Four walkouts in 10 months shows Legislature has a deep problem
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
The ending of the 2020 session puts Oregon into uncharted territory. There is no history in our state, or even nationally, that could serve as a reference or guide for a legislative session simply being wiped out.
Most states require only a simple majority for a quorum on the floor, making it hard for a minority party to block work without help. Oregon requires two-thirds of legislators in either chamber to be present to vote, giving even a superminority a powerful tool.
Prior to the 2019 Senate Republican walkouts there had not been an organized quorum denial in Oregon since the House Democrats, then in the minority, walked out in 2001. There have been four walkouts (2019 Senate Republican caucus twice, 2020 House and Senate Republican caucuses once each) in 10 months. That is a dramatic uptick. There have been calls for a ballot initiative to change the quorum to a simple majority, among other potential changes.
The rancor on both sides has been sharp.
“House Republicans are in clear violation of their one constitutional duty: to vote, on bills, on this floor,” Kotek said on the House floor. In a news release, House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Smith Warner said Republicans “have misled, they have negotiated in bad faith and they have left their constituents hanging in the wind.”
House Republican Leader Rep. Christine Drazan disagreed vehemently in a news release, saying that Kotek’s “unwillingness to work toward a bipartisan resolution” showed that “Democrats chose to punish their political opponents over serving the needs of Oregonians.”
School districts are, unfortunately, caught in the middle. All but three of the measures introduced in 2020 died upon the session's conclusion, leaving a great amount of work undone.
Bills containing OSBA priorities died, and the challenges they address need immediate attention.
It is possible for there to be another session this year. Gov. Kate Brown can call legislators back to Salem for a special session, and Kotek advocated for that, specifically within the next 30 days. She told OPB that the purpose of a special session would be to focus on “all the bills that Oregonians need us to do,” naming specifically bills for addressing homelessness and wildfire prevention and planning.
Furthermore, she called for acting quickly, saying “we can't wait until next year.”
Agreements for a special session would likely be heavily negotiated, however, because there is no timeline to end a special session. Once it’s called, there must be a vote to sine die and adjourn. Unlike regular sessions, the clock can never run out, making a walkout a potentially endless stalemate.
On Monday, March 9, the emergency board of the Legislature met and, among other items, gave the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality $5 million in new funding to address air pollution. On Tuesday, March 10, Brown ordered state agencies to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Kotek told OPB that the failure to find consensus legislation was unfortunate because “executive orders will be more of a blunt instrument," with a lack of nuance that legislation could otherwise provide.
Neither side is showing signs of a conciliation that could allow a return to a more normal working relationship.