SALEM, Ore. — Republican lawmakers in the Oregon Senate announced on Thursday that they would be "willing to return" to the legislature on Sunday, March 8 — but only for the purpose of passing emergency budget bills.
“After a tumultuous session, Senate Republicans are willing to attend the Sunday floor session to pass emergency budget bills, for example, the relief for flood victims in Eastern Oregon," said Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass. "The intent of the short session was to make budget adjustments, and that is what we expect to work on while being fiscally responsible with the hard-earned taxpayer dollars."
Republicans in the Senate left the capitol more than a week ago, protesting a cap-and-trade bill that they say would be devastating for rural Oregon. They have insisted that the bill be referred to the voters, in addition to claiming that the bill does not belong in a short legislative session.
Democrats issued a statement on Wednesday night, decrying the walkout and the inertia of critical budget and other funding bills. Legislation aimed at addressing the state's housing and homelessness crisis, mental health system, and wildfire preparation were among the bills left adrift, Democrats said.
“These budgets are remarkable pieces of legislation. They benefit every corner of Oregon – every Oregonian,” Senate President Peter Courtney said. “The fact that a few members are preventing us from carrying out our oaths of office, preventing us from voting on bills and budgets, is heartbreaking. We have stayed in the Capitol. We have worked. We have done literally all we can do without a quorum. It’s time for my fellow legislators to return to work and uphold their oaths.”
In the Republicans' absence, Democratic lawmakers say that they have moved all the budget and policy bills out of the joint budget committee.
One bill on the docket includes a $51 million infusion to the state's ailing Department of Forestry, which announced recently that it was in desperate need of additional funding ahead of the coming fire season.
The prospect of a similar reunification appeared possible in the Oregon House following a statement from House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby.
“The House Republican Caucus broadly agrees with the funding priorities identified in yesterday’s press release from Speaker Kotek and President Courtney. House Republicans will provide a quorum and the rules suspensions necessary to pass these funding priorities on Sunday, March 8th, before the legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn.”
However, a response from House Speaker Tina Kotek issued shortly before noon on Thursday indicated that Republicans' desire to "cherry pick which bills live and die" might not fly.
“Republicans from both chambers have walked off the job for two weeks of this five-week session. Their intentional absences have created an enormous backlog of bills, bills that will benefit Oregonians across the state," Kotek said. “The only deal I will agree to is if Republicans in both chambers return and agree to take a floor vote on every bill that has earned support through the public process that governs our legislative body.”
Outside the Capitol this morning! Thank you to the hard-working Oregonians continuing to fight right along with the Republicans to kill cap & trade. Your support and commitment is inspiring. #capkillsjobs pic.twitter.com/cg61AVzB9a
— Oregon Senate Republicans (@ORSenateRs) March 4, 2020