SALEM, Ore. — Senate Republicans in Oregon didn't show up for a legislative session Wednesday, calling the action "a constitutional protest" over what they claim are violations of Senate rules.
Democrats accused Republicans of walking out over opposition to two bills about to go before the Senate. One bill focuses on abortion and gender-affirming care and, the other on gun safety.
Only two Republicans showed up on the Senate floor Wednesday. Since there are only 17 Democrats in the Senate and 20 lawmakers are needed for a quorum, the walkout halted any work for the day.
In a news release, Senate Republicans said they were walking out because Democrats were violating Senate rules and the Oregon state constitution by considering bills that weren't "plainly worded."
Republicans said after they pointed out the alleged violations, Senate President Rob Wagner ruled that the bills did comply with Senate rules. Republicans objected to Wagner's ruling.
"Laws are to be plainly written and easy to understand," Senate Republican leader Tim Knopp said in a statement. "When the majority of bill summaries written demand a post-graduate degree to understand what the bills do, we disenfranchise Oregonians across the state and violate the law in the process."
The rules Republicans claimed Democrats were violating are Senate Rule 13.02 (5), ORS 171.134 and Article IV, Section 21 of the state constitution, which state that acts and joint resolutions must be "plainly worded, avoiding as far as practicable the use of technical terms" and that legislative digests and summaries should be able to pass a "readability test."
Knopp went on to state that Senate Republicans "were compelled to take the unprecedented step of voting to remove Wagner from his role as Senate President" and conduct a "constitutional protest" Wednesday.
The statement further read that the legislative council must "redraft the bill summaries," after which they would be sent back through committees and then could be heard on the floors of the House and Senate.
Democrats, in their own statement, claimed this is the fifth time since 2019 that Republicans have denied the Senate a floor session, and said the reason Republican lawmakers walked out was because they oppose two bills the Senate will vote on soon.
"The people of Oregon aren't fools," Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber said in a statement. "It is no coincidence that Republicans are employing these embarrassing antics as the Senate is about to vote on bills that protect reproductive health freedom and establish common sense gun safety laws."
One of the bills cited by Democratic leadership that faces Republican opposition is HB 2002, a sweeping bill intended to protect abortion and gender-affirming health care for transgender people by boosting legal safeguards and expanding access and insurance coverage. The bill passed along party lines in the House on Monday night. The floor vote stretched for about six hours while House Republicans sought to stall its passage.
The other bill is HB 2005, a gun safety law which aims to crack down on so-called ghost guns, would raise the age to purchase certain firearms and would allow municipalities to make their own decisions on whether guns should be outlawed on public property. It passed the House on Tuesday.
Republican Sen. Suzanne Weber and Republican Rep. Emily McIntire announced Wednesday afternoon that they filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Legislature and will by represented by Oregon Right to Life.
In 2022, Oregonians passed Measure 113, intended to stop legislators from using walkouts as a political tactic. The measure states that lawmakers can't run for office again if they have 10 or more unexcused absences during their term.
Walkouts have been used by both Democratic and Republican parties in the past, but in the past few years, with Democrats controlling both chambers in the state, Republicans lawmakers have used walkouts as a regular tactic to fight bills they oppose.
It's a tactic that can stall work in the legislature because the state constitution requires each chamber to have a quorum present — 20 members in the Senate and 40 in the House. Because Democrats don't have a large enough majority to reach a quorum on their own, Republican walkouts stall government work.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.