Oregon Democrats cite risky bills amid GOP walkout

SALEM, Oré. – Oregon Democratic lawmakers stood on the steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday and implored Republicans, who are boycotting the Senate, to come back and vote on a number of bipartisan bills that are in danger of dying because of a political deadlock that has now lasted a month.

Several state houses across the country, including Montana and Tennessee, have been ideological battlegrounds this year. Republicans in the Oregon State House staged walkouts in 2019, 2020 and 2021 to prevent enough members from voting on measures. But this is the most serious yet, threatening hundreds of bills and the approval of state budgets for the next two years.

Democrats holding a press conference on Tuesday cited a series of bills on pressing issues facing Oregon, including those aimed at reducing drug overdoses, mitigating wildfire risks and strengthen the seismically vulnerable dams, which are in limbo due to the ideological divide.

Yet neither side is budging on a bill to protect abortion and transgender care, with Democrats saying it’s non-negotiable and minority Republicans insisting it die or be amended. Republicans reject a provision that would allow doctors to perform abortions regardless of age, with doctors not required to notify parents when doing so could put the child at risk, such as in cases of incest.

“If Democratic leaders really prioritized bipartisan budgets and policy proposals that Oregonians desperately need, they would work to resolve this impasse in a bipartisan way,” said Senate Republican Leader Sen. Tim Knopp. “Instead, Democratic leaders cling to an illegal and extreme agenda.”

The stalemate depends on which side flashes first. If there is no compromise long before the session is constitutionally required to end on June 25, the hundreds of bills that have not passed both the House and the Senate will die.

Sen. Jeff Golden, a Democrat who represents southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, said among them were bills aimed at improving wildfire response and protections like the ones that have devastated parts state in 2020.

“Like other bills you have heard of, these are faltering. We are looking at serious damage – like life-and-death type damage – if we drop these bills now,” Golden told reporters and supporters under a scorching sun, a harbinger of the dry season to come in this drought-stricken state.

Rep. Travis Nelson, a Democrat who is a registered nurse, also said that among the measures frozen by the longest Republican walkout in state history is a bipartisan opioid harm reduction package that includes making overdose medications like naloxone available in restaurants, grocery stores, police departments and schools.

“This is going to save lives and give people a chance to recover, and we need to pass this bill,” said Nelson, who wore blue nurse scrubs at the press conference and rally.

Knopp was unmoved by the Democrats’ dire warnings.

“Well, there are always lives at stake when it comes to the politics that are being debated here at the state Capitol,” Knopp told reporters after the rally. “However, unfortunately, their anger is misplaced and Senate Democrats could have ended this week.”

Representative David Gomberg, a Democrat who represents the coast, said a bill he worked on with Democrats and Republicans would provide $70 million in support for small farmers, fishers, small businesses and create more accommodations. If another bipartisan measure, aimed at luring the semiconductor industry, dies, Oregon stands to lose billions of dollars in federal funds to other states, Gomberg said. A related bill passed before the walkout with broad support.

The seismically vulnerable dams would be replaced by another bill that’s in play. Without it, Oregon could lose $60 million in federal matching funds, Gomberg said.

Jan Kaplan, city council president for the coastal city of Newport, said the dams that create reservoirs for Newport’s drinking water are the most vulnerable to earthquakes in the state.

“Even a modest earthquake could cause dams to burst and send water rushing into a neighborhood just below. People would die,” Kaplan said. .”

The boycott prevented the Senate from reaching the two-thirds quorum required to vote on the bills, with all but two of 12 Republicans and the only independent remaining on the sidelines.

The walkout came despite a ballot measure, approved by Oregon voters last November, that disqualifies lawmakers with 10 or more wrongful absences from being re-elected in the next term. The measure, which is now part of the state Constitution, is expected to be challenged in court by Republican senators if the secretary of state’s office bars them from registering as candidates.

On June 1, Democrats in the Senate voted to fine senators $325 each time their absence deprives the chamber of the two-thirds quorum it needs to conduct its business.

Democratic Governor Tina Kotek can call a special session this summer for the House and Senate to approve state budgets for the next two years if they are not all approved by June 25. But most of the bills that die because of the walkout would not rise again until 2025, because next year’s “short session” barely lasts a month.

Senator Michael Dembrow, a Democrat from Portland, became emotional as he described the frustrating walkout.

“It’s very painful for me,” Dembrow said. “As many of you know, this is my last long session in the Legislative Assembly. I have been here for 15 years. I no longer run. I wasn’t looking to end up this way.

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