Democrats are slowing forward momentum of a signature bill to regulate Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions, after complaints that the policy is being ramrodded through without adequate discussion.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, told reporters on Monday that legislative leaders plan to temporarily halt the progress of Senate Bill 1530, which would implement a cap-and-trade system in the state.
The bill is slated to be heard in a budget subcommittee late Monday afternoon. It had been scheduled for a hearing in the full budget committee on Tuesday, potentially teeing it up for a Senate vote this week. That Tuesday hearing has now been canceled so the House can discuss the issue more thoroughly.
Bowing to criticisms over a lack of process, Kotek says a bill identical to SB 1530 will be introduced in the House Rules Committee on Tuesday. That will allow House members to consider the proposal in depth – and listen to public testimony – in hearings planned for Tuesday and Thursday.
SB 1530, meanwhile, would be on pause, Kotek said.
“Our suggestion to the Senate was not to progress the bill until the House has had some opportunity to [get] further information on our side,” she said. “This is a response to House Republican leaders who are saying, ‘We need to understand this bill better on behalf of our constituents.’”
Tensions over the cap-and-trade proposal have dominated this year's five-week legislative session. On Thursday, for instance, Republicans went so far as to walk out of one House committee in protest of Democrats' maneuvering.
Though the fundamental structure of Oregon’s proposed system has been debated and scrutinized for years, GOP members in both chambers have repeatedly accused Democrats of abusing their authority by forcing SB 1530 through the building.
Under the bill, emissions from the transportation, manufacturing and utility sectors would be capped and reduced over time. Companies within those sectors would be required to obtain permits from from the state for each metric ton of carbon they emit in a given year.
Democrats’ gesture around SB 1530 appears unlikely to move Republicans, who have argued for years that a cap-and-trade system will hike prices in Oregon, hurting families and businesses. While the House Republican Office did not immediately have comment on Kotek’s announcement, its members have shown no signs of supporting the bill unless it is submitted to voters for approval, something Kotek and other Democrats have refused to consider.
“We have done significant work to bring a very complicated bill before the Legislature,” Kotek said. “At this point I’m not sure why we would put it before voters.”
Kotek said Monday that she assumed SB 1530 would be the primary vehicle for the cap-and-trade policy this session, but she couldn’t offer clarity on when it might be brought up for final passage in the session, which ends March 8.
“It could take us all the way until the end of session. I don’t know,” she said, adding that the bill could also be ready to move by the end of the week. “Right now all I’m focused on is moving the bill in a way that provides enough public process. That means a couple days on our side.”
The timing of the cap-and-trade bill’s progress is particularly notable because some Senate Republicans are pledging to walk away from the session if the bill comes up for a vote. If at least 11 of the Senate's 12 Republicans do so – as they did twice last year – Democrats would lack a quorum to conduct business, stalling a wide array of bills being considered this session.
Kotek’s announcement came hours after Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, once again called on Democrats to set their climate change priorities aside in favor of budgetary considerations and policy emergencies he says are the true intent of the Legislature’s even year “short sessions.”
“When we have completed the intent of the short session, then we could move on to other more controversial legislation, that we may or may not come to an agreement on, but at least we would have finished the people’s business,” Baertschiger said in a statement.