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Oregon Legislature session implodes; Dems reject GOP’s offer to return for a day

Oregon Capitol with trees

(Adding AP story, statements by Gov. Brown, Speaker Kotek, House GOP leader)

House speaker says Republicans can't 'cherry-pick' bills in last-day rush

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s 2020 legislative session ended abruptly Thursday amid a boycott by minority Republicans over a climate change measure and Democrats' rejection of a GOP offer to come back, for only the last day, to pass emergency spending bills.

At a news conference, Democratic lawmakers, some struggling to keep their composure, said representative democracy is at stake. Frustration boiled into the open after Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr., said his party would return only to vote on emergency budget bills.

A “minority is shutting down government and impacting the will of the voters who elected us to be here,” said Rep. Diego Hernandez of Portland. “By shutting down this process and choosing things that benefit them, it’s a historical precedent that I think shows us where we’re headed and where we could be headed and that anytime they are not happy with any sort of bill, our government is going to be shut down.”

Senate President Peter Courtney took the podium and responded to the offer by Baertschiger, whom he believed was watching via videostream from afar by saying: “Thank you but no thank you.”

“All of us are going to be in history one day as the Legislature that failed the fifth short session,” Courtney said. This was the fifth short session since even-year 35-day sessions began in 2012.

Republicans had insisted that any climate change legislation go before voters. Democratic leaders say said legislation was urgently needed to address the climate crisis and attempt to reduce emissions in Oregon of greenhouse gases that are causing global warming.

The first GOP walkout over the climate change bill, in 2019, put Oregon on the front line of the climate-change issue. Democrats say repeated use of the tool by the minority party puts democracy itself at risk. Courtney vowed to try to take that ability away.

“I will fight as hard as I can to rebuild this institution, but I’m going to make it clear: you’re not going to walk out of the Legislature in terms of sessions. You’re not, because we are going to have to find a ways, tragically, to have legislations or constitutional amendments that stops it.”

Democrats, who wield a supermajority in both the Senate and the House, made reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a priority this session. Enough GOP lawmakers boycotted to prevent a quorum in both chambers. Oregon and only three other states require two-thirds of lawmakers be present instead of a simple majority.

The walkout torpedoed legislation that was sometimes months and even years in the making.

At the press conference, Democratic Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon spoke of legislation that would have sent flood aid to rural eastern Oregon, assisted the homeless, and phased out a carcinogenic pesticide that harms farmworkers. She also spoke of legislation that would have provided her hometown of Woodburn, which is primarily Latino, a community center for the first time.

“That can’t happen because our colleagues choose not to come to work,” Alonso Leon said.

Rep. Tawna Sanchez, a Native American from Portland, said: “I’m trying really, really hard not to be angry. It’s very frustrating when you know all the bills, all the different things that are sitting there waiting — to just go away.”

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Statement by Gov. Kate Brown on the end to the session:

“Last week, I was saddened but not shocked when Republican lawmakers chose to walk out on their jobs in order to block their remaining colleagues from completing the people’s work. When they denied quorum and shut down government, they did so knowing full well that they put critical state funding in jeopardy — for wildfires, for foster care, for flood relief for Pendleton.

“We’ve seen this tactic before, but this walkout — their fifth in ten months — has badly damaged Oregon’s legislative branch.

“The vast majority of Republican lawmakers have spent the last ten days on a taxpayer-funded vacation running down the clock. Now, as they continue to stall on doing their jobs, they say they are willing to come back at the eleventh hour for votes on select items they have picked.

“That’s not how democratic representation works. First it was about education funding, then about climate change. Every time they don’t like something, they just get up and leave. That’s not compromise. It’s holding Oregonians hostage to ultimatums and political posturing.

“When lawmakers all clear out of the Capitol and go home to their day jobs, I will be working with our state agencies to continue to support the work Oregonians care about despite lawmakers’ failure to properly steward and spend taxpayer dollars. We will focus on bracing ourselves during a global health crisis, ensuring health care for our families and shelter for our neighbors, readying ourselves for a tough wildfire season ahead, and protecting our lands and children from the impacts of 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. However, I will not back down. In the coming days, I will be taking executive action to lower our greenhouse gas emissions.

“I am open to calling a special session if we can ensure it will benefit Oregonians. However, until legislative leaders bring me a plan for a functioning session I’m not going to waste taxpayer dollars on calling them back to the State Capitol.”

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Remarks by House Speaker Tina Kotek:

Colleagues, when I was first nominated to be Speaker of the House, I knew this would be a tough job.

On my first opening day as Speaker in 2013, I addressed the joint session held in this chamber, and I said it was a critical time for our state’s democratic institutions because the people’s faith in elected leaders was strained, and faith in government even more so.

On that January morning seven years ago, I could never have imagined how much more our democratic institutions would be tested. As Americans, as Oregonians, big questions are looming: Can our democracy keep the people’s faith? Can elected leaders respect their oaths of office and the rule of law that allows us to get things done?

I’m so deeply disappointed today. It is clear that 21 Republican members will not come back with enough time to finish our work this session.

After refusing to show up for work over the last two weeks, House Republicans violated their legislative subpoenas and did not appear before the House Rules Committee this afternoon to explain their unexcused absences.

House Republicans are in clear violation of their one constitutional duty: to vote, on bills, on this floor. They are denying Oregonians their right to a functioning legislature by walking off the job and preventing votes on all the legislation ready for consideration on our floors.

The claim is that this is about Senate Bill 1530, the climate action bill. The Republicans wanted changes. The Senate made many of those changes in the months leading up to this session. Not all of them, true, but many major, substantive changes were made. People listened and compromised because we know that compromise is in the best interest of serving the people who elected us.

And still, House Republicans walked off the job. They left the state a full two weeks before our constitutional deadline to adjourn, after only three bills had passed both chambers this session, with hundreds of others that have won support through our public process being left in limbo.

As your Speaker, I have taken a very pragmatic approach to problem solving. For the most part, I think we have been able to work together to face each challenge directly and pass legislation – most of which is bipartisan - to make our state stronger. I have sometimes held my own family of Democrats more accountable for their behavior than my Republican colleagues because I recognize the challenges of being in the minority caucus.

But let’s be clear. This is not about any one bill or about being treated unfairly. This is about the corrosion of our democratic process.

I’ll admit, I saw that corrosion more clearly at the national level before I recognized it here at home.

This is a challenge I did not expect to face in my time as Speaker. I did not expect to face a constitutional crisis in which so many of our colleagues simply decide to stop showing up for work until they get their way. 

Now, after missing 8 days of work and creating an insurmountable backlog of good bills and good budgets, the Republican leaders say they want to come back with 12 hours left so they can pick and choose what bills live and die. This would mean that after days of shirking their duties, they simply get to return and decide they can unilaterally kill all bills of their choosing.

This is the equivalent of one basketball team walking off the court for most of the second half, then asking to return in the final minute on the condition they can dictate the final score.

When you play basketball – or any team sport -- you know teams come into a game with different strengths. One team might have the tallest players, while the other might have the fastest players.  Regardless of the differences, you play hard and you play by the rules. When it’s over, you shake hands.

The stakes here in the Legislature are very high. What we do here touches people’s lives now and into the future.  And that’s why the rules HERE matter. This is not a game.

But what the Republicans have done is cheat.  They have not played by the rules. They took their ball and went home. They have broken their oath of office by not showing up to vote.

Our work here this session has to be over. We have been held hostage by a small group of elected representatives. We have been open to compromise and negotiation from the beginning, but unfortunately their actions turned this is into a hostage situation, not a negotiation. When the only thing you want to make a deal on is the one thing the majority won’t give you, you are not negotiating. You’re blackmailing. Early in the session it was “refer the climate bill and we’ll stop reading bills.” Then it was “refer the climate bill and we’ll show up for an evening floor session.” Then it was “refer the climate bill and we’ll come back to work so we can decide which bills to pass.”

That’s not a democratic process. That’s shameful. That’s petty.  That’s partisan politics at its worst.

The backlog of bills has become so large that we simply cannot complete our business in a democratic fashion. We don’t have time for floor debates. We can’t provide for the transparent process that is necessary for final votes. I’ve reached out to Republican Leader Drazan every day since she and her colleagues walked out of the Capitol, and she simply will not agree to finish ALL the work that has been blocked by their repeated walkouts.

In fact, I called Leader Drazan again today after she sent a press release offering to come back on Sunday – with only 12 hours remaining before our constitutional deadline, I asked, “Will you come back and agree to take floor votes on every bill that has earned enough support though the public process?” She said no.

Let me be clear:  I am not willing to roll over let only certain bills become law based on a kill list developed in a back room in an undisclosed, out of state location by absent Republicans and corporate lobbyists.

Therefore, this session is functionally over. We will not reconvene on the House floor. Instead, we must pursue a different path to address the most urgent health and safety needs facing our state.

On Monday, the Senate President and I will convene a meeting of the Legislative Emergency Board. We intend to approve an emergency funding package for coronavirus response and flood disaster relief for the Umatilla Basin in Northeast Oregon. Thankfully, the Emergency Board will be able to allocate funds with or without Republicans. Just as we have done for the last 8 days, we will continue to do our jobs and do our best for the people of this state. We are not willing to walk away from Oregonians.

Colleagues, we must take climate action this year. I’m so incredibly sad that, once again, adults have failed our children and their children and their children. Shame on us.

The Senate President and I are working with the Governor to make sure we don’t let this Republican obstructionism halt our progress on addressing climate change this year. The Governor is finalizing executive actions that will reduce Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Lastly, we ask that the Governor call us back into special session within the next 30 days to address urgent legislation completed over the last few weeks.

I’ll close my comments the same way I did on opening day in 2013, by quoting Dorothy Day, the Catholic social justice activist. She said her experiences taught her to “disregard people’s talk, and judge only their actions.”

Today, colleagues, I can say I am proud of the hard work each of you put in this session. We must continue to govern. We must continue to uphold our broader moral responsibility to the people of this great state as a whole – to their health, their safety, their economic security. We did so through our actions. We did so by showing up.

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House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) released the following statement:

“Democratic leaders control the Governor’s office and hold supermajorities in both chambers. They have had near complete control of the Capitol for the better part of a decade. It’s time for them to look in the mirror and recognize that their approach to leadership is what led us to this day. I am shocked at the Speaker’s decision to end the session prematurely. We still had time to pass necessary funding items to address the needs of Oregonians across the state, but Democratic leaders chose to sacrifice these budget bills and shared priorities in the name of their no-compromise approach to cap-and-trade. The supermajority set the agenda for this session, they inexplicably refused to allow Oregonians to vote on cap-and-trade, and they own this failed outcome. Speaker Kotek’s unwillingness to work toward a bipartisan resolution on Sunday proves the lack of good faith effort on her part and further proves this session was rigged from the start. Democrats chose to punish their political opponents over serving the needs of Oregonians.”

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“This is a failed short session,” Courtney said before he gaveled out, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. "I can’t rely on human nature any more.”

Most Republicans in both chambers have been absent for more than a week, in an effort that killed the greenhouse gas cap-and-trade bill that was Democrats’ top priority for the 35-day session.

Earlier Thursday, House and Senate Republicans agreed to return to the Capitol and provide a quorum on Sunday, the constitutionally set last day of the even-year "short session," to pass key spending bills. But the initial reaction from the House speaker was cool, to say the least.

Most Senate Republicans left the Capitol on Feb. 24 and House members the following day over a vote on Senate Bill 1530, the controversial cap and trade bill, to deny the Democratic majority a quorum. They demanded the measure instead be sent to voters in the fall, instead. Only Bend state Rep. Cheri Helt and Sen. Tim Knopp stayed behind.

House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) released the following statement Thursday morning:

“The House Republican Caucus broadly agrees with the funding priorities identified in yesterday’s press release from Speaker Kotek and President Courtney. House Republicans will provide a quorum and the rules suspensions necessary to pass these funding priorities on Sunday, March 8th, before the legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn.”

And Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr. issued the following statement:

“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. 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."

But Democratic House Speaker Tina Kotek issued this response:

“This morning, the House and Senate Republican leaders put out statements saying they may finally return to the Capitol on Sunday for a one-day floor session, where they would get to cherry pick which bills live and die.

“Republicans from both chambers have walked off the job for two weeks of this five-week session. Their intentional absences have created an enormous backlog of bills – bills that will benefit Oregonians across the state.

“Let me be clear: Every bill that has passed out of committee deserves a vote. I will not walk away from my obligation to every Oregonian that we must uphold the democratic process and the rule of law.

“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.”

NewsChannel 21's Arielle Brumfield is following Thursday's developments in Salem and will have the latest starting at 4 on Fox and 5/6 on KTVZ.

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Here's the news release issued Wednesday by Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney that Drazan referred to:

State Budgets and Critical Policies Put at Risk by Republican Government Shutdown

SALEM, Ore. – Legislators continue to work in the Capitol despite House and Senate Republicans walking off the job to shut down the government.

The Joint Committee on Ways and Means has advanced a series of budget bills that will fund critical needs across the State. These bills will address the state’s housing and homelessness crisis, fragmented behavioral health system, looming wildfire season, and other targeted investments. These investments will only be able to move forward this session if Republicans return to the Capitol and agree to finish all of the work that has been blocked by their repeated walkouts.

“These budgets are remarkable pieces of legislation. They benefit every corner of Oregon – every Oregonian,” Senate President Peter Courtney said. “The fact that a few members are preventing us from carrying out our oaths of office, preventing us from voting on bills and budgets, is heartbreaking. We have stayed in the Capitol. We have worked. We have done literally all we can do without a quorum. It’s time for my fellow legislators to return to work and uphold their oaths.”

The budget bills join a long list of critical policy bills that have been worked through the legislative process, including public hearings, written testimony, amendment debates and committee approval.

“We come to work in the Legislature each day because the work we do matters to the lives of Oregonians,” House Speaker Tina Kotek said. “All of the policy bills and budget items that have earned support through the legislative process deserve floor votes this session. I continue to talk to the House Republican Leader every day and still hope that they will return to the Capitol and agree to finish all of this important work for the people of Oregon.”

The final budget bills, as well as policy bills with appropriations, have all now moved out of the joint budget committee. These are the highlights of investments that are in danger because of the Republican shutdown:

Housing and Homelessness

More than 10,000 Oregonians statewide are currently sleeping on the streets without access to shelter. To address Oregon’s housing and homelessness crises, the following funds have been proposed:

  • $50 million in bonding for the Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) affordable housing construction program (HB 5202)
  • $45 million to increase shelter capacity, including $16.5 million for navigation centers in Bend, Eugene, McMinnville, Medford and Salem (HB 4001)
  • $10 million for affordable housing preservation (HB 5204)
  • $6 million for the Affordable Housing Land Acquisition Revolving Loan Program (HB 5204)
  • $5 million to help increase home ownership in communities of color (HB 4003)
  • $2.5 million to strengthen the service system for unaccompanied homeless youth (HB 4039)
  • $960,000 for a pilot program on accessory dwelling units on properties owned by low-income homeowners (HB 4015)
  • $300,000 to strengthen fair housing civil rights enforcement at Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) (HB 5204)
  • $250,000 to study and recommend a long-term rental voucher program (HB 4002)

Wildfire and Forest Management

Wildfire seasons are longer than ever due to the impacts of climate change, jeopardizing public health, safety and local economies in every corner of Oregon. This funding would help prepare for the upcoming wildfire season and invest in efforts to lessen the statewide impacts of wildfires.

  • $51 million total to the Department of Forestry to stabilize operations and prepare for the upcoming wildfire season (HB 5204)
  • $25 million for wildfire mitigation efforts (SB 1536)
  • $1 million to improve pesticide application protocols and provide facilitation to modernize forest practices (HB 4168)
  • $1 million for a Hood River County wildfire preparedness pilot (HB 5204)
  • $250,000 to study the costs of wildfire protection and suppression (HB 4166)

Disaster Relief and Emergency Preparedness

Northeast Oregon recently suffered through devastating flooding and Oregon needs to continue long-term preparation for an earthquake that scientists predict will eventually occur.

  • $12 million flood relief package for the Umatilla Basin (HB 5204)
  • $7.5 million for the ShakeAlert earthquake notification system (HB 5204)
  • $2.0 million safety evaluation of dams (HB 5204)
  • $280,000 for the City of Spray emergency building expansion
  • $175,000 for the Port of Hood River aviation tech and emergency response center

Behavioral Health Services and Family Support Programs

Funding is needed for critical services to help people with severe mental illness, children who enter foster care, Oregonians suffering from the disease of drug or alcohol addiction, and people experiencing homelessness.

  • $75 million reserved in the Emergency Board for caseload costs or budget challenges at the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Human Services
  • $15 million in support for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs)
  • $13.4 million aid and assist package
  • $12 million Klamath County Crimson Rose Center for young women
  • $10 million for the Strengthening, Preserving, and Reunifying Families (SPRF) program, which helps keep children safely in their homes and reduces the lengths of stay in foster care.
  • $9 million for community mental health programs
  • $3 million for Family Treatment Courts in Clackamas and Douglas counties
  • $600,000 to analyze the supply and demand for behavioral health professionals (HB 4031)
  • $600,000 for the Family Preservation Project
  • $319,000 for a report on the barriers that limit access to treatment of individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders (SB 1553)
  • $200,000 for the Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission to develop an intervention strategy to address substance use among school-aged children and youth (HB 4149)

Economic Development and Local Infrastructure Support

Oregon is poised to invest in key local infrastructure improvements and projects that will create jobs and build stronger communities across the state.

  • $10 million to the City of Salem drinking water improvements
  • $7.5 million to the City of Woodburn community center
  • $7 million for Willamette Falls Locks
  • $6 million for tide gate and culvert repair and replacement
  • $5 million for the Oregon21 international track championships
  • $4 million to the City of Eugene downtown riverfront park
  • $3.5 million for the Lake County rail line upgrade
  • $3 million for the Lyons-Mehama Water District system improvements
  • $2 million for the Rogue Valley Children’s Museum
  • $2 million for the Curry Health District, Brookings emergency department
  • $2 million for the City of Sherwood pedestrian bridge project
  • $1 million for the Tigard Highway 99 corridor plan

Public Safety and Judicial System Enhancements

These budget bills will improve our state’s public defense system, invest in community corrections and make other targeted investments to create a fairer criminal justice system and keep our neighborhoods safer.

  • $25 million to counties for increased support for community corrections
  • $20 million for public defense system improvements
  • $3 million to children abuse intervention centers
  • $956,000 for new circuit court judges in Deschutes and Douglas counties
  • $200,000 for the Marion and Polk counties courtcare programs

University Construction Projects

Universities across the state need funding for critical repairs to aging facilities that will improve safety and reduce long-term operational costs.

  • $60 million to Portland State University, Science Building 1
  • $56 million to University of Oregon, Huestis Hall
  • $35 million to Oregon State University, Arts and Education Complex
  • $21 million to Western Oregon University, Student Success Center
  • $19 million to Oregon Institute of Technology, Boivin Hall
  • $13 million to OSU-Cascades, Student Success Center
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Comments

30 Comments

    1. Pox on both parties, but at least they’re done.

      Can we please go back to every other year as the Oregon Legislature used to meet? At least taxpayers would then save on pay and/or per diem for these bozos. 🤡

  1. An interesting thought – if they won’t agree to the limitations on what comes to the floor I am all for them staying out. It won’t be any different than before the short session was added – everybody will just have to live by the budget that was approved last year – oh, the horrors…..

  2. Even as a democrat i support these walkouts, kate brown has zero charisma and puts in zero effort to bring oregon together and uplift us, if she cant make deals that work for everyone what is the point???

    Theres plenty of democrats i like here, but our governors always suck for some reason

          1. Sure he did ! Obama played more golf- bombed more sovereign nations- put more black owned businesses out of work- had more Americans on welfare- on food stamps- had the lowest GDP of any President- shut down more energy sectors- told more lies- and had more scandals than President Trump.
            _______

            But yer right- that’s not the subject of this article.

  3. “representative democracy” is working as it should with them staying out. 9500 plus people showed up for the Timberunity rally against the cap and tax bill and a week later almost 1000 showed up to support it. Nobody cares what party either group belong to – so who do they think they are representing?

  4. gop LOST. they are the losers. They are the minority. Thats how democracy works. DUH!! move to north korea, your little lyin president loves the dear leader, so will you comrade! We really don’t need your failed, racist,backward and obsolete fantasies. ROTFLMAO!! You can strike it rich in north louisiana!!!! LOL!!

    1. “Thats how democracy works.”
      __________
      Glad to hear you say that- because by the way you whine on and on about the GOP President and his GOP administration- the world all but thought you were promoting some kind of bizarre form of Klingon Council- something you may have read from Ray Bradbury- some pretty fancy and fictional stuff about how to govern our nation.
      __________

      But no siree- you seem to get it ! That America is a nation of laws- that the Constitution is the spine that holds the book together- that all your rambling and falling around on the floor- is really just fake outrage as you vent the pressure from your two pound kettle head.
      __________
      Good For You !

  5. Civil discourse died when DJT ran for President in 2016. The rabid minority who worship him have sold their souls and will fall with him. It will be messy.

  6. They actually represented their constituents well. All they wanted was the climate bill to be voted on by the people. Pretty simple really. What were the dems so scared of by letting Oregonians vote on such impactful legislation?

  7. As I pointed out before, there’s a simple answer to the repos being in the “superminority.” They need to reexamine what they stand for, see how that compares to the majority of Oregon citizens, and either change their ways to become more accepted (i.e. gain more legislative seats) or accept the fact that they are becoming more and more marginalized because of their extreme positions. Running and hiding from reality doesn’t accomplish anything and is a waste of time, effort, and (in this case) taxpayers’ money.

  8. All of the sudden Kate Brown is all up in arms (pun intended) about “the minority” holding sway?

    That’s how it works in these here United States, Comrade Kate. The “majority” doesn’t get to rule just because they have the numbers.

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