Senate Republicans planned a second day of boycotts Wednesday morning as their leadership continues to spar with Democrats over a $2 billion business tax.
Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr., R-Grants Pass, told OPB shortly after 10 a.m. that he was still waiting to hear from Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, over Baerschiger’s demands that the tax package, House Bill 3427, be pulled back to committee.
The two men have been in regular contact on the matter since Monday, when Republicans first indicated they were willing to stage a walkout to deny Democrats the quorum required to conduct business.
No Republicans showed up to a scheduled floor vote on the tax package Tuesday.
“The founders of our constitution anticipated this,” Baertschiger said of the boycott. “That’s why they put in the quorum requirement.”
Pulling back the tax bill — the passage of which stands as a central goal of Democrats this session — appears unlikely, but talk in the Capitol has begun around what it might take to bring Republicans back to the building. There’s a suggestion that Democrats could opt to kill a bill the opposing party dislikes in order to secure a commitment that Republicans return, agree not to stage further boycotts, and not force Democrats to read bills in their entirety before a vote. Courtney’s office said Wednesday morning it could not provide updates on the state of negotiations.
Among the bills said to be in Republicans’ sights: A wide-ranging bill that would institute a variety of new gun controls in Oregon.
That bill, Senate Bill 978, is a chief priority for the Democratic majority leaders in both chambers: Sen. Ginny Burdick and Rep. Jennifer Williamson, both of Portland.
Burdick told OPB Wednesday morning she would fight to keep the bill alive. Williamson said she hadn’t been approached about a possible deal.
“I haven’t heard anything,” she said. “It doesn’t surprise me it’s on that list.”
If all 18 Senate Democrats are present, just two Republicans are required to attend floor sessions to secure the 20-member quorum. Baertschiger said Wednesday he’d grant a quorum so the Senate could conduct “mundane” business, but that he would not allow a vote on the tax measure. It would take 24 hours or more to get all Republicans back to the statehouse, he said.
As Republicans sit out, they’re still being paid a $149 daily per diem, along with their Legislative salaries of $2,600 a month. In past walkouts, absent lawmakers have given up that money. During a five-day boycott staged by House Democrats in 2001, for example, some legislators didn’t take their per diems and they gave their daily salaries to the state’s school fund.
“I did it,” said state Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, who was a representative at the time. “A number of us did.”
It’s unclear how many Republicans plan to follow suit during the current boycott. Baertschiger said he planned to give his per diem to a local charity or charities for any day he wasn’t on the Senate floor. He had not decided which ones.
Senate Republicans spokeswoman Kate Gillem said Wednesday that “some” lawmakers plan to donate per diems, but that she had not heard back from all of them.