A labor- and Democrat-funded group formed to push back against obstruction tactics used by Republican lawmakers says it’s serious about ending the practice — so serious, in fact, it’s preparing a stunning 10 distinct concepts that could appear before Oregon voters next year.
In a press conference Thursday, the No More Costly Walkouts Coalition unveiled eight initiative petitions aimed at penalizing lawmakers who walk away from the Capitol, and limiting their ability to use delay tactics. At the same time, the group announced it has gathered at least 1,000 signatures for two existing proposals, enough to generate ballot language and begin collecting tens of thousands of signatures required to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.
The proposals — which represent mere options for a ballot measure, not ideas the coalition would pursue en masse — appear to be the most likely route Democrats and their allies will take to attempt to stop Republicans from stymieing priority bills.
The GOP’s tactics have included walkouts in 2019 and 2020, where lawmakers fled the state in order to ensure Democrats did not have a quorum necessary to pass a contentious climate change proposal. More recently, Republicans in both chambers have insisted that bills be read in full before a vote, a strategy that dramatically slows the passage of bills.
“Oregon deserves better than lawmakers who walk off the job, or keep others from working,” said Reed Scott-Schwalbach, vice president of the Oregon Education Association. “When lawmakers take an oath of office, they promise to show up for Oregonians each and every day. ... If lawmakers can’t do that on their own, we will change the rules so that they have to.”
The 10 concepts floated by No More Costly Walkouts amount to different combinations of five central themes. They are:
- fining lawmakers $500 and stripping their pay for each unexcused absence, and prohibiting them from using political donations to replace lost salaries or pay fines
- ensuring days in which the House or Senate cannot secure a two-thirds quorum do not count against the constitutional time limits for legislative sessions
- changing the two-thirds quorum requirement to a simple majority if quorum is denied for five cumulative days during a session
- preventing senators or representatives with 10 or more unexcused absences from running for reelection
- eliminating the constitutional requirement that bills be read in full before a final vote when bills are posted at least 24 hours ahead of time, and requiring a simple majority vote to waive a full reading in other instances
No More Costly Walkouts says its own polling shows that voters support all of those proposals by strong margins. Exactly what permutation of the concepts the group ultimately pursues will be dictated by ballot language crafted by the Department of Justice or courts.
“We will be moving forward with measures depending on, frankly, how voters respond to the different variations of them,” said Patty Wentz, a consultant hired by the coalition. “The thing that I would take away from the fact that there are so many versions is that we are really serious about moving forward with a measure or measures. There will be lawmaker accountability measures around walkouts and gridlock on the ballot in November 2022.”
While the proposals offer many potential consequences if lawmakers stage walkouts, they stop short of the most straightforward move that would eliminate the practice: Changing the constitutional quorum requirement from two-thirds to a simple majority. That’s an idea that Senate Democrats have tentatively proposed this year, though there’s currently no sign the majority party will risk upending session by trying to refer the concept to voters.
“The goal of these measures is to stop extended walkouts,” said Wentz, noting that one provision would change the quorum requirement after a five-day walkout. “The argument can be made that if you’re in the minority, it can be a tool for a short period of time.”
The coalition pushing the potential ballot measures is made up of a variety of progressive and left-leaning groups typically supportive of Democratic politicians, including major public employee unions, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and the Planned Parenthood Action PAC.
Campaign finance records show that a political action committee affiliated with the group has received all of its financial support from organized labor, House and Senate Democrats, and Gov. Kate Brown.