As climate-tax vote drew near, Senate Republicans disappeared
Monday, June 24, 2019
Senate Republicans fled the Capitol last week ahead of a scheduled vote on House Bill 2020, a bill that would establish a cap-and-trade structure for carbon taxation in Oregon. The Senate requires a two-thirds quorum, or 20 legislators, to vote on bills. There are 18 Democratic senators.
Senate President Peter Courtney, Senate Democrats and Gov. Kate Brown responded swiftly and decisively. After a motion by Democratic caucus leader Ginny Burdick, it was announced the missing lawmakers would be fined $500 per day if they didn't show up at the Capitol by 11 a.m. Friday. They had not returned as of Monday morning.
Courtney sent a formal letter to Brown asking for her help. “The Senate is unable to conduct business because of a lack of a quorum," he wrote to the governor. "I am requesting you direct the state police to assist."
Brown responded almost immediately, directing the Oregon State Police to assist in rounding up the missing senators. “It is absolutely unacceptable,” she said in a statement, “that the Senate Republicans would turn their back on their constituents.”
What exactly the walkout will mean for the rest of session remains uncertain. Senate Democrats continued to schedule floor sessions and arrived as if normal business would resume, only to stand at ease repeatedly. Although the Oregon State Police have been dispatched, they have jurisdiction only in Oregon, and Republicans may be out of state.
OSP has offered answers to some frequently asked questions:
Q. What statute governs the OSP authority to arrest legislators? A. Article IV, section 12 of the Oregon Constitution and Senate Rule 3.01(2) provide the Senate can compel the attendance of members to establish a quorum. The Oregon State Police, at the direction of the governor, may assist the sergeant-at-arms by returning absent members.
Q. Will OSP troopers physically arrest or handcuff senators? A. The OSP will go to great lengths to avoid this scenario and no physical contact is permitted, absent the permission of the superintendent of OSP.
Q. Are out-of-state resources assisting OSP? A. Yes, no additional comment.
Additionally, Brown has countered with her own threat: a special session beginning July 2.
The Senate did pass last week a continuing resolution bill, HB 5048, that will fund any agency without a signed budget at current service levels through Sept. 15. The passage of this bill created a unique opportunity for Senate Republicans, allowing them to deny quorum through the end of session without worrying about agency budgets.
Many Capitol watchers think the Senate Republicans will stay away until the 2019 legislative session is constitutionally over at midnight June 30. If that happens, all bills that have not been passed by both chambers would officially be dead. The governor would need to call the Legislature back into special session to pass budget bills and any other legislation deemed to be too important to wait until 2020.
The uncertainty has everyone scrambling. In addition to agency budgets, some important bills still moving through the process include the tobacco tax (HB 2270), paid family medical leave (HB 2005), pay equity (SB 123B), a commercial activity tax technical fix bill (HB 2164A), and rules for school sexual misconduct investigations (SB 155).