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Knopp: Democrats’ PERS proposal could help end walkout


Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, the only Republican senator who has been in the chamber during a now four-day-old walkout by Republicans, was back home over the weekend, with some hopeful comments about a potential path toward getting GOP lawmakers — and the Senate — back to work.

Oregon Senate Republicans have voiced quite loudly they feel they have not been listened to by Democrats, who hold 18-vote majority in the 30-vote chamber, two shy of the 20-person quorum needed to pass bills.

Knopp is alone among the dozen GOP senators in the walkout in that he’s continued to show up for the now-brief daily sessions, though seating himself at the rear of the chamber and not at his desk, the Salem Reporter wrote Friday. He’s also still been involved in other matters, such as testifying at a House hearing before an upcoming vote on “Kaylee’s Law,” which already passed the Senate.

“I’ve been in the Capitol,” Knopp told NewsChannel 21 Saturday. “I believe we need to make sure that the voices of our rural constituents are heard.” Still he, said “the Republican caucus is united in wanting to make sure those voices are heard.”

A walkout by members of one party is something both parties have used for various reasons over the past 20 years, the Salem Reporter noted, but it’s making for a backlog of legislation that could lead to night and weekend sessions, once Republicans return.

Knopp acknowledged, “We’ll have a lot of work to do when the stalemate has ended and everyone is back in the building and working toward adjournment.”

The GOP’s main objective was to prevent a vote on a $1 billion tax on large businesses to fund education, as well as legislation — sponsored by state Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, but opposed by Knopp — to eliminate non-medical exemptions to required vaccinations for children.

Over in the House, Republicans have made similar concerns known in recent days by requiring that bills be read in full on the House floor before a vote.

But another key issue, tied to most others, was clear on the desks of the vacant Senate Republicans – a large sign that stated, “REAL PERS REFORM NOW.”

The state Public Employee Retirement System now faces a $27 billion debt to pay off.

And on Friday, the Democrats leading the Legislature released their own plan to tackle the financial troubles, one with key differences from a proposal by Gov. Kate Brown, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

OPB reports the plan from House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney would cap PERS employer rates at around 27 percent of payroll costs in coming years, rather than see them climb over 30 percent for the next decade, then slowly reduce the rates to less than 25 percent by the end of the 2020s.

It also calls for public employees to share some of the costs in shoring up the system, but most of the reduction in employer rates would be financed by stretching out the payback period from 20 to 22 years.

“I think the PERS bill is a good step forward, and although it’s a temporary fix, it will bring some brief relief to the rates that employers pay for PERS,” Knopp told NewsChannel 21. “I don’t think it’s a long-term solution. But I at least think we’re moving in the right direction.”

As for what Knopp would like to see, he said, “We’ve had several bills that have been introduced that include essentially a new system, a 401(k), as well as more participation from (contributions by) employees and several other items I think would likely gain favor with the public.”

“But I think the negotiations on this are such that the Democrats have about reached their limit on what they’re wanting to do on PERS,” Knopp said. “And so, even though we don’t believe it’s enough, we are taking a serious look at if it’s possible this will work for this session.”

“There’s been negotiations going on for the past week,” Knopp said. “I think those are getting more intense and hopefully those will result in a good, bipartisan agreement that brings my colleagues back into the building. Until then, we’ll continue to stay out and the stalemate will go on.”

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