SALEM, Ore. — Republicans have abandoned a stalling tactic in the House that had as many as 80 bills held up for a final vote as every single word within it was read aloud by the clerk.
Republicans Bill Post, of Keizer, and Mike Nearman, of Independence, announced on Wednesday that they will allow Democrats to return to a courtesy reading of just the summaries of bills.
With the Democrats holding a supermajority, and having already passed their major goal of a business tax increase to pay for school, the two reasoned it was time to let go of the tactic.
“I was sent here to vote on bills and best represent my district," Post said on his legislative web page. "Nearman and I are principled conservative Republicans and I think we’re all ready to vote and go home. It’s time to move on and face the music of a supermajority.”
Republicans had forced a clerk in the Oregon Legislature to read aloud every word in nearly every piece of legislation, giving granular details about farm loans, motor vehicle taxes and other government minutiae as the minority party uses the stalling tactic to try to gain leverage.
Democrats have supermajorities in both the state Senate and House, and Republicans had used the strategy to push their own initiatives and weaken Democratic ones.
Lawmakers in statehouses and in Congress have a history of turning to delay tactics — sometimes imaginative ones — to stall or kill legislation.
Minority Republicans in Colorado wanted a 2,000-page bill read aloud this year, so Democrats brought in computers to read it at hyperspeed. A judge knocked down the trick, and Democrats said they lacked time to finish everything on their agenda before the session ended this month.
In 2013, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas spoke on the Senate floor for 21 hours, including reading Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham," to oppose President Barack Obama's health care law. In 2003, Texas Democrats fled to neighboring Oklahoma to deny enough members to vote on a redistricting bill, effectively killing it.
Oregon Senators used a similar tactic earlier this month to avoid a vote on the bill that eventually passed on a $1 billion per-year funding package for schools.
The effort in Oregon had put House reading clerk Lacy Ramirez Gruss in the spotlight as she read legislation hour after hour, day after day. Lawmakers often chat or work at their desks during the readings, but they applauded after she read a 45-page bill on May 1 for more than two hours without a break.
"It was a little bit wearying. I was ready to talk until I fainted," she said, laughing.
Ramirez Gruss stands and reads bills as fast as an auctioneer amped up on caffeine. She recovers in the evening by drinking mint tea with honey and has incorporated stretching into her routine.
The longest measure so far was 62 pages. It took three days to get through it, with some House sessions lasting only an hour. She sometimes asks colleagues to help carry the load.
Ramirez Gruss, who got her job in January, said it's been a learning experience and an honor, both for her and her parents, who are immigrants from Mexico.
"He would always drive by the Capitol and never thought that he would ever set foot in here," Ramirez Gruss said of her father. "It seemed so out of reach for him, from where he's come from. And for me to work here is such an honor for him."
She said 85 bills totaling 461 pages have been read since May 1, instead of the usual summaries.
"This has been the longest consecutive number of days of reading the bills in full that we can recall," said Timothy Sekerak, chief clerk of the House.
Even as the House whittled down the pile of measures by voting on them, the list got bigger as more legislation was emerging from committees.
"We're not keeping pace at the moment," Sekerak said earlier this week.
But he said he's proud the Oregon House didn't resort to bringing in speed-reading computers like Colorado Democrats. They used five computers to simultaneously read a lengthy bill at hyperspeed, making it unintelligible. The GOP sued, and a judge said computers can't be used if they can't be understood.
"If you get too cute with it and you just really make a mockery of it, I don't think that's taking this process seriously enough," Sekerak said. "I'm kind of happy with the way we're doing it, because it gives credence to our process and dignity to it."
Democratic Gov. Kate Brown told reporters the situation would not have become dire until the final two weeks of the legislative session, which ends in late June.