Capitol watchers ponder a short-session walkout as partisan tensions heat up
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Ballot Measure 71 in 2010 changed the entire rhythm of the Oregon legislative process. The constitutional change moved Oregon to an annual, rather than biennial, session model, shaving 35 days off the “long session” during odd-numbered years to make time for a 35-day “short session” during even-numbered years.
Since the first short session in 2012, the common refrain around the Capitol has been: The long session is for doing; the short session is for fixing. But in recent years, more of the heavy business has crept into the short session.
This year, Democrats’ ambitious ideas on climate change and gun control have the minority Republicans considering another walkout. The procedural maneuver could effectively kill the short session by denying a quorum every day, thereby allowing the 35-day period to pass with no bills voted on.
The proposed carbon bill would phase in a statewide cap-and-trade emissions system across three geographic zones, with the Portland area going first in 2022. The proposed gun safety bill would set up rules around firearm possession and storage, notably requiring firearms be stored with a trigger- or cable-locking mechanism.
Democrats control a three-fifths supermajority in each chamber. Republicans likely do not have the votes to stop these bills, but a procedural option remains: Leave the Capitol and go somewhere else.
The chambers each require at least two-thirds of members present to conduct business, which is impossible without some Republicans. House Minority Leader Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Canby, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that a walkout is “a breakdown in the process” but she did not rule it out. Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, was more explicit, saying that “nothing is off the table.” He also called the gun safety proposal an “attack on Second Amendment rights” in a news release.
Denying the quorum via walkout is a powerful tool, and both parties have used it. Although popular with some Republican supporters, including the Timber Unity coalition, walking out also carries a negative connotation. For many people, it looks like the Legislature is not doing the work that most Oregonians elected them to do. And it is possible that if walkouts become too frequent or too disruptive, Oregonians could be motivated to vote for a change to quorum rules to require only a simple majority.
The next few weeks could set the tone — be it statesmanlike compromise or partisan rancor — for legislative sessions for years to come.