▶️ Boycotting Oregon senators vow to return on final day, pass bipartisan bills


SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Republican senators whose walkout of the Oregon Senate has prevented a quorum for almost three weeks said Tuesday they’re not coming back until the very last day of the legislative session next month. 

The walkout, which began on May 3 ostensibly because bill summaries weren’t written at an eighth grade level as required by a long-forgotten law, has derailed progress on hundreds of bills, including a sweeping measure on abortion rights and gender-affirming care that the conservatives particularly object to.

An email from Republican leader Sen. Tim Knopp‘s office said the Republicans and Independent Sen. Brian Boquist would return on June 25, the end of the legislative session, to pass “bipartisan” budgets and bills.

“We are the last line of defense to hold the majority accountable,” Knopp said.

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In an interview with Central Oregon Daily News, Knopp said passage of these bills would be done through a suspension of rules.

“In fact, you can suspend parts of the Constitution which require bills to be read in their entirety,” Knopp said. “And what’s been going on all session is we have said that you earn the right to build trust with us. And we have suspended the rules in the past in order to have bills not read in their entirety, because some bills will take two, three or four or five hours to read or more, depending on how long they are. But with cooperation from both sides and a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules, you could advance bills pretty rapidly.”

Knopp said as many as 150 bills could get passed in one day under this procedure.

He indicated such rules likely would not be suspended for bills Republicans have been opposing. He noted that all 37 bills on the Republican agenda were shot down by Democrats.

Is there any chance a bill might get passed after this deadlock that would surprise Republican or Democratic voters?

“One day in this process is a long time, let alone 35 days. And so it’s hard to predict what will actually be passed and what will actually happen,” Knopp said.

Knopp said committee meetings are still happening, including a meeting he had Tuesday with Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek.

“It was our third meeting in two days. And, you know, I’m always hopeful that through talks and actual negotiations that we can actually make progress,” Knopp said.

“The unfortunate part of it is that the Senate President (Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego) doesn’t want to somehow give us a win, and so he’s threatening to shut down the government and not do budgets this session.” Knopp claimed.

The crisis in Oregon’s statehouse is a microcosm of the deeply partisan politics playing out nationwide, including recently in Tennessee and in Montana.

Republicans have boycotted in 2019, 2020 and 2021. This year’s standoff, however, has disqualified nine Republican senators and one Independent from serving as lawmakers in the next term, under a ballot measure approved overwhelmingly by boycott-weary voters last November. After 10 or more unexcused absences, a lawmaker can’t take office in the Legislature, even if the secretary of state’s elections division allows them on the ballot and they win.

The boycotters are expected to challenge the constitutional amendment in court.

Senate President Robert Wagner carried out a roll call again on Tuesday, and again he was two members short of reaching the 20 needed for a quorum of the 30-member Senate. Oregon is one of a few states that require at least two-thirds to be present, instead of a simple majority.

All the Democrats showed up, except one who has an excused absence for health reasons, and only two of the minority Republicans appeared.

“Senate Democrats will be here, doing our jobs, ready to pass the budget and act on urgent Oregon priorities today, tomorrow, and every day until session ends,” said Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber. “Absent Republican Senators are welcome to end this unconstitutional walk out and make government work for the people of Oregon.”

This year’s standoff has disqualified multiple Republican senators and Boquist from serving as lawmakers in the next term under a ballot measure approved overwhelmingly by boycott-weary voters last November. After 10 or more unexcused absences, a lawmaker can’t take office in the Legislature, even if the secretary of state’s elections division allows them on the ballot and they win.

A disqualified lawmaker running for reelection could disrupt Oregon’s election system, already shaken by the resignation of Secretary of State Shemia Fagan this month for secretly moonlighting as a highly paid consultant to a marijuana business. Striking Republican lawmakers have pointed to Fagan’s actions as a sign of corruption among Democratic politicians.

Kotek has signed a bill to keep funds flowing to state agencies until September if no budget has become law by July 1 and says she doesn’t think the state “is in crisis mode yet.”

Central Oregon Daily News contributed to this report.


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