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Oregon Senate grinds to halt in second day of walkout

Oregon senators showed up to work Thursday to a smattering of empty seats and breezed through their regular routine: the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, a prayer from a minister and that moment when a Republican walkout entered its second day: the roll call of senators.

The Senate failed to reach the 20-member threshold with 12 absences, five of them unexcused. Lacking the required two-thirds vote, the Senate closed down.

Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, announced the lack of a quorum, saying the sergeant-of-arms was unable to locate the absent members.

It coincides with frustrations between minority GOP senators and Democratic leaders over contentious issues like firearms regulations, transgender rights and abortion.  

GOP leaders contend they’re protesting an unconstitutional process of passing bills that fail to meet legal requirements for readable language that the public can understand.

Democratic Senate leaders dismissed that argument, saying the bills comply with the law. They say Republicans are trying to stymie a vote on House Bill 2002, a reproductive health bill.

The bill would strengthen the right to gender-affirming care in Oregon and further solidify abortion rights by protecting providers from lawsuits. 

“Today would have been the day that we would have heard (House Bill) 2002,”  Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, said in an interview with the Capital Chronicle. “And we would have had ample floor time to debate, which is what Oregonians want us to do.”

Lieber added: “They need to come back to work. That’s what needs to happen.”

After the Senate ended without conducting business, Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, told reporters the work stoppage is proceeding one day at a time and it remains to be seen what the outcome will be.

“Individual senators are deciding day by day what they’re going to do,” Knopp said.

As on Wednesday, Knopp and Sen. Dick Anderson of Lincoln City were the only Republicans on the floor. 

This session, the Legislature has passed a range of laws, including big- ticket items: more than $210 million to expand the semiconductor business and $200 million to fight homelessness. But hundreds of other proposals await a determination in the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which decides the budget, and floor votes. They include a divisive bill tightening Oregon’s gun control laws that Republicans vehemently oppose.

In the House, it’s business as usual: Republicans aren’t participating in the walkout. 

“The Democrats walked out?” called Rep. Lily Morgan, R-Grants Pass, as she walked onto a floor with only Republicans. 

Democrats did show up a few minutes later, and the House started a routine day of voting on bills after listening to a Native American honor song performed by Siletz singer Fish Martinez. 

This is the first legislative walkout of the session, though Senate Republicans walked out in 2019, 2020 and 2021, with House Republicans joining them on some occasions. This time, there’s a change: Voters in November passed Measure 113, a constitutional amendment that prevents any legislator with 10 unexcused absences from running for reelection.

The five senators with unexcused absences on Thursday included four Republicans and Sen. Brian Boquist, I-Dallas. The four Republican senators are Sens. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, Lynn Findley of Vale, Cedric Hayden of Fall Creek and Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls. The seven excused absences included six Republicans and a Democratic lawmaker.

Knopp said he expects one or more lawmakers to rack up absences to have standing to challenge the measure in court. 

The Senate meets again at noon Friday. The session must end June 25.

Capital Chronicle reporter Julia Shumway contributed reporting.

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