Oregon Senate Republicans who have left the state Capitol — and possibly the state — to prevent a vote on a multibillion-dollar business tax have released some demands to Democrats, including one requirement that they kill a bill strengthening the state's gun laws.
That appears, however, to be a nonstarter. Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said the measure, which would in part penalize gun owners who failed to lock up their firearms, would be abandoned "over (her) dead body."
“The Republicans definitely want the gun bill to go away,” Burdick said Wednesday morning. “They are out of touch with what the public wants.”
Senate Republicans Wednesday were in the midst of a second day of walkouts during the legislative session in an effort to slow down a vote over a $2 billion business tax that would go toward K-12 schools. The funding package is one of Democrats' top priorities this legislative session. Republicans' boycott continued the same day teachers across Oregon walked out of school to demand more funding for public education.
Republicans have centered their arguments around wanting to see real changes to the state's pension system, but have also pitched a number of other policies that might bring them back to the Capitol.
Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend was the only state Republican senator to appear in the chamber Wednesday morning.
“We’re going to continue to not have a quorum here and I think everyone needs to know the Senate Republican caucus is very unified around the current strategy, which is to move the discussion of PERS reform to the top of the agenda,” Knopp said.
Gov. Kate Brown has released some ideas on how to dig out from the state's approximate $26 billion pension debt, including selling the state's workers compensation insurance or using its surplus to help school districts pay down the debt.
Meanwhile, Legislative leaders expect to release their own plan for tackling the problem this week, according to Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem.
"The speaker and the governor and I are together on it and I hope we get some Republicans to go with us on it," Courtney said Wednesday. "I think that we can and we will."
Without offering specifics, he called the forthcoming proposal "a good-faith attempt to deal with that monster."
Knopp, who once chaired a committee on PERS in 2003, said Republicans want to see public employees contribute more to their retirement plans. But he's also pushing long-term systemic changes. He doesn't agree with the idea of tapping the state's worker compensation insurance.
Republicans have also requested the tax package enshrined in House Bill 3427 be sent back to committee for more work.
Courtney, one of the key negotiators, said he doesn’t see that happening.
“I know that’s one of the requests, but I’m saying, ‘Come on,’” Courtney said Wednesday afternoon.
The Senate president, who is prone to publicly worrying, said he's worried about how the walkout will affect the dynamic in the Senate.
"Human beings don’t just come back like nothing happened. I am worried about when we return to the floor how much this is going to impact our relationships," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. declined to offer precise details on Republican demands Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s some pretty touchy negotiations,” Baertschiger said. “Right now, I just want to confirm that we’re under negotiations. The governor is involved.”
Baertschiger confirmed a number of bills that were part of those discussions.
The guns bill “pops in and pops out,” he said.
“Yeah all of those,” he said. “Everything’s fluid right now.”