Oregon House rules committee votes to subpoena absent Republicans

The Oregon House rules committee has voted to issue subpoenas for GOP lawmakers who walked out of the capital this week.

“It’s not about any particular bill anymore,” said Rep. Paul Holvey, chairman of the committee. “This is about our democratic process. This is about our institution. It’s about fundamental principles of democracy.”

Oregon has become a front line in the battle over how to address global warming, with Democrats prioritizing a bill that would charge polluters for carbon credits, and the minority Republicans objecting, saying it would increase costs for Oregonians.

The Republicans walked out of the Senate on Monday before the bill come to the floor for a vote. House GOP members joined the walkout on Tuesday.

Holvey’s committee late Thursday voted to issue subpoenas ordering absent House Republicans to appear before the panel to “testify about your unexcused absences … the need for members to fulfill their oaths of office and constitutional duties as legislators.”

Bend Rep. Cheri Helt and Sen. Tim Knop have been the only Republicans to remain at the capitol.

Redmond Rep. Jack Zika tells Central Oregon Daily that Republicans had already left the state before the subpoenas were issued.

“They have to be served in the state of Oregon,” he said in a text message. “These cannot compel another state to serve them to us. They would have to hire a (private investigator) to do that.”

House Speaker Tina Kotek, appearing at a news conference afterward with Holvey, said a company was hired on Thursday to find the boycotting House Republicans and hand them the subpoenas.

Holvey told reporters he is relying on the private company to find the absent GOP House members.

“Process servers have their own methodologies, and I’m not familiar with them,” he said. “They do a professional job, and we just rely on that professionalism.”

But Republicans might just ignore the subpoenas, which order them to appear before the House rules committee on March 5. Or they might argue against it, stringing out the clock before the 35-day 2020 legislative session is constitutionally mandated to end on March 8.

“I will be really honest,” Kotek told reporters. “I am not optimistic that we will resolve this. And this conversation for the subpoenas, and whether or not they honor them, could go past the constitutional deadline.”

Speaking from a location she would not disclose, House Republican leader Christine Drazan said Wednesday she does not take the walkout lightly.

“This is a moment where we have both chambers of the Legislature, Republicans on both sides from the House and the Senate, recognize that there was such a dramatic abuse of power that we had no choice but to walk out from the building,” Drazan, who is from Canby, said. “That’s a big deal.”

She and other opponents of the climate bill say the plan to charge polluters for carbon credits would raise costs for consumers, particularly at the gas pump, including for truckers that would increase shipping costs for products.

“If we buy it, it got there on a truck, and especially in rural Oregon where that distance is even greater,” Drazan said.

Republicans want the issue to go before voters instead of being legislated.

A different bill on climate change also triggered a walkout by Republicans in 2019, causing Courtney to ask Brown to order state police to find them and return them to the Capitol.

Courtney, in an interview Tuesday, said that this time, he isn’t asking for state police intervention because they are already busy and GOP lawmakers may have left the state. He said he was trying to come up with a way to break the impasse.

A Senate committee on Wednesday passed an amendment to a bill to ensure that campaign contributions cannot be solicited or used to pay fines or legal expenses incurred from being AWOL from the Legislature. The approval moves the bill onto a stack of other legislation that is frozen because of the walkout.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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