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Oregon Senate Republicans walk out; Oregon State Police called to bring them back

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Oregon is poised to approve an economy-wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions to help halt climate change.
Statesman Journal

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown authorized the state police to bring Republican state senators back to the Capitol building Thursday after all 11 members fled Salem to deny Democrats the opportunity to pass a sweeping greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade bill.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that the Senate Republicans would turn their back on their constituents who they are honor-bound to represent here in this building,” Brown said in a statement. “They need to return and do the jobs they were elected to do.”

A vote on House Bill 2020 was scheduled for Thursday morning. 

Declining to show up for the floor session means the state Senate lacks the quorum needed to conduct business. With 18 members in the Senate, Democrats hold the majority, but they need two Republicans to reach a quorum of 20.

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Republicans said they are walking out in part because Senate Democrats broke their word. Part of the deal that ended Senate Republican’s previous walkout this session was a promise from Democrats that there would be a “reset” on HB 2020.

Before then, Republicans complained that they were being kept out of closing negotiations.

When they were finally allowed a seat at the table, Republicans said none of their suggestions were adopted in meaningful ways.

“We are not going to provide a quorum to pass a progressive, liberal agenda that damages the constituents from our districts,” Oregon state Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said while driving.

Democrats disagreed. They said some Republican suggestions were included in the bill and it’s actually Republicans who have broken their word by walking out. Furthermore, the bill is not open to further amendments.

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HB 2020 received more than 120 amendments this session.

“2020 is in its final form and it needs to be on the Senate floor,” Oregon Senate Democratic Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said. “2020 is not going to change.”

The state Senate, through Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, needed to request that Brown use the state police, per Senate rules. They did, and Courtney read the letter sent to Brown on the Senate floor.

He then lamented his actions and the inability of the body to function as intended. 

“This is the saddest day of my legislative life,” Courtney said. “There is no joy in my heart for what I just read. Pure and simple, my heart is broken.”

He went on to literally beg Senate Republicans to return to the Capitol building, imploring them to return to do the people’s business.

“We cannot do it without you,” Courtney said during an impromptu speech from the dais. “If you’re mad, and you’re angry, upset, take it out on me. Say things about me. Come at me. Don’t do this to the people of Oregon, don’t do this to this branch.”

Sen. Courtney letter

The state Senate also issued a $500 per day fine against unexcused members to take effect on Friday, a standard fine for being held in contempt. In this case, the Republican senators would be held in contempt of the legislature.

The fine will be taken from their per diem pay and salaries.

At least one GoFundMe campaign was launched this week with the goal of supporting Republican state senators during their walkout. One had raised $2,670 in 15 hours through mostly double-digit donations.

Legislative staff and lawmakers said Republicans had crossed outside of Oregon to avoid the police. Oregon State Police jurisdiction ends at the state border.

Knopp said he could be in “multiple states” in the coming days.

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During negotiations to sidestep the walkout, Senate Republican leadership asked for an emergency clause in the carbon emissions cap bill to be removed, which would open up the possibility that the bill could be referred to voters.

Knopp said there also was a bipartisan solution on the table.

Democrats were also opposed to removing the emergency clause, noting that any changes would require the House to vote on it again, perhaps giving Republicans time to run out the clock on the bill.

The legislature must adjourn by June 30, per the state Constitution.

Knopp said the walkout “certainly could” last through to the end of session.

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During their previous walkout in early May, Republicans avoided floor sessions for nearly a week demanding the legislature pass significant PERS reform and also send the Student Success Act — a $2 billion funding plan including taxes on businesses — back to committee.

However, on several occasions, Republican state senators appeared in committee hearings when important bills were on the agenda.

Knopp said that wouldn’t happen this time around.

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Republicans returned to floor sessions in May after Democrats killed two of their own top bills — HB 3063, which would have removed the non-medical vaccine exemption for schoolchildren, and Senate Bill 978, the session’s omnibus gun control legislation — in addition to their agreement around HB 2020.

“Protesting cap and trade by walking out today represents our constituency and exactly how we should be doing our job,” state Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr., R-Grants Pass, said in a statement. “We will not stand by and be bullied by the majority party any longer. Oregonians deserve better.”

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Negotiations around the potential walkout lasted for eight hours Wednesday, through the afternoon and late into the evening, between legislative leaders, including Baertschiger, Courtney, Burdick, Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and state Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario.

Brown was also seen taking several meetings with Oregon senators and representatives involved in the drafting of HB 2020.

During the previous walkout, it was Brown who proposed the final compromise.

Contact Connor Radnovich at cradnovich@statesmanjournal.com or 503-399-6864, or follow him on Twitter at @CDRadnovich

Legislative walkouts

Legislative minorities have used walkouts as a negotiating tool many times in Oregon. Prior to Thursday’s walkout, here are some of the most significant ones:

May 7, 2019: Senate Republicans walked out for four days to protest a $2 billion tax package for K-12 schools. They later struck a deal with Brown, getting Democrats to kill bills addressing guns and vaccine exemptions. The deal also included a “reset” on the cap-and-trade bill and a promise not to walk out again. 

March 8, 2007: Senate Republicans staged a brief walkout over a tax deal. Gov. Ted Kulongoski asked the Oregon State Police to fetch two Republican sstate senators from Corvallis for a vote. The senators returned voluntarily without being arrested.

June 25, 2001: House Democrats, including then-Minority Leader Kate Brown, staged a five-day walkout to prevent a Republican maneuver to redraw state legislative districts without the governor’s signature.

April 14, 1995: Ten Senate Democrats walked out, holing up in a Salem restaurant and denying Republicans a quorum, after Republicans decided to kill an award named after the late Sen. Frank Roberts, a Democrat.

1971: Both House and Senate Democrats staged walkouts during the session, but neither lasted more than a day.  Senate Democrats walked out to protest Republican leadership’s refusal to consider ratification of a federal constitutional amendment lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. State police rounded up missing lawmakers, who were at a Salem legislator’s house. House Democrats also walked out, although the reason is unclear. Oregon State Police were unable to locate the missing legislators, who were hiding in the Oregon Senate majority leader’s office. 

Source: Oregon Senate Majority Office, Statesman Journal archives

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