legislators to “compel the attendance of absent members.”
In 2007, on the request of Senate President Peter Courtney, then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski dispatched state troopers to bring two Republican senators from Corvallis to the Capitol for a vote. That standoff was averted before police had to bring either of them to Salem.
When Republicans staged their walkout last month, Courtney opted not to call the police on them, and he and Brown negotiated with Republican leaders to end the boycott. This time, with less than two weeks before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn for the year, Brown is taking a hard line.
Kate Kondayen, Brown’s deputy communications director, said the governor is “prepared to call upon those resources available to her — including authorizing state troopers to bring senators back to the Capitol and, if necessary, calling legislators back to Salem to complete their work over the summer.”
Kondayen said when Republicans agreed to return to the building last month, they also agreed not to walk out again. Brown “expects them to honor their word,” she added.
Bills ‘back from the dead’
A number of major policies have yet to be considered in the Senate, including HB 2005, which would create a statewide paid leave program for new parents and others needing time away from work to care for family, and HB 2015, which would allow undocumented immigrants to get Oregon drivers’ licenses.
Bills aimed at relieving the state’ housing crisis, raising the tax on tobacco and at reforming Oregon’s campaign finance laws could also be left hanging if Republicans skip town.
That’s not to mention the state budget. The only thing the constitution compels lawmakers to do during their legislative sessions is pass a balanced state budget for the next two years.
And less than two weeks before lawmakers have to adjourn, the budgets for major agencies, including the health and human services agencies that oversee programs impacting more than 1 million Oregonians, have yet to receive a vote.
If they do walk out, Democrats would likely bring the gun and vaccine bills back from the dead. When asked about the hypothetical last week, Brown quickly said she’s confident there would be enough time to get both through.
With budget bills and other priority items needing to get through over the next week, Republicans would have more leverage with a late walkout than they did the first time. During the first lockout, Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, returned to work after the first day, which still left the Senate one person short of the number needed to do business.
If he played it the same way in the second go-around, it would put pressure on Oregon’s soon-to-be-newest senator. A replacement for the late Jackie Winters, who died May 29, will be named soon. Among the three nominees is Rep. Denyc Boles, R-Salem, who spoke out against HB 2020 on the House floor Monday night.
House Bill 2020 had a first reading Tuesday, June 18, and could be up for a vote as early as Thursday, June 20.