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Oregon Legislature considers bills that would curb partisan walkouts

Oregon lawmakers are considering four bills with the goal of having fewer walkouts during a session. How did we get here?

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon legislature is considering four bills with the goal of having fewer walkouts during a session. Some of the ideas being discussed: fining lawmakers for walkouts, disqualifying individuals who have too many legislative absences from holding office and changing the quorum requirement to a single majority.

So, how did we get here?

Two years ago, Republicans didn't show up for work to keep lawmakers from voting on bills called "cap and trade" that aimed at reducing carbon emissions. 

There were big rallies of log trucks at the state capitol. Loggers and farmers were worried cap and trade would affect their fuel prices. Republicans also used that walkout tactic a month before to stop proposals on gun control and vaccines.

What happens during a walkout is that if there aren't enough lawmakers present to vote, they don't have a quorum and no progress can be made. It worked, both times in 2019.

When Democrats tried to revive cap and trade in 2020, Republicans brought back the same playbook and walked out once again.

Republicans aren’t the only ones to use this tactic though. Oregon Democrats walked out over a redistricting bill in 2001. At the time, Republicans had the majority in Oregon’s House. Gov. Kate Brown was the Senate Democratic leader at the time and was part of the walkout.

The only thing that can stop a walkout is a two-thirds supermajority when the state elects so many people from one party that they can make a quorum without the other party even showing up.

In last year's election, Democrats failed to get a walkout-proof supermajority. Democrats would've needed a two-thirds supermajority which is 20 senators and 40 representatives. They only got three-fifths after losing a house seat.