SALEM, Ore. — Democrats in the Oregon Senate won't hold Republican senators to the fines they accrued by walking out of the legislature, the majority party said in a statement issued on Friday. However, they will be working to remove the ability for a minority party to effectively stage a walkout ever again.
"Senate Democrats achieved historic results for Oregonians in the 2019 session, including passage of the Student Success Act, stabilizing Oregon’s housing crisis, paid family leave and criminal justice reform for juveniles," Senate Democrats said. "But twice during the 2019 Legislative Session, Senate Republicans abandoned their constitutional duties and hid in another state to deny the two-thirds quorum currently required to conduct business. During the second walkout, the Democratic Senators who remained at work moved to fine each absent senator $500 per day for not showing up to work."
A glimpse at what is to come for the Senate Republicans, directly from the governor in a @politico article: When asked if she planned to veto bills in retribution, Brown said, “I will just say … revenge is a dish best served cold and slowly.” https://t.co/ywsqP1yd4Z pic.twitter.com/wTIXR0q3Ge— Oregon Senate Republicans (@ORSenateRs) July 30, 2019
Oregon law currently requires that lawmakers have a two-thirds quorum to pass a bill — meaning that Democrats do not hold enough seats to pass a bill without Republicans in attendance. However, the vast majority of states only require a "simple majority" for a bill to pass.
In a simple majority, lawmakers would only need 16 seats in the Senate and 31 in the House of Representatives to vote on a bill. The current two-thirds system requires 20 senators and 40 representatives to be present.
According to the Democrats' statement, Senate Majority Leader Gimmy Burdick (D-Portland) plans to introduce a constitutional amendment in the 2020 session that, if passed, would change Oregon to a simple majority system.
“Stopping the work of the people by denying a quorum is unconscionable and undemocratic. Senate Democrats will work to protect Oregon’s democracy by giving Oregonians and their representatives more tools to stop any future quorum denials,” Sen. Burdick said. “I hope our Republican colleagues now see that this is not a tactic that should ever be used again, and that they will work with us to prevent either party from walking off the job.”
Republican senators walked out of the legislature twice during the last session to deny Democrats a quorum. The first was over a tax on businesses earmarked for education funding. Republicans returned after several days when Democrats agreed to kill one bill that would have ended philosophical or religious exemptions on vaccines for school-aged children. The second was a gun control bill. Ultimately, the bill that triggered the walkout — dubbed the Student Success Act — passed.
A second walkout came in June when Democrats attempted to pass a cap-and-trade bill aimed at addressing climate change. Republican senators, who said that the bill would be disastrous for Oregon's timber industry, fled the state with the visible support of many rural Oregonians. The impasse quickly became heated, before Senate Democrats admitted that they did not have the votes to pass the controversial bill.
If the bill to change Oregon's quorum system materializes and passes both chambers, it will head to ballots in the 2020 General Election.
Senate Democrats said that the decision to not fine Republican senators for their truancy was "a difficult one, given the seriousness of the walkout." However, they wanted to avoid the inevitable litigation by taking a different tack.
“The 2019 Legislative Session is over,” Burdick said. “It’s time for us to focus on Oregon’s priorities for 2020 and beyond, and to ensure that we are able to deliver the results that Oregonians are counting on us to produce.”
This is a developing story, and NewsWatch 12 will be updating the article with more information as it comes in.