A controversial climate bill at the heart of a standoff between Democrats and Republicans, which Republicans to flee the state, might have been resolved with a simple floor vote.
House Bill 2020 doesn't have enough support among Democrats to pass, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said during a Senate floor session Tuesday, June 25.
It was the sixth day Senate Republicans have been absent from the state Capitol over a controversial proposal to cap greenhouse gas emissions.
Democratic Senators trickled into the chamber just after 10 a.m., several wearing floral and bright shirts rather than the typical suit-and-tie attire. However, the casual atmosphere was lampooned when Courtney stood before his caucus and announced publicly that Democrats do not have the votes to pass House Bill 2020, even if a quorum were present.
"House Bill 2020 does not have the votes on the Senate Floor," Courtney said. "That will not change."
"There's been incredible work going into that bill. I myself was even part of a joint committee, and I'm no expert on it, I just know mother nature is hurting. The individuals involved have all been incredible public servants in the past, the present."
Courtney didn't say he would kill the bill. But he went on to catalogue the numerous bills that have been delayed while Republicans are out of the Capitol and the Senate can't vote on legislation. There are 18 Democrats, meaning they need at least two Republicans there to get the 20 members they are required to have to conduct business and to take votes.
"This list of bills is as dramatic a list of bills as I've ever seen in terms of dealing with those of our society that need help," Courtney said. "Dealing with public safety, dealing with education, dealing with every facet of our lives. Family. Preschool promise. Children and youth with special needs."
Looking down at Courtney was a gallery full of supporters of cap and trade, mostly teens, who traveled to the Capitol to show their support. As it became clear Courtney was telegraphing a message to Senate Republicans, whom he wants to return to the Capitol, a man stood and directed the crowd to stand and turn their backs on the Senate President, showing their disdain for his words.
Within minutes, Courtney finished his speech and senators frantically vacated the chamber and ran to caucus, refusing to speak with reporters.
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward of Beaverton, known to be on the fence about HB 2020, told a reporter no deal is in place with Republicans, but that Courtney wanted to broadcast that the votes aren't even there from Democrats. There are 18 Democrat senators, and the bill needs 16 votes to pass. Democrats Sen. Betsy Johnson, of Scappoose and Sen. Arnie Roblan, of Coos Bay, have said they are against the bill.
Republicans Sen. Cliff Bentz of Ontario and Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Budget bills could die
The Senate's 11 Republicans have played hooky since Thursday, June 20, when they left to block action on the controversial cap-and-trade legislation. Gov. Kate Brown has asked the Oregon State Police to track down wayward Republicans.
The House and Senate have passed a continuing resolution to fund state government until Sept. 15 if lawmakers are unable to pass the rest of their budgets by the June 30 deadline.
But that bare-bones budget would throw a wrench into plans to provide more money for key programs because several budget bills also need Senate votes. Among those are reforms to the state's costly pension system, contained in yet-another controversial proposal, Senate Bill 1049, which couldn't be implemented because the PERS agency wouldn't have the extra money it needs to make the changes to the highly complex system.
Other policy bills — such as an increased tax on tobacco products to pay for health care and a bill aimed at increasing the supply of affordable housing through zoning — hang in the balance.
With the Senate paralyzed by the Republican walkout, as of the end of last week, 67 bills that have passed the House are in limbo, according to the House clerk's office. Of those, 29 are policy bills that were introduced or co-sponsored by Republicans, were carried on the House floor by Republicans, or both.
Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, acknowledged he was concerned about those bills' fate if the Senate isn't able to meet. "There are many, many bills still caught up in the process that would die," he said Friday, June 21. "There is a big, huge cost to not getting these issues resolved. And we are all aware of it."
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