Republicans in the Oregon Senate ended their six-week walkout on Thursday, after reaching a deal to water down Democratic bills on abortion and guns that the GOP has strenuously opposed.
Those changes — unthinkable if Republicans had not launched the longest walkout in state history — represent a win for the boycotting senators. But the party got far from everything it wanted in protracted negotiations with Democrats.
Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, refused to excuse absences racked up by 10 conservative lawmakers since the walkout began May 3. That means all 10 are expected to be blocked from running for reelection under a ballot measure passed by voters last November.
“The framework that we have today is going to move Oregon forward, and there are obviously a whole bunch of legislators that aren’t gonna be able to come back to this building,” Wagner told reporters.
Democrats also balked at a larger “kill list” of legislation Republicans want taken out of consideration as lawmakers speed to a mandatory June 25 adjournment. The deal is contingent on the GOP agreeing to waive normal procedural rules, a step that will allow Democrats to fast-track hundreds of bills awaiting passage in the Senate.
“I think the Democrat majority yielded a lot,” Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, told reporters. “That really is what helped make this go ... Essentially what happened is everybody got some of what they wanted, and everybody got some of what they didn’t want.”
After a planned 9 a.m. start was repeatedly pushed back Thursday morning, lawmakers began trickling into the Senate at 11 a.m. Among them were five Republicans — Sens. Knopp, Lynn Findley, Bill Hansell, David Brock Smith and Dick Anderson. Along with all 17 Democrats, the lawmakers gave the chamber a 20-member quorum for the first time since May 2.
How much the GOP presence will increase in the coming days was unclear. Knopp said that some of his colleagues still had “deeply held beliefs and concerns” about bills up for consideration.
“You’ll see more people coming back to the building,” he said.
As a result of the deal, hammered out over hours of negotiation since last Friday, many priorities both parties put forward for this session remain achievable. And the Legislature will be able to pass a new two-year budget that contains record funding for schools, new money for mental health services and funding to help address a crisis in public defense, among many other things.
But some of the session’s most controversial proposals will look very different when they head to the Senate floor for a vote.
While they have offered many reasons for walking out this year, Republicans have been most vocal about House Bill 2002. As it passed the House, the legislation would expand protections for abortion access and gender-affirming health, among many other provisions.
Republicans and their allies have railed against a provision in the bill that would allow children of any age to terminate a pregnancy without parental consent, a step they say is an affront to parents’ rights.
As OPB reported was likely on Monday, lawmakers have agreed to keep in place a legal requirement that parental permission is required for children under 15 to end a pregnancy. But that requirement can be overridden if two health providers in separate medical practices conclude informing parents would be harmful to the child, according to a briefing with key players engaged in the negotiations.
Democrats also agreed to nix portions of the bill expanding abortion access on university campuses and in rural parts of the state.
Other pieces of HB 2002 remain intact, including expanding what gender-affirming care must be covered by insurance plans and securing legal protections for providers who perform abortions for patients who come from states in which similar procedures would be illegal.
Wagner, who said repeatedly in recent weeks that HB 2002 was not up for negotiation, told reporters that Democrats were able to keep portions of the bill they believe are most important, saying he “couldn’t be prouder” of protections that remain. Advocacy groups backing the legislation had forcefully opposed changes, lawmakers said, but issued a release saying Democrats had kept “crucial portions” in tact.
Democrats have also agreed to kill Senate Joint Resolution 33, which would have asked voters to enshrine protections for abortion, same-sex marriage and transgender care in the state Constitution. Republicans said they offered support for the same-sex marriage portion of the resolution.
Republicans also appear to have won big concessions on the session’s major gun control bill. House Bill 2005 would have implemented three major changes: outlawing untraceable “ghost” guns, increasing the age to purchase and own most guns from 18 to 21, and allowing cities to ban concealed weapons in public buildings.
Under the deal, only the ghost gun provision will survive.
Getting back to work
Shortly after the Senate recessed on Thursday afternoon, lawmakers on the Senate Rules Committee met in a brief hearing to amend both HB 2002 and HB 2005 with the agreed-upon language.
Democrats will also agree to kill Senate Bill 348 and a handful of other gun bills that would put some provisions of Measure 114, a gun safety law approved by voters last year, into statute. The ballot measure is currently on hold amid court challenges. It banned the sale or transfer of extended capacity magazine clips and required a permit to purchase a gun, among other restrictions.
The agreement includes changes to a bill that will expand the availability of treatment for opioid addiction, which had been a key concern for Sen. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek.
Democrats will also waive the $325 daily fines they began levying on absent lawmakers last week. And lawmakers will address Republicans’ insistence that the Senate has not followed a law that requires bill summaries to be written at roughly an eighth-grade level.
As the Senate resumed normal operations following the six-week break Thursday, senators began reading summaries that met that readability requirement prior to a bill being considered. Knopp said Democrats had committed to following the statute in the future.
The two parties didn’t only cut deals on what bills should be diluted. Democrats also are allowing a Republican-led resolution that would ask voters to allow the Legislature to impeach statewide elected officials to head to a floor vote, though its passage isn’t guaranteed. And the deal ensures that there will be enough Republican votes to pass an increase in taxes on telephone services in the state, in order to fund the 9-8-8 suicide prevention hotline.
Republicans have also committed to waiving a Constitutional rule that all bills be read in full before a final vote — a necessary step if the Legislature hopes to finish its business by June 25, as required. But crucially, the GOP is only granting that rules suspension on a day-to-day basis instead of taking one vote to do so for the rest of session, Knopp said.
That would give Republicans continued leverage to slow down proceedings if difficulties between the parties reemerge.
The agreement reached Thursday marked a notable change in Democrats’ stance toward the walkout. Again and again since the boycott began, Wagner and other leading Democrats insisted they would refuse to bargain over HB 2002 and HB 2005. But with the possibility of losing hundreds of other pieces of legislation becoming more urgent, the party changed tactics.
Democrats cast the agreement in positive terms. Rather than highlighting the concessions made in HB 2002, for instance, Wagner’s office said the bill had been “clarified to ensure the bill affirms standard abortion care that has been in place for 50 years under Roe v. Wade.”
“We have achieved major bipartisan victories already this session, and I expect that to continue now that we have returned to the floor,” Wagner said in a statement. “I am grateful for all the senators who listened to each other and sought an end to this walkout while protecting Oregon priorities and values.”
Meanwhile, Knopp talked up the policy changes his caucus achieved.
“We have said from the very beginning that we cannot allow the Senate to operate in an unlawful, uncompromising, and unconstitutional manner,” Knopp said in a statement. “We repeatedly urged Democrat leaders to put the critical needs of all Oregonians first instead of prioritizing an extreme agenda that does nothing but divide us. I am pleased to say that we were able to hold the Democrat Majority accountable and accomplish all these things.”
Gov Tina Kotek, whose attempts to end the walkout fizzled last month, issued a brief statement.
“Oregonians are demanding progress on many urgent challenges,” Kotek said through a spokesperson. “I’m glad to see the Senate is back to doing the work of the people.”
What happens next?
Now that they’re back, Republicans face another challenge: Trying to salvage their political careers.
Knopp said Republicans attempted to convince Wagner to excuse their absences during the walkout, which would ensure they didn’t run afoul of Measure 113. The measure, passed overwhelmingly last year, penalizes any lawmaker who receives more than 10 unexcused absences in a legislative session.
“Our members, I think, were willing to make the sacrifice,” Knopp said. “As we went into this, I think we knew what the potential consequence was. We were obviously going to have legal action to follow.”
Republicans have said they will sue to challenge Measure 113, the law that could prevent them from seeking reelection. They also argue that the measure’s sloppy wording might grant them another term, even if they’re eventually blocked from running.
“We knew the risk we were taking, but we feel our challenge to Measure 113′s constitutionality is strong,” state Sen. Lynn Findley, a Vale Republican who played a leading role in negotiating the deal, said in a statement. “Some of our colleagues may disagree, but that is a battle for another day. Today, we are happy to deliver this win for Oregonians.”