Oregon Senate GOP: Climate bill walkout begins
Republicans in the state Senate boycotted a floor session Monday morning, putting a stop to the Senate before it could consider a controversial greenhouse gas emissions legislation that has been a political lightning rod.
The Senate requires 20 senators be present to take votes.
Eighteen Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Tim Knopp, of Bend, were present for the 11 a.m. session Feb. 24. The remaining 11 Republicans disappeared to protest the legislation, and denying the Senate the needed quorum to act.
At least two Republicans would be needed on the floor if all Democrats were there.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, issued a call of the Senate to get any absent Republicans in the Capitol building to come to the floor. Before the floor session began, state troopers roamed the legislative halls.
Courtney then adjourned the floor session until 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25, after an admonishment that policy and budget bills couldn't get done if senators were absent.
Lawmakers are facing a March 8 deadline to close the 2020 session.
Courtney implored his "fellow senators" to return to the Senate.
"These Oregon Senate Republicans are denying their constituents the representation they deserve and shutting down our democratic institution." — Sen. Ginny Burdick
The shutdown was triggered by a vote in the legislative budget committee minutes earlier, which sent Senate Bill 1530 to the full Senate. The committee rejected a Republican plan to refer the matter to voters.
Republican senators were hard to find on the third and fourth floors of the Senate side of the Capitol building late Monday morning, before the floor session was called.
Staff at the office of Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, said he was "not available at this time."
Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, has been excused for the next couple of days due to a family medical issue.
Workers in the office of Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, said Findley was "not here" and that "he's not coming back."
In a statement shortly before the floor session, Findley said that "if my colleagues will not allow for a fair process in the building, then I will represent my constituents from outside the building."
Kate Gillem, Senate Republican spokeswoman, said that all have walked out except for a "senator from Bend."
Gillem said they would stay away for the rest of the session. She said they could maybe be drawn back if the bill could be referred to voters.
She didn't say where they went. "I don't know," Gillem said. "They've been super tight-lipped. Even with staff."
Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, blasted the walkout in a statement. "Walking out on the job is a dereliction of duty. Each of us took an oath of office and it is our responsibility to fulfill that oath and represent the voices of our constituents," she wrote. "These Oregon Senate Republicans are denying their constituents the representation they deserve and shutting down our democratic institution.
"Serving in the Legislature is a great honor. Walking out on the job is dishonorable and disrespectful. I am disappointed in the Senate Republicans for taking this irresponsible action."
Across the Capitol building, on the House side, Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, D-Portland, reacted later in the day to the walkout.
"Legislators shutting down the government by walking off the job is a crisis for our democracy," she wrote. "This is not a game. Voters elected us to do our job. The members who refuse to show up and do their jobs are saying to a large majority of Oregonians: your vote doesn't matter."
An Oregon business association that supports cap-and-trade lauded a vote earlier in the day by the Ways and Means Committee — the Legislature's budget-writing body — to move SB 1530 to the Senate Floor.
"This is a promising step for SB 1530," said Tom Kelly, board president of Oregon Business for Climate, shortly after the committee vote. "By moving the bill through Ways and Means, the Legislature is indicating a willingness to provide the funds needed for the success of this bill."
Oregon Capital Bureau reporters Claire Withycombe, Jake Thomas and Sam Stites contributed to this article.
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