SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Republican lawmakers on Monday boycotted the Oregon Legislature, denying Democrats a quorum in an attempt to doom a contentious climate change bill.
Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, a Democrat from Portland, accused Republican senators of “a dereliction of duty.”
“These Oregon Senate Republicans are denying their constituents the representation they deserve and shutting down our democratic institution,” Burdick said.
A legislative panel approved the climate bill earlier Monday after it rejected a proposed GOP amendment to put the issue on the ballot in November. Last year Republicans, who are in the minority in both the Senate and House in Oregon, also walked out to kill environmental legislation.
The latest so-called cap-and-trade bill calls for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 45% below 1990 emissions levels by 2035 and to at least 80% below by 2050. The bill would force big greenhouse gas emitters to obtain credits for each metric ton of carbon dioxide they emit. Opponents say fossil fuel companies will wind up offloading increased costs to customers.
Bend Sen. Tim Knopp was the only Republican to attend the floor session.
“For me, it’s a day by day decision,” he said.
Knopp believes his constituents want him to oppose cap and trade, but they also want him to stay and work on important issues.
“There are other bills that are critically important; one of those is the commercial activities tax on businesses that has just taken effect in January,” he said. “And, this is our last chance to deal with that issue and to make changes to that.”
Republican lawmakers said a matter of this magnitude should be brought before voters to decide. Sen. Fred Girod, a Republican from Stayton, said before the vote that if the committee passed the amendment “we would stick around.”
“Just give them the right to vote,” Girod told fellow members of the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee. So many people wanted to observe the proceedings that there was an overflow room where they could watch on a large TV screen.
After the committee voted, Republicans failed to show up for a scheduled floor session of the Democratic-majority Senate. Senate President Peter Courtney noted that only 19 senators were present, one short of the number needed for a quorum and for the Senate to conduct business. He said the Senate would attempt to reopen on Tuesday.
“I implore my fellow senators to please return to this chamber,” Courtney said, pointing out that many bills remained to be handled and saying there are enough votes to pass the climate change bill.
But Republican senators, who are in the minority and who staged two walkouts in the 2019 session – over an education funding tax and over an earlier version of the climate bill — appeared prepared to stay away.
“If my colleagues will not allow for a fair process in the building, then I will represent my constituents from outside the building.” said Republican Sen. Lynn Findley in a statement.
Governor Kate Brown admonished the walkout, saying it puts in jeopardy other critical legislative priorities. She called on Republican lawmakers to represent their voters.
“Republicans signed up for this,” she said at a Monday press conference. “If they don’t like a bill, then they need to show and change it, or show up and vote no. They should make their voices heard rather than shutdown state government.”
At a recent public hearing on the bill, loggers expressed concern it would lead to increased costs and the demise of their business. Others said global warming was an emergency that was already affecting them and would affect their children and grandchildren even worse.
The committee’s passage of the bill sent it to the Senate floor for a second vote.
NASA says that in the absence of major action to reduce emissions, global temperature is on track to rise by an average of 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit (6 Celsius), citing the latest estimates.
“Because climate change is a truly global, complex problem with economic, social, political and moral ramifications, the solution will require both a globally-coordinated response (such as international policies and agreements between countries, a push to cleaner forms of energy) and local efforts on the city- and regional-level,” NASA says on its climate website.
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