UPDATE (June 18, 5:09 p.m. PT) — With a vote on a controversial climate bill looming, Oregon Senate Republicans are threatening once again to leave the building in an effort to prevent Democrats from passing the legislation.
On Monday night, lawmakers in the House debated the contentious bill for six hours. Ultimately, it passed.
Shortly after, rumors began to fly: Republicans in the Senate were once again considering boycotting the statehouse — deploying a delay tactic the minority has to gain leverage over the majority party.
On Tuesday morning, Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass, said he wasn’t ready to talk about the possibility of another walkout.
Yet, shortly after, his office sent out a press release saying Senate Republicans are “prepared to take action” to stop the vote on House Bill 2020.
The bill, which would create a carbon pricing plan, has prompted fierce passion from both parties since the start of the legislative session. It is one of the highest policy priorities remaining for Democratic lawmakers this session.
Earlier this legislative session, Senate Republicans left the statehouse for four days, denying the Senate a quorum they need to pass bills. The constitution requires at least 20 members of the Senate are present to conduct their business. Republicans managed to delay a vote on a multibillion-dollar business tax.
The business tax eventually passed, but a deal was struck to get Republicans back into the building. Gov. Kate Brown agreed to kill a bill tightening the state’s vaccine laws and another strengthening gun laws. Democrats also agreed to give Republicans more of a voice in the cap-and-trade policy proposal.
Republicans, in turn, said they would give Democrats a quorum for the rest of the session and not deploy other delay tactics, such as requiring the bills be read out loud in their entirety. If Republicans decide to leave the statehouse, terms of the deal would be upended.
Brown, who was a key negotiator in May, said if Republicans walk out again, she would call the state police to bring them back into the Capitol and call a special session if necessary.
“Playing games and avoiding tough conversations is [a] dereliction of … responsibility and trust,” Kate Kondayen, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in a written statement.
“Gov. Brown has always dealt fairly and transparently with Senate Republicans, and trusted them when they gave their word they wouldn’t engage in further walkouts earlier this session,” Kondayen wrote.
The governor expects them to “honor their word,” Kondayen said.
Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, echoed the governor, saying if Republicans choose to leave, it will be “quite different from last time.”
“They made a deal last time, we entered that deal in good faith,” Burdick said. “We lost bills that were very important to most of our caucus and they are not only not doing their job, but they are violating a deal. It’s not acceptable.”
Burdick said Democrats could fine Republicans or file an ethical complaint.
“If they leave and they take money from the state [such as per diems] and not doing their job, that’s an ethical breach,” Burdick said.
Unlike the first walkout, which was in the middle of session, lawmakers are now expected to adjourn next week, which could give Republicans more negotiating leverage.
The carbon pricing bill could be on the Senate floor as soon as Thursday.
Several Democrats view climate change as the “greatest crisis” our nation is facing, with this measure going toward alleviating some of its effects. But Republicans have said it will cost rural Oregonians jobs and damage their livelihoods.
“The bill makes the urban-rural divide stronger than ever because the biggest polluters are in Oregon’s large cities. It is fundamentally inequitable to put the responsibility of cleaning up their pollution on the backs of rural Oregonians,” Baertschiger said in his release.
There are still several large policy bills under consideration in the state Legislature, from a paid family leave bill to a measure that aims to help the state’s housing crisis.
Lawmakers also have yet to pass major state agency budgets from the Department of Education to the Department of Corrections.
Without a new budget, state agencies would have to close their doors on July 1. But lawmakers recently approved House Bill 5048, a continuing resolution, which would allow agencies to keep operating using the previous biennium’s budget.
Technically, the only thing required of lawmakers, by the constitution, is to pass a balanced budget before the constitutional adjournment date of June 30.
This post may be updated.