After a month of trying to broker a deal, Senate Democrats are trying another way to compel Republicans back to the Legislature: fining them $325 a day.
Democrats tried this strategy once before during the 2019 legislative walkout, but quickly abandoned that plan. It became apparent how legally difficult it would be to issue such unprecedented fines. On Thursday, Senate Democrats said they would send a bill to every missing senator after session. For those who choose not to pay, Democrats said they would treat it like any other unpaid bill, such as a medical bill. It’s unclear if that means they would try to use a collection agency or sue the lawmakers. It’s also unclear where the money would go once it was collected.
Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, who is leading the latest walkout, said he has no plans to pay any fines, calling the latest move by Senate President Rob Wagner, R-Lake Oswego, one of “intimidation and retaliation” for a “peaceful political protest.”
The fines start accruing at 10:30 a.m. on Monday and will continue for each day a quorum is not present. The session is scheduled to adjourn on June 25.
Wagner gave an impassioned speech from the front of the chamber, on a wide range of topics veering from taking a dig at the free press for overly focusing on the walkout — which threatens to derail the entire legislative session — to quoting himself from speeches he gave earlier in the session.
“It’s been four weeks, nearly a month,” Wagner said. “People have been working, people have been waiting … each, each of these bills deserve a vote on the Senate floor,” Wagner said. “The only reason they are not is that a minority of members are blocking the will of the people in opposition to legislation they don’t like starting with the protection of Oregonians’ reproductive freedom in the wake of Roe v. Wade.”
HB 2002, the measure at the heart of the walkout, would protect health care providers who give abortions and requires insurance to cover gender-affirming care for people who are transgender or nonbinary.
One of the sticking points for Republicans is that the bill allows for minors younger than the age of 15 to have an abortion without their parent’s consent. Data from 2021 suggest very few minors under the age of 15 have an abortion. In 2021, there were 14 such cases across the state and it’s unknown how many of those minors were accompanied by an adult.
Republicans have pushed back on the way Democrats have framed the fight as one over access to abortion.
“If this bill doesn’t pass, abortion is still legal in Oregon for all nine months for any reason, literally nothing changes,” Knopp said. “So the expansion (of abortion access) is the elimination of parental rights, that is the expansion of this bill.”
Wagner also took a jab at the media for the focus of their coverage.
“In today’s world our media likes stories of people, they like stories of conflict and personal conflict and it’s easier there than to report on policy,” Wagner said, noting most of the bills that lawmakers approve are bipartisan in nature.
Despite the first half of the legislative session being dominated by policy news surrounding semiconductors and housing issues, the last month has been largely centered on two key political figures: Wagner and Knopp.
This is the first legislative session Wagner has served as Senate president and talks between him and Knopp devolved quickly. Their inability to negotiate a deal has put most many policy and budget bills, including the state’s next two-year budget in limbo.
This is a developing story and may be updated.