Blair Best (KGW)
SALEM, Ore. (KGW) — It’s been one week since Oregon Senate Republicans staged a walkout protesting what they’re calling violations of Senate rules. The Senate Republican office told KGW Tuesday that it will last until discussion or negotiations take place.
Senate Democrats, on the other hand, held a press conference Tuesday afternoon where they explained their attempts to meet with Senate Republicans and urge them to come back to work.
“It is time for Republicans to get back to work and do their jobs. It’s time. We’ve had enough of this,” said Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber.
Tuesday morning the Senate chamber was silent and nearly empty due to the Republican walkout. It was a stark contrast to the bustling House chamber on the opposite side of the building.
“The Senate should have spent the time debating and voting on bills that impact all Oregonians and I’m disappointed that we’re in this position today,” said Senate President Rob Wagner.
The walkout began last week, when Senate Republicans didn’t show up for Wednesday’s legislative session — halting the week’s work by denying a quorum in the chamber.
“They are holding us hostage by this walkout,” said Lieber.
“A walkout is not a negotiation tactic. I refuse to facilitate or empower this or any future walkout,” added Wagner.
Republicans are protesting what they say is a violation of Senate rules, state law and the Oregon Constitution because Democrats are considering bills with summaries that weren’t “plainly worded.” The law that sets out these readability standards, passed in 1979, doesn’t seem to have been followed by either party for decades — and Republican lawmakers were drafting bills that failed the standard earlier this session.
Senate Democrats believe there’s more to the Republican walkout than the readability, given that one of the bills in question is focused on abortion and gender-affirming care, which Republicans have openly opposed. The walkout started immediately after that bill passed the House.
“Let me be clear — HB 2002 is not up for negotiation. Democrats ran on ensuring abortion rights for all Oregonians and voters gave us the majority in both chambers,” said Wagner.
Wagner was named in a lawsuit filed by Republicans that went before a district court judge in Marion County earlier this month, but the judge denied Republicans’ request for a temporary restraining order in the case.
“I’ve heard some additional rhetoric but I’m not aware of any active litigation,” he said.
Senate Republicans were unavailable to talk with KGW on camera Tuesday but sent an email instead saying they meet every day to determine whether the protest will continue or not. They believe Senate President Rob Wagner has led his party in “abusing the process every step of the way and that it would be a shame if he prevented them from doing the important work that still needs to be done this session,” they said.
“We’re just doing our job. It’s not our responsibility to stop their walkout. They’re walking out, we’re here — last time I checked the stairwell goes two ways,” said Lieber.
Governor Tina Kotek on Tuesday echoed the Democrats’ concerns: “I expect legislators to get back and do their job and I’ve relayed that to the Senate Republicans,” she said,
The question remains how long this political performance will last. Per Measure 113, lawmakers face consequences after 10 unexcused absences. Senate Republicans are now on day seven of the walkout, though some have appeared sporadically without enough of them showing up to provide a quorum.
“Unless it is for an extraordinary circumstance, no member — Republican or Democrat — will be granted an excused absence from the floor until we achieve a quorum,” said Wagner.
Wednesday morning at 8 o’clock, Senate Democrats are planning to meet with Senate Republicans.
There are also talks of a rally happening at the capitol later this week led by Basic Rights Oregon — an LGBTQ+ advocacy group — in protest of the Republican walkout.
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