With the walkout by Oregon Republican senators in its fifth week, Senate President Rob Wagner announced Thursday he is going to start fining absent members.
Wagner said it will cost members $325 for every day they miss, starting next week. If a fine is levied for each weekday from Monday, June 5, through the end of the session, it would total $4,875.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, released a statement following the announcement, criticizing Wagner.
“Senate Republicans don’t feel compelled to entertain his political theater. In fact, we suggest President Wagner pay our fines since it is his behavior that galvanized our protest,” said Knopp.
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Twelve Republicans and one independent senator have boycotted since May 3, preventing the chamber from two-thirds attendance required for a quorum. That means bills which are ready for a final vote are on hold.
Among Knopp’s demands has been the insistence that bill summaries be written at an eighth-grade level. He and other Republicans are citing a long forgotten 1979 “readability” law that a GOP Senate staffer discovered in the archives in April. Knopp has previously said that “every single bill” is unlawful due to the readability rule. He also said the Democratic majority has killed all 37 Republican bills.
Knopp says the boycott will end only on the last day of the legislative session, June 25, to pass “bipartisan” legislation and budget bills. They have also made clear there are Democratic measures they don’t want to vote on, such as a sweeping measure to guarantee abortion rights.
Wagner says Democratic priorities, including the bill on abortion rights, are not negotiable.
After GOP lawmakers boycotted the Oregon Legislature in 2019, 2020 and 2021, voters last November approved a ballot measure by an almost 70% margin that was supposed to stop walkouts. Lawmakers with 10 or more unexcused absences would be disqualified from being reelected in the next term, according to the measure’s title and summary.
But the text of the measure says disqualification applies to “the term following the election after the member’s current term is completed.” Republicans are taking that as meaning that boycotters who are up for reelection in 2024 could be candidates, since their current terms end in January 2025 — with the disqualification coming for the 2028 election.
The wording of the measure’s text — and not the more succinct title or summary — is now part of the state constitution.
A lawyer hired by a political action committee called “Oregon’s 13 Constitutional Defense Fund” — a reference to Oregon’s 12 Senate Republicans and Independent Sen. Brian Boquist — asked Acting Secretary of State Cheryl Myers on Tuesday to rule that Knopp and Boquist can run in the 2024 election, and serve terms starting in January 2025 if they win.
“It appears from the unambiguous text, that if they are to be disqualified from holding the office of senator, it would be for the term that begins in January of 2029,” attorney John DiLorenzo Jr. wrote in his request.
Secretary of State spokesperson Ben Morris said the department is seeking a legal opinion from the Oregon Department of Justice and will follow its advice. The Justice Department is currently working on the legal opinion, Roy Kaufmann, spokesperson for Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, said in an email Wednesday.
Republican senators are expected to file court challenges if the secretary of state’s elections division bars them from registering as candidates in September.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.