SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Senate Republicans are pledging to end their walkout on June 25, the constitutionally mandated final day of the current legislative session, in order to pass "substantially bipartisan budgets and bills," Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp said in a statement Tuesday.
The declaration echoes the way Republicans sought to end a prior walkout that they staged in 2020 to block a Democratic cap-and-trade bill; they declared that they would come back on the last day, but only to vote on a specific list of budget bills.
It's unclear how Republicans planned to enforce the terms of their proposal if they had returned; the question was never put to the test because former House Speaker Tina Kotek and former Senate President Peter Courtney rejected the proposition and ended the session early, the Associated Press reported.
It's also unclear whether things will play out any differently this time around. Current Senate President Rob Wagner said last week that he wouldn't allow Republicans to pick and choose which bills receive votes if they came back on the final day, and he referenced a speech that Kotek gave when she announced the premature end of the 2020 session.
"That is the standard, when Tina at the end of her floor speech said, 'You don’t get to come back with 12 hours left ... and determine just the bills and the budgets that you want to vote on,'" Wagner said. "That’s not what democracy is, it just isn’t, and so, the same standard is going to apply here."
Democrats hold 17 of the Oregon Senate's 30 seats, but the chamber requires a quorum of at least 20 lawmakers to hold any vote, so Republicans have been able to halt proceedings by never having more than two Republicans show up each day.
Senate Republicans began the walkout on May 3, declaring that they were protesting because Democrats were violating a obscure state constitutional provision that requires bills to be "plainly worded."
The rule does not appear to have ever been invoked before, and KGW's The Story found that many recently-passed pieces of legislation, including bills sponsored by Republicans, also fail to meet the readability standard.
Democrats decried the Republican explanation as a pretense, arguing that the true purpose of the walkout is to block the passage of Democratic bills, most notably House Bill 2002, which would increase protections for abortion and gender-affirming health care. Republicans first raised the readability objection when HB 2002 came up for a House vote on May 1.
Since then, Republican senators have largely cited their opposition to HB 2002 and other bills as reasoning for the walkouts, with Knopp calling the Democratic agenda "extreme" and "unlawful."
Senators like Republican Daniel Bonham said they're continuing to hold out in protest to proposed bills as a tactic to prevent them from passing both legislative chambers.
"I’m more than happy to lose my job if I can stop [HB 2002] from happening," Bonham told KGW in an interview.
The current standoff is the fifth Republican walkout in Oregon since 2019, and the first since voters enacted Measure 113 in November, which establishes that any lawmaker with 10 or more unexcused absences in a given legislative session will become ineligible to hold office in the following session.
The deterrent effect doesn't appear to have worked; as of May 18, nine Republican senators and one independent have hit the threshold. In addition to stating that they're willing to risk losing their seats, some Republicans have also said they plan to challenge Measure 113 in court.