The Oregon House was scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, to try to catch up a bit. Thirty-seven Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Cheri Helt of Bend, were present. Roughly 45 minutes later, after it became apparent that Republican legislators were not going to attend, Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, adjourned the meeting. No business was done because the constitutionally required quorum of 40 legislators was never present.
Republicans don’t have to walk out to slow the work. On Thursday, Feb. 20, the House was scheduled to convene at 9 a.m. Legislators took their time getting to the floor, and there was a quorum by approximately 9:30 a.m. The minority refused to allow bills to be read by title only, and so full reading of bills commenced. By 2 p.m., hundreds of bill pages had been read aloud by staff. The result: A mere nine bills were voted on. Almost all passed with broad support from legislators from both parties. Eight bills remained on the agenda and were carried over to the next day, where the list of waiting bills grows.
Nine bills in five hours is very, very slow.
We have talked about this year’s slowdown before. Republicans oppose “cap and trade” legislation, and being in the superminority, they are throwing up the few road blocks they can.
Meanwhile in the Senate, the Republican caucus has made it clear that a walkout is a real possibility. Sen. Fred Girod, R- Stayton, has been a leading Republican legislator in discussions about cap and trade legislation. He told newspapers that he and his Republican colleagues have already purchased plane tickets. As soon as the carbon legislation is voted out of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, “I think we’ll walk,” he said. The bill could get a committee vote as soon as Monday morning, Feb. 24.
After the concessions these same senators gained after the walkouts in 2019, denying a quorum via a walkout seems to make sense. With the session’s mandatory March 8 end, any delay could potentially block all sorts of bills.
Multiple education bills could become casualties of this process slowdown: SB 1520, an Oregon Department of Education technical bill to make necessary changes to school nutrition programs; SB 1522, a consensus bill to implement workplace changes regarding sexual conduct by adults toward students; and HB 4044, a consensus bill to secure small- and dorm-school funding for Oregon’s most rural students and schools.
All these bills are in danger of just … falling off, of not being passed because the Legislature is going so slowly it will run out of time.
The level of passion around cap and trade is high on both sides of the issue. That passion could end up punishing Oregon’s children.