SALEM, Ore. (CN) – Oregon’s legislative session ended early on Thursday with very little accomplished after Republicans boycotted the capitol for 10 days, achieving their goal to prevent the passage of climate legislation and in the process stymieing votes on nearly 100 other bills.
Senate Republicans walked off the job Feb. 24, with their counterparts in the House deserting the capitol the following day. Their stated intent? To deprive the Democrats, who hold a supermajority in both chambers, of the quorum needed to conduct business.
Democrats hold 60% of the seats, but the Oregon Constitution requires a two-thirds majority to be present for floor votes. To meet that threshold, at least two Republicans must be present.
They would return, they said, only if Democrats agreed refer HB1530 to the ballot. The bill was a milder version of the cap-and-trade measure Republicans managed to scuttle in last year’s session by collectively leaving their jobs.
Like Senate Bill 2020 – the legislation that Senate Republicans said justified their desertion of the capitol last year – SB 1530 would gradually reduce the carbon emissions allowed under Oregon law over the coming decades, while increasing the price per ton of carbon companies must pay to emit.
But SB 1530 has drawn criticism from environmentalists who say it is a watered-down version of last year’s bill with amendments to delay its implementation in rural areas of the state.
Last year, Senate President Peter Courtney agreed to table HB2020 in order to bring Republicans back to Salem and finish the state’s business. This time around, there was no such deal. Instead, there were ten days of dueling press releases between Democrats and Republicans.
Thursday morning, Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr., of Grants Pass, announced that his caucus was “willing” to return for Sunday, March 8 – the final day of the 2020 session – to pass a handful of specific 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,” Baertschiger said in a statement. “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.”
Two hours later, House Speaker Tina Kotek rejected that offer, saying in a statement of her own that all of the bills that passed out of committee deserved a vote, not just the few that Republicans wanted to pass. Left on the table were nearly 100 bills, including those that would address Oregon’s growing wildfire problem or improve the state’s woefully underfunded foster care system, in addition to Republican priorities, like a bill to provide emergency funding to repair damage from winter floods in rural eastern Oregon.
“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,” Kotek said.
At 1 p.m., the deadline passed for Republicans to respond to a subpoena to return to the capitol. And with it, Kotek and Courtney’s patience seemed to expire. Courtney gaveled the session to a close soon after that.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown said she would consider calling a special session – but only if legislators come up with a plan for a functional session. And in the wake of another failure to pass cap-and-trade legislation, Brown said she would take executive action to address climate change.
“I have always been clear that a legislative solution was my preferred path to tackle the impacts of climate change for the resources it would bring to our rural communities and the flexibility it would provide for our businesses,” Brown said in a statement Thursday. “However, I will not back down. In the coming days, I will be taking executive action to lower our greenhouse gas emissions.”