House GOP lets budget bills squeeze past wordy roadblock
Oregon House Republicans said Tuesday, March 30, that they will not use delaying tactics on budget bills when they come up for a vote.
House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, said in a statement that the Republicans would drop their delaying strategy of requiring bills to be read in full when it came time to consider the budget legislation.
"Part of this commitment is to ensure we have a balanced budget prior to our constitutional deadline before adjourning this session," Drazan said.
Under the Oregon Constitution, the Legislature must adjourn no later than June 28. Budget bills are often among the last items to come before the Legislature as lawmakers wait until after a state revenue forecast in May.
The requirement to read bills in full is in the Oregon Constitution, but traditionally it is waived and only the two-to-three sentence title of legislation is read out loud. It takes two-thirds of the House — 40 votes — to override an objection to the waiver. Democrats have 37 seats.
While the tactic has been employed in prior sessions on specific pieces of controversial legislation, Drazan has used it on all bills. The pace of legislation in the House has become glacial. The refusal to allow just the title to be announced leads to marathon readings of bills that take hours.
On Tuesday, the House used a computer program to read the bills in place of the clerks. First up was a 170-page bill that changed the name of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission.
'It gets complicated'
Drazan's statement on the budget bills is the first crack in Republicans' strategy.
Danny Moran, spokesman for House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said Tuesday the budget bill promise would not change the overall dynamics of House votes. "House Republican leadership is still holding up critical funding for summer learning, child care, homeless shelters and wildfire recovery," Moran said.
Kotek said Monday, March 29, that the slowdown could cause a pile-up that would bump up against the constitutional clock. Tuesday was the 70th day of the 160-day session that began Jan. 19.
"We do run into the challenge of getting bills to the Senate," Kotek said Monday. "It gets complicated."
The session ran into problems immediately after it started in January. The House recessed because of security concerns over Oregon State Police warnings of possible violent demonstrations timed to the inauguration of President Joseph Biden. No demonstrations occurred at that time.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature held remote hearings for much of the first two months. However, the constitution requires that lawmakers come to the Capitol for the final passage of bills.
Two cases of COVID-19 linked to floor activity briefly shut the House during the past month.
In response to the slowdown, Kotek has scheduled day and evening sessions for every day this week. The schedule brings the lawmakers to the Capitol, which has been closed since March 2020 because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Capitol's zip code has had the most cases of COVID-19 in the state.
A desperate tactic
Both sides blame the other for having to spend so much time in the Capitol. Republicans say that too much time is being spent on bills that aren't directly related to the COVID-19, economic slowdown and wildfire relief. An estimated 4,000 pieces of legislation have been introduced, the most in a decade.
"That would be too much in a normal year and this is not a normal year," said Andrew Fromm, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus.
Democrats want to address police reform, affordable housing, environmental initiatives, taxes, health care and gun control, along with other issues. They say Republicans are using a desperate tactic to force the will of a small minority onto the majority who say they were elected to pass the kind of legislation on the agenda.
Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-Tualatin, tweeted on Tuesday that the slowdown was tempting a health crisis. "They're also putting the health of all legislators, staff and their families at risk as we're still fighting a global pandemic," she wrote.
So far, no lawmaker has tested positive, making Oregon one of only four states to have its Legislature virus-free during the past 13 months.
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